Hope and Warning Signs

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Hope and Warning Signs

September 25, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15                     Luke 16:19-31                        1 Timothy 6:6-19

Depending on where you work, you might see a sign like this, or something similar, every day.  It is a sign that warns us not to block the fire exit and similar signs warn us not to park in a fire lane, not to open a fire door that has an alarm.  These and other cautionary warnings remind us that blocking or opening that door or parking in that place can result in a fine or other disciplinary action.  But those signs also give us hope.  When we see them, we know that the architects gave thought to how people would leave the building in an emergency, how the fire department and other emergency services would need gain access, and we know that there is a plan to get out of the building safely in the event of an emergency. 

And that image may give us some insight to the message that God sent to the people of Israel through his prophet Jeremiah.  Although God had sent many warnings that Jerusalem would fall and Israel would be captured, God also sent another message, an unusual message of hope, in Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 where we hear these words:

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. 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.

Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy as you do?

Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: 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.’

“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; 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.’

Although God had sent warnings to Israel for some time, and although few had believed Jeremiah or the warnings that he carried, Jerusalem was now under siege, surrounded by the enemy, and facing shortages of foot, starvation, disease, and death. The situation seemed utterly hopeless.  If the siege didn’t kill them, certainly the enemy at the gates would.  And if the enemy didn’t kill them, it was almost certain that they would live the rest of their lives as slaves.  But in the middle of Israel’s hopelessness, God commands Jeremiah to buy his cousin’s farm field at a time when that field, outside the gates and walls of the city, would have been completely useless.  Even worse, what good would it be to hold the deed to property in Israel once they were killed or in captivity?  But, through this real estate transaction, and the care that Jeremiah took in preserving two copies of the deed, God sends a message of hope that his people would return, build houses, plant crops, harvest, and live their lives, once again, in Israel.  In the middle of their despair, God sends a message of hope.

We see a similar mixture of warning signs and hope in the parable of the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, in Luke 16:19-31, where we hear Jesus say…

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.’”

First off, even though there are plenty of preachers who will try to tell you that hell is only an allegory, in this parable it seems clear that Jesus believes that it is a real place.  And the warning is that living a life of selfishness can cause you to go to such a place.  In addition, the rich man in the story begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family so that they do not come to that place of torment at the end of their lives.  But Abraham’s reply is that they have already had lots of warning.  They have heard the warnings of Moses and all of God’s prophets, and if they didn’t listen to them, they wouldn’t listen even if Lazarus came back from the dead and warned them again.  Jesus’ message is that all of scripture is filled with warning signs.  God has sent a literal book full of warnings to show us the way that we should go and the way that leads to life rather than following the way that leads only to death. 

But the good news is that torment and suffering are avoidable.  All anyone needs to do is to heed the warnings that have been sent.  To hear the warnings of Moses, the prophets, and of Jesus, and to do the will of God that they all patiently explained to us.  The warning signs are many, but much like the signs around the fire escape, if we hear them, and obey them, we will live.

And finally, we hear an important message of warning and hope that Paul wrote to his friend Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:6-19 about how we should live our lives.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 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.

While our culture normally associates gain with climbing the social and corporate ladders and acquiring money and power, Paul describes something entirely different.  Rather than constantly pursuing more money, more land, bigger houses, bigger cars, more influence, more expensive clothing, and more toys, Paul says that great gain comes instead from godliness and contentment.  Instead of being one of our life’s goals, Paul warns that wealth is a temptation that traps people into pursuing foolish and harmful desires that lead to ruin and destruction.  While the cultures of the first century and the twenty first centuries, and virtually all of those in between, have all taught that money is the thing that will satisfy us, Paul says that it is the pursuit of, and the love of, money that plants seeds of all kinds of evil in our lives.

Instead of spending our years on earth in a never-ending pursuit of more, more, more, we should invest ourselves in a pursuit of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  These are the things that lead us to eternal life and away from death.  Instead of becoming arrogant, hoping that we have invested enough, and trusting in the bottom line of our retirement fund, especially in uncertain times with uncertain markets, let us instead put our hope in God, do good, be rich in good deeds, be generous, and be willing to share what we have with others.  These are the things that store up true riches in our eternal accounts for the life that come after this one.

In both the Old Testament and in the New Testament, from Genesis to Revelation, scripture is filled with both signs of warning and of hope.  For thousands of years people in the cultures that surround the followers of God have scoffed at the idea that there is a God, that there is a place of punishment, or that the values we espouse are foolish, backward, quaint, or outdated.  But just as the warning signs marking and protecting the location of the fire escape are there not only to warn us about the danger of fire, but to show us a way out, the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and the writings of Moses, the Prophets, and stories of Jesus are there not only to warn us, but to give us hope, and to offer us a path to find rescue.

We have free will.  We can ignore the signs, block the fire doors, and park in the fire lane but ignoring the warnings doesn’t make the danger any less real.  The only way to save ourselves from danger is to heed the warnings, to do the things that they ask, and accept the offer of hope that they provide.  It makes so much sense when we’re talking about fire safety, but isn’t it worth our time to listen to the warnings about where we will spend eternity?  We ignore important warnings at our own peril.

Especially when those warnings offer us a path toward hope and rescue.

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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