Buying a Field

On the eve of catastrophe what farsighted actions will we take – in the spirit of Jeremiah’s purchase of the field in Anathoth?

For several Sunday’s we’ve been listening to the prophet Jeremiah in our O.T. readings. He was born into a priestly family in Anathoth – a village in the territory of Benjamin around 650 BC. He’s believed to have died in Egypt probably around 570 BC. He’s the major prophet active during the particularly turbulent decades preceding and following the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC.

In today’s passage Jeremiah is imprisoned on king Zedekiah’s orders in the court of the palace guard as the Babylonian forces besiege Jerusalem. Silencing a prophet is always a fruitless task. Deprived of his personal liberty and access to the king Jeremiah dictates to his scribe Baruch – who then publicly proclaimed his master’s words of warning to the Temple congregations.

While locked up in the guardhouse, the word of the Lord came to him saying that his cousin Hanamel will offer him the right of redemption on a field in his home village of Anathoth. One might speculate that Hanamel, surveying the dire situation clearly wants to liquidate his assets in preparation for possible hasty flight. His luck’s in. On the eve of destruction, one might think Jeremiah would have more pressing things on his mind than to buy a piece of land that to all intents and purposes will be of no use to him.

The similarities between 6th-century Judah and 21st-century America may at first sight not seem obvious to the historically untutored eye. Yet, his was, like ours is, a world on the precipice of unprecedented upheaval and crisis. As a consequence of Zedekiah’s foolish foreign adventurism, the armies of Nebuchadnezzar – for the second time in 10 years -had arrived at the gates of Jerusalem- this time to end, once and for all, the Judahite problem.

After the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel 721, Judah had benefited from a refugee influx of Israel’s elite. They brought with them cultural and economic expertise that transformed Judah from an underpopulated backwater into a successful and economically prosperous trading nation – an ancient Singapore on the Jordan.

The parallels with today’s America are uncanny. In the years preceding 587 trade was strong, the equivalent of the stock market was buoyant, Judah’s GDP was growing.  But economic prosperity fostered in Zedekiah dangerous foreign policy ambitions – ambitions that led directly to the destruction of the city and state in 587.

As in contemporary America 6th-century Judah’s prosperity was very unequally distributed with all the predictable societal consequences of inequality of wealth. Money corrupted politics hastened the decline in moral and ethical standards in public life because as Carlos Lozada in the New York Times on September 22nd writes the big lie is predicated on the big joke. The big joke is that if everyone is lying and everyone knows that everyone is lying – so no harm done.

Jeremiah warns against external threats brought about by the kings ill-judged foreign policy adventures, while at the same time he decries the greed and abuse of power that was leading directly to a collapse in moral and ethical standards in public life. When the wellspring of prosperity is poisoned – as we well know – such prosperity paradoxically exacerbates institutional and moral decline.  Jeremiah’s message is a call for repentance among the haves for their corruption and exploitation, and among the have-nots for their willingness to be conned and bought off with lies.

Like the 8th-century prophet Hosea, Jeremiah is a prophet of lamentation known some quarters as the weeping prophet. A major theme of Hosea’s is the land’s lament. Hosea is writing some 200 years before Jeremiah – during the social and political instability prior to the Assyrian destruction of the Northern Kingdom in 721 BC stress the land’s lament. Interestingly, archeological evidence points to serious changes in climate patterns during this period may well have impacted international relations and been a factor in Israel’s decline.  

Andi Lloyd writing in The Land Mourns  in the latest edition of Christian Century Magazine notes that for Hosea the land’s lament is not the equivalent of our modern environmental grieving over:

…. pollution or strip-mining or any material injury to itself. The land’s lament, to which Hosea gives voice, is wider than that. The land’s lament speaks a foundational ecological truth: when one part of creation goes awry, the whole suffers. The land’s grief at what the people have done points to the fundamental reality of our interconnection. …. Therefore the land mourns …. because the people have gone astray, in all the familiar ways: There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. (Hosea 4:1–2)

The land mourns is a metaphor for a fundamental imbalance between the interconnected elements in the creation. The prophetic vision was a correction to this imbalance – restoring a vision of a world as it ought to be. However, the prophets lived as we do, in a world of too much injustice and too little love fraying the threads that bind the creation together. Andi Lloyd writes:

Now, as then, the fabric that connects all of creation is badly torn: torn by manifold injustices wrought and perpetu­ated by the exploitative systems in which we live, torn by ideologies of scarcity that teach us to love too narrowly and too little. To mourn is to speak that truth to the lies that prop up the denial on which the status quo depends.

One of the major consequences of a world out of balance is the loss hope. We become despondent. Our confidence in progress and belief in a future better than the past is undermined – and despair distorts our vision.

Through repentance Jeremiah preaches the restoration of lost hope. Before the fall of Jerusalem, he sounds the voice of warning. But after the fall of the city rather than a voice of I told you so – amid the destruction of the nation he proclaims a message of present time faith in future hope.

In contrast to Psalm 137’s voice of lament: 

How can we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land?  If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem as my greatest joy!…

Jeremiah counsels the Exiles to:

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. 

The realization of future hope begins now through faith as present time action. On the eve of destruction, one might think Jeremiah would have more pressing things on his mind than to buy a piece of land that to all intents and purposes will be of no use to him – which at first sight seems a futile thing to do. He pays the price, signs the deed, instructing Baruch to place it into an earthenware vessel:

in order that they may last for a long time.  For thus says the Lord of hosts, houses, and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Today, we are living in the face of multiple crises; national, international, and environmental. We struggle against despair and despair’s bitter fruit – helplessness. In our disempowerment we fail to see the interconnections that link all our current crises together so that to take steps to address one is to impact the larger whole. For instance, to tackle the corruption fueled by dirty money and special interests in political life is also to increase transparency and reduce the temptation for dishonesty in public life.  In raising the moral and ethical standards of politicians by no longer voting for politicians who habitually lie about climate change we will make progress in addressing the environmental crisis. In standing up to regimes who exploit their carbon extraction wealth to threaten and wage war on their neighbors, we have a strong incentive to wean ourselves off carbon dependance thus lessening the inevitability of environmental catastrophe.

So you see we are far from helpless!

On the eve of catastrophe what farsighted actions will we take – in the spirit of Jeremiah’s purchase of the field in Anathoth?

Eucharist: Hearts and Bread

A message on Ministry Sunday

The following is by way of introduction to an instructed Eucharist for Ministry Sunday. We celebrate the Eucharist Sunday by Sunday, often with little thought or awareness of what it means to do so. On Ministry Sunday we celebrate participation in the life of the Christian community at St Martin’s.

On Ministry Sunday it’s timely to ask the question who are we? The answer is we are the Christian people of God.  How do we demonstrate our identity? We do so through our gathering as a people – one body – to participate in the worship of God. Our identity as the Christian people of God in the world flows primarily from our participation in the worship of God! This line is worth repeating.

Our identity as the Christian people of God in the world flows primarily from our participation in the worship of God!

Through worship we become the body of Christ in the world. Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom’s coming by preaching and demonstrating through faith as present time action. Jesus’ work of proclaiming the kingdom’s coming – is the work now entrusted to the life of the Church – the Christian people of God – to carry forward in cooperation with God’s plan for the healing of creation.

Church is the name by which we as the Christian people of God – the body of Christ in the world are known. As the Church, we are engaged in many activities in the wider world. Works of compassion and mercy, speaking words of truth to power, striving through faith as present time action for justice and peace. These are all aspects of our proclamation of the Kingdom of God. However, these activities are not unique to us. The work and action of other service institutions and individual people of good will mirror Christian activity in the world. You don’t have to be a Christian to do good or to work for change. Therefore, the unique source of our identity flows from our participation in worship. All other aspects of our missionary involvement in the world, flow from here.

For Episcopalians, as for other Christians of the Apostolic Tradition of Christianity, the Eucharist – the breaking of bread – is our main act of worship. It is in the Eucharist that we discover our uniqueness as the body of Christ in the world. In the Eucharist we encounter the mystery of God’s presence among and around us. In the Eucharist ordinary things – bread, wine, and water become instruments of transformation. They become the symbols of spiritual food and nourishment.

In our Anglican tradition, we speak of the Real Presence of Christ -the transformation of bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ. This happens, we believe, through the power of the Holy Spirit’s action. While believing this to be so, we are reluctant to offer any explanation of the Holy Spirit’s action. We are not interested in the how of this transformation – only in the why of it.  

Our Anglican theology teaches that the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is the transformation of hearts and minds. Through worship we participate in that process of transformation – fed and nourished by the body and blood of Christ we become the body of Christ in the world.

The main purpose of the Eucharist is not to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ but to change our hearts and minds to become the body of Christ in the world.

In the Eucharist we participate in a divine encounter. Through the liturgy of the Word, we receive and respond to the conversation God is calling us to have rather than the more limited conversation we would prefer to have with ourselves. Through the liturgy of the Table, Christ becomes our spiritual food so that we become the body of Christ in the world.

On ministry Sunday when our focus is on the many aspects of the work that sustains and enriches our community life – equipping us for our work in the world around us – we are reminded that the source of all our ministry flows from our participation in the worship of God through the Eucharist – our supreme act of thanksgiving.

We think of the Eucharist in terms of a series of words, but it’s really a sequence of actions.

The first action is preparation. We invoke the presence of the Holy Trinity. We offer our hearts to be cleansed so that we may more perfectly love God. We sing praise to God in the ancient hymn of the Gloria and we collect the themes for our worship in the collect prayer of the day.

The second action is invitation through reading from holy scripture God invites us as a community to enter into a conversation. Through the readings from scripture our attention is drawn to the themes that concern our relationship with God and with one another.

  • The Old Testament reading and the Psalm give us a picture of the historic struggles between God and his chosen people to remain faithful in relationship together. The New Testament reading offers a perspective on what it means to live the new life in Christ drawn from letters to early Christian communities. The gospel is the most central reading of the three – drawn from the four accounts of Jesus understanding of the kingdom’s coming and proclaimed from the body of the church, .

The third action is response. If the readings constitute God’s invitation to conversation what follows forms our response to what we have heard.

  • In the sermon the preacher contextualizes God’s concerns building a connection between the readings and the congregation’s lived experience in the here and now.
  • The creed continues our response by proclaiming in together what we as the Christian community have always and everywhere believed. The opening words: we believe are misleading. We believe means more than intellectual assent. It means an opening of our hearts God.
  • We don’t need to understand the language of the Creed. The Creed’s function is to protect the timeless articulation of Christian faith not to explain it.
  • The Prayers of the People continue to articulate our response to the conversation God has invited us into.
  • The confession is referred to as a general confession. It’s communal and not individual. We confess as a community our communal failure to mirror the full promise of our God-given humanity. The absolution declares God’s desire to always forgive. It is the authoritative declaration of the Church and therefore words reserved for the authorized representative of priest or bishop.

The actions of preparation, invitation, and response conclude with the sharing of Christ’s Peace between us. The Peace brings the first half of the Eucharist – known as the Ministry of the Word to completion.

We now begin the four-fold actions of the Ministry of the Table: taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing the elements of bread and wine.

We take bread and wine – the offering of the whole congregation. We bless them as the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving is said over the gifts of bread and wine. Although recited by the priest this prayer is the prayer of the whole congregation. Anglican tradition emphasises this by forbidding a priest from celebrating the Eucharist alone without the presence of at least one other person.

We have four official thanksgiving or Eucharistic Prayers, each with a different theological emphasis, but all following the same structure:

  •  The action of blessing begins with recalling the great acts of God in history: the creation of the world, our Calling to be God’s people, our human wandering, and God’s eternal faithfulness; culminating in God’s self-giving as a sign of love for the world. We look forward to the future hope for the fulfillment of all God hath promised to do.
  • In the Words of Institution, the priest takes bread and wine reciting over them the words Jesus used at the Last Supper. The congregation proclaims Jesus’ death and his resurrection as we look with hope for his return at the resurrection of the whole creation.
  • The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving is literally a re-membering as in re assembling time. The past is remembered an anticipation of future promise – collapsing past and future into the present time as we call upon the Holy Spirit to sanctify not only the bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ but the whole congregation to become the body of Christ in the world.
  • And in the final great AMEN we emphasize the note of crescendo bringing the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving to a close.

Following the great AMEN, the community obeys Jesus’ command to pray using the words of the only prayer he taught his disciples to pray.

The third action is breaking, symbolizing Jesus’ offering of his body to be broken and his blood to be poured out for the life of the world.

Sharing is the final of the four-fold actions. The priest invites us to eat and drink the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood for these are the gifts of God for the people of God. Anglican theology is purposely vague at this point – believing in the real presence of the body and blood of Christ, but also allowing for a more symbolic interpretation as the bread of life, and the cup of salvation. But the emphasis in the invitation is on the people, now sanctified by the Holy Spirit to receive – eat and drink – with faith and heartfelt thanksgiving.

We make a concluding prayer after receiving the gifts of God for the people of God followed by the solemn blessing of the congregation. Now spiritually renewed we are dismissed – the Eucharist is ended. We are commissioned to go out into the world to proclaim and to live out the realities of the Kingdom’s coming.

Our identity as the Christian people of God in the world flows primarily from our participation in the worship of God!

Faith is a ‘doing word’, silly

London Bridge is down – the code that acknowledges to the British Nation, the Commonwealth, and the world the death of Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and her other realms and territories; head of the British Commonwealth of Nations, an organization of 56 sovereign states with a population of 2.4 billion people, among which 16 continue to acknowledge her as head of state.

The Queen is dead, long live the king! Elizabeth of gracious memory – her death sets in motion the constitutional processes ensuring the peaceful transition to her successor, now King Charles III. His is destined to be a significant reign – during which the style and appearance of the Monarchy will continue to evolve. The emotionally charged late Queen’s legacy must now be carried forward. We pray for King Charles III and Camilla, his Queen Consort, as they assume the burden of the monarchy at a point of significant uncertainty for the United Kingdom in an increasingly unstable world.

I have the good fortune to hold three passports – two of which request and require in the name of Her Majesty all whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary. I have been surprised by a sense of deep sadness following the death of the late Queen. Surprised in that sense of awakening to a loss akin to the loss of a grandparent – someone I may not have paid that much personal attention to while alive, somehow taking for granted they would always be there.

The death of Elizabeth II is an event of global significance because for so many around the world she embodied the values that have passed from most people’s experience of public life. The global coverage of her death and the colorful rituals of the accession of Charles III, remind us of our longing for stability and continuity, color and dignity. The medieval rituals proclaiming the new king by Garter Knights dressed in costumes that could have jumped from a deck of playing cards has not been seen for 70 years and now is for the first time seen by millions around the world. Yet, behind all the pomp the new king’s commitment to diligent service in public life commends itself to us all.

Today is also Homecoming Sunday at St Martin’s. When I first arrived in the parish Homecoming was marked by the production of a ministry prospectus and the excitement of a new cycle in the parish’s life. It’s interesting to reflect on how much has changed in 7 years. Yet, although clearly different now, Homecoming in 2022, marks what I hope will signify a full return to in person interactional parish life – though as a learning from the pandemic period I will continue to plug for as many Vestry meetings as possible to continue via Zoom (joke).

It’s always surprising to me how the three-year lectionary cycle uncannily reflects the themes and needs of the day. This year on Homecoming we read from Luke 15:1-10 with its linked parables of finding the lost. Fortunately, the gospel passage ends at v 15 thus excluding the parable of the prodigal son. This is a parable that deserves a separate occasion of its own.

Seeking the lost is for me a significant theme in contemporary church life. It reminds me that so much of our efforts now focus on preventing what remains from being further lost that we have little energy for searching out and restoring the lost. But having said that – there arises a question: what exactly do we think of as being lost? As we face a general demographic decline of institutional church going – no less so here at St Martin’s than more generally across the board, it’s tempting to envisage the loss of a remembered golden age of post war church going. The thing about memory however is the past is always selectively recalled –skewed and filtered through the anxieties of the present moment.

In this past week’s E-News, I endeavored, limited by space and reader’s attention span to articulate what can seem a rather complex connection between faith – as a present time action, and hope – as future expectation. Both impact upon each other, but what is often missed is the impact of the expectations of our future hope upon our current practice of faith – faith defined not as assent to propositions of belief, but as present time action. Alice Miller, the 20th-century psychoanalyst, and pioneer in the area of child abuse commented that we already are who we have been waiting for. Future hope is already here, present and embedded in our practice of faith as present time action.

Is our St Martin’s community growing or declining in numbers? I personally see evidence that St Martin’s numbers are holding steady. We evoke increasing curiosity among those whose first contact with church is now online. For many we may for the time being remain an online presence in their lives, yet new people are now showing up on Sunday mornings. Worship – once the barometer for a sense of numbers is no longer a reliable reflection due to changing social patterns of Sunday attendance among the membership. For me its less a matter of actual numbers and more one of inconsistent participation that remains an issue – but this is an issue better left to next week on Ministry Sunday.

On Homecoming I would like to suggest to us all that what has been lost is our confidence in faith as present time action. We’ve come to misperceive faith as about assent to statements about God. Thus faith becomes something we possess or don’t, something we accept of reject. By contrast faith is actually action, its what compels us to act. What we’ve lost is the confidence of faith as present time action – capable of actually making a difference in the world. This is faith as lived commitment as collaborators in the coming of the kingdom into a world so sorely in need of a reordering of priorities. The gospel message of seeking the lost is for me in this instance about the confidence to embody our faith at the everyday level of life – through the power of present time action.

As Episcopalians we often rebuke ourselves for our comfortable complacency. We are very happy with God, and we don’t expect God to make too many demands of us. This is an attitude that dilutes the energy of faith in us. The energy of faith lies in the belief that what we do here and now can and is building a future world for our children and their children that will be better than the one we inherited. The expectation of hope empowers our present practice of faith, while our crisis of confidence or lack of courage to hope weakens our belief in ourselves as the instruments of the change we long to see.

Faith as present time action involves cultivating a much-overlooked human quality – diligence. The parable of the lost coin is a story about the diligence of the woman who turns her house upside down in what amounts to the spring-clean of spring-cleans in search for her lost coin. She never doubted she would find it and on finding it shares the joy of its recovery with all her family and neighbors. The practice of faith may be personal but it is never private. The practice of faith is always social.

Diligence is the quality of focus on the task at hand. It requires of us confidence and consistency of effort. Diligence requires a persistent attention of body, mind, and heart – and in my experience, is a key quality often most displayed by women. In the masculine sphere of heroic action, diligence is easily eclipsed. Diligence has a quiet quality – its practice goes largely unnoticed. Diligence involves an attention to the details of relationship. It is a taking care in ordinary everyday circumstances. Diligence is a gentle competence in ordinary things. It’s an unsung characteristic of discipleship.

None of us needs reminding that in our media-driven world where news is now entertainment, diligence is not sexy, it is not sound bite-friendly. It mostly goes unappreciated in the clashing and discordant cacophony of the politics of bread and circuses. Diligence in public service and private life is no longer a quality our politicians aspire to – preferring instead the peacock display of self-serving egotism. Success is no longer measured by what is achieved but on the size of one’s twitter following.

I think so many of us mourn the late Queen’s death because although we may not have been able to put a name on it -for 70 years she has consistently embodied the quality of diligence. For her diligence was an essential attribute of her Christian discipleship – expressed through an unstinting devotion in the service of her people. Over 70 years of service it’s been estimated that The late Queen met and shook hands with the equivalent of a third of the UK population.

Through faith as present time action we set the direction of travel towards the future. The expectations of hope in turn strengthen our confidence in faith as present time action. The energy of longing expressed in our hope as future expectation flows backwards through the channel of faith -shifting and reshaping our perspectives and actions in the present. The future is still to come and yet the future does not wait. If we already are who we have been waiting for then the future is already here in the confidence of our faith and the quality of our diligence. Whatever we long for the future to bring, the future always begins now!

On this Homecoming Sunday we give heartfelt thanks for our St Martin’s community, reminding ourselves that we are a community renewing our confidence in faith as something that can move mountains – but perhaps only one stone at a time – which requires the quiet ways of unsung diligence – the gentle competence in ordinary things. Nevertheless our task at hand is to continue to work tirelessly to build up our common life. To proclaim the causes of peace and universal justice – which in our present state of climate crisis begins with championing environmental justice at home and abroad. On Homecoming we remember that it is only together that we can achieve more than anyone of us alone . We rededicate to God anew, our time, our talents, and our treasure. God of renewal – Hear us.

Blog at

Up ↑