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Learning to Dream Again
Jeremiah 32:1-2, 6-7, 14-15
I once taught a class on the Ten Commandments. I asked people to imagine what the 11 Commandment might be. One person wrote, “Don’t get caught,” another wrote, “respect”. But another person wrote something completely different, she wrote,” Live the dream.” I remember asking, somewhat as a joke, “and which dream might that be.” I’m not sure what she said, but I think we should all live the dream.
Jeremiah 32 is set against the backdrop of not a classroom, but rather of war and despair. The year was 587 BC and the Babylonians were besieging Jerusalem for some time having completely surrounded the city cutting it off from all supplies and commerce. The Promised Land was in enemy hands, with the People of God, about to be hauled 1,000 miles east into exile. It looked like the dream of the Promised Land was about to die.
Jeremiah is in jail for saying that the city is doomed, yet here he gets a word from God to go and buy a field near his home town of Anathoth, which was a few miles to the north of Jerusalem. It’s a terrible real estate deal as your land is invaded and you’re about to be hauled off into exile.
But the punch line comes in verse 15 where it reads, houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. This turns out to be an incredible story of hope. While everyone else seems to be in denial and despair only seeing the tidal wave of Babylonian power hurling toward them.
In contrast Jeremiah is making plans for fifty years out, when the exile will be over, and owning a land deed will come in handy. Buying the land in the face of this exile is a gesture of hope saying, “I believe God will one day bring us home, and when that day comes, I will be ready and waiting.”
Sometimes the world of the bible can seem so distant, however, if the Bible tells us how God has done unbelievable things, then the ways we can show faith, is to do unbelievable things with the lives we’ve been given. Maybe the way to follow God and the Bible is to do unbelievable things with your life and love.
Leo Baek was a man who did unbelievable things. He was one of the leaders in the Jewish community during Hitler’s rise to power.
Leo Baek was a key figure in organizing ways the Jewish people envisaged life beyond the growing terror. In the summer of 1939 Leo brought a trainload of schoolchildren to safety in Britain.
One of his friends begged him to stay in Britain, but he refused. He said, “I will go when I am the last Jew alive in Germany.” He went back to Germany just a short time before Germany invaded Poland when World War 2 began. He believed that God was calling him to do this unbelievable task.
Leo’s journey back to Germany in 1939 is like Jeremiah’s purchase of the field at Anathoth because in the immediate circumstances of the time it made no sense. Just as you’d think that any resident of Jerusalem would be trying to sell their land, not acquiring more real estate. So too you’d think any Jew in 1939 wouldn’t be travelling back to Germany, but would be hurrying to get as far away from Germany as possible.
Leo’s journey doesn’t just imitate Jeremiah’s field, it also reminds us of the journey of Jesus, from the heart of God, from heaven to earth, from Galilee to Jerusalem. Jesus’ journey from the heart of God to the heart of the human rejection of God was an unbelievable thing for God to do.
Jeremiah’s gesture only makes sense in the light of his conviction that Israel would return from exile, so Jesus’ walk toward the cross only makes sense in the light of what God would make of his death with resurrection.
When we place ourselves in relation to Christ, or even great figures of faith like Jeremiah and Rabbi Leo Baek, we can think that our efforts are insignificant. But think for a moment of the kinds of people who founded this church, Stephen Beggs, a circuit rider organizing the first church in 1836 out of a log cabin. Remember people like Henry Carpenter who in 1852 donates land for a church and Samuel Curtis and wife, Mary, for giving the land adjacent to Carpenters. And on and on the story goes until it lands in our laps today. Each person in the story did what they did in the belief that the night of doubt and sorrow would not last forever, and that fields and vineyards would again be exchanged in Downers Grove.
It was an unbelievable thing that people did to build this building in the great depression, some mortgaging their homes in order to finish the building. At root this dream is the same dream that Jeremiah had. I believe there is one fundamental dream that unties the dreams of Joseph and Daniel.
And that is the dream that God will bring all people out of exile and bring them home to friendship with God, to live in community and love one another.
If it cost us something from time to time it cost God so much more. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as long as one remains in exile, we are all in a jail of our prejudice and small thinking. And Martin Luther King, Jr. did an unbelievable thing. We have all had to learn to dream again. So maybe the woman was right about the eleventh commandment, thou shall learn to dream.
If the dream is Jeremiah’s dream of a return from exile, if the dream is Leo Beak’s dream of saving lives for tomorrow, if the dream is Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of bringing people out of the exile of racism and into the true home of freedom, then there is only one way to walk in their footsteps and that is to live that dream.
I remember sitting out in the backyard of our home in Winnipeg. It was summer and I was lying on a lounge looking up at the sky, with a piece of straw between my teeth. My friend from down the street came by and asked what I was thinking.
He said, “how far you can think?” I said, “what?”
He said, “how far can you think?” He said, “think as far as you can think.”
I said, “Ok I’m thinking as far as I can think.” He said, “OK drive a stake there in your mind. Have you driven a stake in yet?” I said, “Ok, yep I got it in the ground, so to speak.” He said, “Ok now what is on the other side of your stake?”
I said, “Well there’s more sky.” He said, “Move your stake.” We spent the whole afternoon moving stakes. It was a crazy thing to do, but I can never thank him enough for pushing me against my imagination.
Live the dream and let the dream live you, a dream that makes room for all of God’s children. And as the dream lives you, you will do unbelievable things.
Sunday, January 31, 2016