Sometimes it’s the oddest things that can give us hope! This past week the North Kent Recycling Center re-opened after being closed for weeks due to the fear of COVID 19 spread. I had some outdated magazines that had been sitting in my car as a result of my quarantine sorting. So I joined the long line of cars that were dumping off recyclables we had stockpiled in garages and sheds.
My hope soared when a new license plate arrived in the mail over the weekend! It was a replacement plate I had ordered more than a month ago. It was a nightmare to navigate the Secretary of State site when all offices were closed because of the pandemic. My license plate literally fell off my car and was lost on the last outing I made the day before our governor shut down the state. My husband’s technological skills ultimately prevailed as we ordered a new plate on-line…but then we waited. Nothing was in production anywhere in any form, it seemed. I borrowed my husband’s car for the few outings I made in the past weeks, feeling like a 16-year old waiting for my own set of wheels. So when the license plate arrived in the mail I rejoiced that some regular productivity is resuming in some factory where new license plates are forged and sent out to liberate captives like me! Sometimes it’s the oddest things in times of trial that can give us hope!
Let me just start off my introduction to the text from Jeremiah with an attestation of adoration: I love Jeremiah! Like all prophets, he was plucked from an otherwise happy life to serve as God’s spokesperson. When God Almighty handpicks you for the job, there’s no saying no. He could not have known that total destruction of the beloved city of Jerusalem would happen on his watch. As the Babylonians soared in strength and numbers, they marched into terrified towns, extending their vast empire. The Jews in Israel didn’t escape their notice. For 12 difficult years Jeremiah thanklessly preached doom to a people who had long since forgotten to trust in God. Before we judge them too harshly we would do well to admit that clinging to faith in God when faced with mortal danger on a global scale is seldom our first instinct. Rather, we look to our own resources that we can manipulate and assume that we can make the difference. We can manage quite well on our own, thank you very much. It’s only when all our human efforts fail us that this nagging afterthought occurs to us: Maybe I should turn this over to God? For 12 years Jeremiah pointed to God as the only hope for their salvation but the Jews weren’t buying it.
So then this odd thing happens. God shows up in the form of a cousin who asks Jeremiah for financial help to retain land that was at risk of being sold out of the family. It’s difficult for us to remember the great value placed on keeping the farm in the family in our transient society where big business produces much of our food. But land was wealth and identity for Jeremiah’s people and the impending national defeat by menacing soldiers put their inheritance at risk. Faced with certain attack and probable exile, all local properties were greatly devalued. Who would buy a condo or a plot of land in Wuhan, China right now? Warren Buffet suggested optimism in the U.S. economy recently but only after he divested his staggering wealth from all airline stakes. One video that went viral last month was a flight attendant doing the usual welcome and survival instructions that kick off each flight. You know, the reminders about oxygen masks falling out of the ceiling should our plane meet up with trouble? Stewardess Jessica personalized her opening monologue to the one passenger on the flight from Washington, D.C. to Boston. That’s right. On April 20 Sheryl was the only passenger on the plane, receiving the full attention of two flight attendants. No one wants to get into a closed cabin these days and fly through celestial territory while invisible Corona assailants might be circulating through the plane. So Buffet dumped his airline stakes and struggled to find any kind of investment that looks attractive in a global pandemic. Who would invest in a dying enterprise?
For Jeremiah’s cousin to ask him to cough up some cash to keep the family plot in their name was ludicrous. But God nudged the prophet to do precisely that. “Buy the field,” he was instructed. His action would be symbolic, offering hope for a return to the homeland one day. This land would have value for them later even if right now it seemed like a wasted investment. So, after 12 years of doom and gloom preaching, signing on a property deed turns Jeremiah’s message around. Following God’s foolish directive to believe in a future worth living gives him hope which he offers freely to his people. They carry it with them as they are marched away from their homeland and held captive for half a century. Though Jeremiah would not live for the return, he died with the satisfaction of knowing that his descendants might one day return to that field and resume the work of their ancestors, planting crops for another generation. Sometimes the oddest things give us hope when we are marched away from the life we know and love.
Today is Mother’s Day. Restaurants are closed in much of the country so there are no lavish brunches for well-deserving moms. Many of us aren’t even able to be in the same space as our children since the Corona virus continues to stalk us. No hugs from sweet grandbabies. Only zoom calls with mothers who live in the nursing home one town over or across the country in a time when no one is getting into planes. Fortunately, mothers don’t do the job for the recognition. This national holiday isn’t going to be cancelled because we can’t honor our moms in our usual manner this year. The investment of a mom is probably the most costly she will make. It will literally take over her body. It will cost her a good night’s sleep more times than she will ever wish to count. She will wash more dishes, fold more laundry, cook more meals than she ever could have imagined. She may well work outside the home to provide an income so that she will be able to pay the estimated $235,000 it costs to raise one child in our country from birth to age 17. This kind of commitment is not predicated on having the right kind of treatment on any one particular day of the year. It is the full investment in shaping joyful, healthy, well-balanced children who will be able to contribute well to our world as adults.
There are plenty who say it’s not worth the cost! There are too many traps that potentially ensnare our dear children, breaking our hearts and emptying our wallets! In 2017 the birthrate declined to the lowest number seen in 30 years! Much of our society determined that babies are not a worthwhile investment. But those who will not be treated to an extravagant brunch or large family gathering aren’t going to check out of their role as mother because of that! We just have to look in on a few scenes to understand what lies at the root of being a mom. I think of the parents who rejoice when they discover that horseback riding opens up previously non-existent lines of communication between them and their autistic son. I think of the parents who weep for joy as their learning-disabled child receives her hard-earned diploma. I remember the fierce love of parents who walk alongside of their child as he fights cancer, as she battles depression, as he fights social rejection, as she struggles with addiction.
Many would say it’s not a good investment but the love that shines out in so many mother-child interactions assures us that no gift could be more meaningful. Where was Sheryl, that single passenger on a plane, traveling on April 20? To be with her mother in a hospice facility where she was in the final stage of her life. Treated like a queen on the flight, she disembarked and made it to her mother’s side so that she could be there as she breathed her last a day later. An investment made with love yields a harvest that will bring hope out of the most discouraging situations.
When God first commissioned Jeremiah to prophesy to his people, he was told that his job description was to plant and to build. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But, as is often the case with divine communication, we misunderstand God’s intent. We sign the contract with no guarantee of what lies ahead. The field we are to plant may need first to be cleared of stones. The soil may have impermeable clay. The seed may be old and our tools outdated. But God works alongside of us at each daunting juncture so that we can plant and build in challenging seasons. Our investment is completely reliant on our faith in a powerful God who directs the universe. Rather than despairing in desperate times, our investment in the God of Jesus Christ breathes new life and resurrection joy into us. It offers courage to those who share in the journey. When God is at work, it is the oddest things in times of trial that give us hope!