Anguished Hope

A Sermon on Psalm 137, Jeremiah 32:1-15
With Allusions to Romans 12:14-21 and Mark 15:31-37
By Mary Harris Todd, Pastor
Morton Memorial Presbyterian Church

Sunday, September 16, 2001

The First Sunday after Terrorist Attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

Terrible memories of terrible sights haunted the people of Judah. When the Babylonian army turned towards home, Jerusalem was a pile of rubble and ash. Pieces of the Temple walls were sticking up out of the ruins. It was strangely quiet. Only a few people poked around here and there. The rest had fled, been murdered, died of disease or starvation, or been dragged off to Babylon.

To add to the humiliation, the people of Edom had rejoiced at what Babylon had done to Judah. They cheered! They wanted Babylon to pulverize Judah. And the people of Babylon made fun of the exiles. ?Some God you have,? they sneered. ?Look how well he protected you, eh! Why don?t you entertain us with some of your songs from back home. Sing us one of those?what do you call them? ?oh yeah, those songs of Zion!?

Terrible memories of terrible sights gave way to hot, angry tears. The people of Judah wanted to hit back.

This day we stand in the ruins and weep, and many around the world are crying with us. The suffering is enormous. Grief mixed with fear mixed with rage. How can we even speak? Words seem feeble, cheap, when millions of hearts are screaming for justice! We want to hit back! We want to destroy the vicious people who did this to us! How could God let this happen?

Someone among the people of Judah put their wounds into words: ?Lord, don?t forget what those Edomites did to us!? goes Psalm 137. ?Hold it against them! Babylon, you devastator, blessed is the one who pays you back for what you?ve done to us. Blessed is the one who takes your babies and crushes them against a rock!? No tiptoeing around in that prayer! No sanitizing there! What?s in the people?s hearts is what gets prayed out!

Now this is not a childish outburst. And it certainly is not a permission slip to pay back evil for evil, tit for tat. No. Here?s what it is: This tough prayer is a lance for a deep and terrible wound, to lay it wide open before the one who can handle it, God, the one who can draw off the poison safely. Nothing is held back, nothing is hid from the one who can heal.

This tough prayer is a harness for the rage, directing it to God, the one who can redeem it, shape it and use its power.

This tough prayer is a container, a big enough container to hold all the tears and sighs and screams, and take them straight to the God who knows what hell is because he has already been there. For this very day we can hear Christ?s own cry from the cross. He knows what violence is. He knows what brutality is. How he mourns with us this day!

The prophet Jeremiah lived through those terrible days, the siege and fall of Jerusalem. What he had dreaded for so long was finally happening. Babylonian soldiers were at the city walls, ready to push through. The king had grown sick and tired of Jeremiah?s prophecies of doom, and he had put Jeremiah under house arrest in the palace courtyard. Would he even survive? Jeremiah had already shed many tears for Judah, for its stubborn refusal to listen to God, and for the coming disaster. With zero hour so near, Jeremiah could have let the grief swallow him altogether.

But here came the word of the Lord: ?Jeremiah, I want you to buy some property. Your cousin Hanamel needs to sell his field in Anathoth. When he comes to ask you to buy it, to keep it in the family, I want you to do it.?

So Jeremiah did it. Everybody else thought Jeremiah was nuts! Who in their right mind would invest in real estate when Judah was about to be destroyed? Even Jeremiah thought it was nutty, but he did what God said. He carefully weighed out the money, had the deed properly witnessed, had two copies made, and put them in an earthenware jug so that they would be preserved for a long time. This method works. That?s how the Dead Sea scrolls were stored, and they survived two thousand years, to be found in the 20th century.

In the middle of a national catastrophe, Jeremiah bought a piece of land he would probably never be able to use himself. Why? It was a parable, a sermon in action. Despite all the sorrow that lay ahead, Jeremiah literally put his money on what God was doing. He was banking on God?s future. He didn?t know when, and he didn?t know how, but one day God would restore life in Judah. One day they would rebuild. One day this land would be replanted.

The tears were still wet on Jeremiah?s cheeks when he did this. He grieved and hoped at the same time. He mourned the present and invested in God?s future at the same time. Couldn?t that be our call this day? But how?

First by honest, courageous, insistent prayer. Whatever is in our hearts is what we pray out to God. Let God have the tears. Let God have the rage. Take the impulse for revenge to God and leave it there. Let God have the confusion, the fear, the doubts and the questions. Let God himself have it: My God, my God, where were you on Tuesday, September 11, 2001? Let God have the tremendous power that our grief is. God is big enough and great enough to shape it like a potter and use it for good.

Second: be listening, like Jeremiah, for a word from God in the middle of all this. Resolve to be a part of what God is doing. As for us and our house, and this church, we will serve the Lord! Let God show us the field he wants us to buy. Keep on choosing the way of love and keep on struggling as long as necessary with what that means. Keep seeking true justice and righteousness and peace.

Resolved: we will live towards the light, not the darkness. We will seek good and pursue it. We will stay at our posts until the Lord comes.

Resolved: we will recommit ourselves to each other and to a world that desperately needs Jesus Christ the Savior, the Prince of Peace.

Resolved: we will be a people of stubborn, wholehearted prayer.

Resolved: we will be a people of hope and a people of action.

Resolved: we will be the people of God.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.