Finding Hope in a Doomed Culture
September 29, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 1 Timothy 6:6-19 Luke 16:19-31
It’s often obvious.
All we have to do is turn on the television or radio, open a newspaper, or go to the movies.
It seems as if Hollywood and the people who entertain us, are always finding ways to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. Language that used to get a movie banned from theaters is now heard during primetime in our living rooms. Where television programs once required that married couples be shown sleeping in single beds, we now see the stars of today’s shows hopping from bed to bed as if marriage vows and morality meant nothing. But while we watch the boundaries of moral acceptability being pushed back in our own culture, we should also remember that none of this is new.
With few exceptions, nearly every culture on earth has, on one way or another, taken a stand against the instructions, commands, and desires of God. When scripture points generically at cities like Rome, Sodom, and Babylon, it focuses on cultures that are fundamentally at odds with how God has called his people to live. Whenever God’s people, then or now, become so entangled with that culture, they are drawn away from God’s will for their lives, and inexorably pulled away from God himself. And, while God isn’t calling us to withdraw from the world to the degree that we see the Amish community doing, we are called to stand up to our culture and plant a flag to designate a different way of life. Likewise, there is no need for us to despair that our culture is leading us all into condemnation, destruction, and hell.
There is hope.
That is exactly the message that God sends to the people of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15. Here, although Jeremiah has prophesied about the destruction of the city and everyone is beginning to realize that the Babylonian army will soon break down the gates of the city, and although people are beginning to despair for their future, God also sends a message of hope for the future.
32:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. 2 The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah.
3 Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy as you do?
6 Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: 7 Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’
8 “Then, just as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’
“I knew that this was the word of the Lord; 9 so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. 11 I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy— 12 and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard.
13 “In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: 14 ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. 15 For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’
When the enemy is at the gates, and the people could feel destruction and the judgement of God breathing down their necks, everyone knew that this was the time that people should be getting their affairs in order. This was a time when people were locked inside the city walls for protection and they were more worried about being able to afford food to eat than how much land they owned. And so, as an example to everyone, God calls Jeremiah to meet his cousin Hanamel in the city gate and buy the family farm that his Uncle Shallum is trying to sell. And God’s word to Jeremiah, and to the people of Judah, is that there is a future. Despite the enemy at the gate, God declares that the nations of Israel and Judah will have a future, that peace will return, that their government will one day be reestablished, and that houses, land, vineyards, and farms will one day be bought and sold again. And, quite possibly, within the lifetime of Jeremiah and some of the people who were there to stand as witnesses.
In the middle of despair, God delivers hope.
Perhaps one of the greatest disconnects between our culture and the morality of God, is the way in which we view money. In just about every television show, movie, commercial, magazine, or advertisement we are repeatedly told that being rich is the goal of life. Nearly every waking moment of our lives we are told that we should aspire to acquire more money, more things, more stuff, more power, and that more is always better no matter what the cost to ourselves, to our families, or to the people around us. But that isn’t at all what scripture teaches or what God wants. Last week, we were reminded that we cannot serve both God and money, and Paul expands on that teaching in 1 Timothy 6:6-19, where we hear these words:
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
In complete contrast to the messages that we get from all over our culture every day, Paul says that those who want to get rich fall into a trap and into many foolish desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. While money itself is neither good nor evil, it is the love of money that lies at the root of all kinds of evil. People who are eager for money, and who pursue it recklessly, have wandered away from their faith in God and have been responsible for causing their own grief and pain.
Rather than pursuing money, we are called to pursue what is right and godly, to seek faith, love, endurance and gentleness. If you have money, don’t allow yourself to be proud of having it, or to put your confidence and hope for the future in the fact that you have it. Instead, put your hope in the God who gives us everything that we have. Rather than trusting in your money, use it to do good for others and be willing to share what you have. It is in using what we have for God and for others that builds the foundation for our life in eternity.
In Jesus’ parable about the rich man and the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, we see an example that could easily be teleported to our own culture, and even to our own neighborhood, and still make complete sense. Most of us could easily change the names in Jesus’ story to the familiar names of modern-day news stories, and everything in it would still make complete sense.
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Imagine the rich man living in what we would now think of as a gated community, or a walled compound, such as those that many of our rich, famous, and powerful entertainers, businesspeople, and politicians live in today. For months, perhaps for years, the poor man lived outside the gates, but where the rich man could see him and knew about him. The poor man sat and begged every day, but never once did the rich man share anything that he had, not even the scraps leftover from his dinner table. But after their deaths, the condemnation that the rich man receives from Abraham is that he had received good things during his life but shared none of them with Lazarus. So convinced are the rich and the powerful of the rightness, and the moral superiority of their wealth, that Jesus says they cannot be convinced of their error even if the dead came back to life to warn them.
Listening to the call and the teaching of our culture will lead us to pain, suffering, ruin, destruction, and doom. We are deceived by the siren calls of pleasure, wealth, and power. But, if we are to find hope in a culture that increasingly filled with desperation, despair, and hopelessness, then we must remember the commands of God.
We are not to use God and serve money, but rather to use money and serve God.
If we are to find hope, and to share that hope with the world, then we must remember our calling as the people of God and as the followers of Jesus Christ. We are called to use what we have, to share what we have been given, so that we may draw closer to one another, closer to those around us, and closer to God. Otherwise, if listen too closely to our culture, if we allow our desires and our selfishness to control us, the money, and the things, that we have, will draw us, bit by bit, away from God and toward a destruction, and doom, of our own creation.
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