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A prophetic vote of confidence


With the community under siege, Jeremiah’s land purchase speaks to the Church today

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

With Lisle Gwynn Garrity, the artist in residence, at work at left, the Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka preaches during the second week of the worship and music conference of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians being held at Montreat, N.C. (Photo by Paul Seebeck)

MONTREAT, N.C.  — “Peace is not the absence of chaos, but the presence of hope.”

That was the message from the Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka Sunday evening during opening worship kicking off week two of the 2019 Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ worship and music conference being held at the Montreat Conference Center.

Citing recent PC(USA) statistical reports, Nishioka, senior associate pastor and director of adult educational ministries at Village Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, said, “We feel good because we’re declining less than expected,” adding that “we’re in this (chaos) together” along with Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Southern Baptists.

Using Jeremiah 32:1-15 as his preaching text  —  the story of Jerusalem under siege by the Babylonian army  —  Nishioka recounted God’s hopeful message to the young prophet: “Houses and fields and vineyards shall once again be bought in this land.”

Under house arrest for warning King Zedekiah that there would be consequences for the king’s unfaithfulness to God, Jeremiah had been talking for some time about how foolish it was for the king to think he had more control than the God who created the universe, Nishioka said.

Some scholars believe the Babylonian siege lasted up to three years. There was chaos in the land, Nishioka pointed out.  Those besieged had begun to run out of food and fuel, so there was no way to keep warm in the winter.

“And then an odd thing occurs,” Nishioka said. “The Lord tells Jeremiah to buy land.”

So, when Jeremiah’s cousin arrives to announce his father wants to sell a field at Anathoth, Jeremiah “makes quite a big deal about this,” according to Nishioka. In front of the king’s guards, Jeremiah weighs his 17 shekels of silver, which represented the field’s purchase price. He creates quite a public spectacle as he signs all of the attendant official documents.

“This is another odd thing to do,” Nishioka said, for at any moment, the Babylonians might take the best and brightest, the youngest and the strongest back to Babylon. People might want to retain something to trade for the safety of their family — like precious metals or stones — or those 17 shekels of silver.

“It’s almost as odd as you giving up a week and paying a bunch of money to come to sing, and learn and to grow, for a church that is under siege and in chaos,” Nishioka said. “But that’s the Lord of hope saying, ‘It’s time to invest in a music and worship conference.’ We know chaos, but we also know that the peace Jesus Christ offers us is the presence of hope.”

Worshipers attending the Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ worship and music conference packed the Montreat Conference Center chapel Sunday evening for opening worship. Here the artist in residence, Lisle Gwynn Garrity, begins a painting as part of worship. (Photo by Paul Seebeck)

Then Nishioka told the story of a 170-year-old PC(USA) congregation in Detroit. The church’s new pastor received a letter from the Detroit Free Press telling her about the city’s upcoming marathon, which had 5,000 runners.  Another 20,000 were in the half-marathon and the family/kids run for disability. In addition, 15,000 or so people would be downtown to cheer on their family members and friends.

The church is at the finish line, so the pastor asked church members if they’d ever done anything to welcome these 40,000 people.  She suggested it would be nice to open the doors that face the street where the marathon finished — and to offer free coffee since it’s usually cold on the third Sunday in October.

“They asked her, ‘Who’s going to pay for it?’” Nishioka said.

At first, he said, session members wanted to close the church the day of the marathon, because “it was such a hassle to get church on that Sunday.”  And they also didn’t know if those doors would actually open, because “they’d never seen them opened.”

Two weeks later the pastor heard loud noises outside her office. She went out to investigate and found three men using tools, including hammers and crowbars.

“What are you doing?” she asked them.  “Pastor,” they replied, “we heard you wanted the doors open.”

It took them three hours to get one of the doors open. The men spent the rest of the afternoon prying open the other set of doors.

On race day, church people brought coffee and hot chocolate with marshmallows.

The following day, Nishioka said, a picture in the upper-left-hand corner of the front page of the Detroit Free Press told a story of hope. The photo depicted a 70-year-old church ruling elder handing a cup of hot chocolate to a six-year-old boy.

“Friends do not doubt for a moment,” Nishioka said, “because the Lord of hope, the God of Israel, says, ‘Houses and fields and vineyards shall once again be bought in this land.’”

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