I promise not to mention a certain real estate developer who is currently garnering an undue amount of press and publicity, but given that Jake just read us a story about the first real estate speculator in recorded biblical history, I can’t help it if you conjure up visions of a well-coiffed orange hairdo.
Apparently Jeremiah had never heard the phrase, "location, location, location" when it came to evaluating the 3 most important qualities of a parcel of real estate, however, in this generation, it is as ubiquitous as it is trite, and so much so, that its origins have been lost even to the most tenacious of word sleuths.
Among them is author and language expert William Safire, who wrote a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, prompted by a colleague working on a wedding announcement who claimed that the phrase, "location, location, location" was attributed to a British real estate tycoon named Lord Harold Samuel. Lord Samuel’s 1987 obituary names him as the phrase coiner, but in his research, Safire called the editor of the “Yale Book of Quotations”, who found the phrase used in a real estate classified ad in the Chicago Tribune in 1926. Lord Samuel was 14 years old at the time. Safire said the context of the 1926 ad suggests it was already a familiar phrase in Chicago and he further declared that phrasal etymologists are not yet finished with this challenge.
This appears to be the sort of thing that people with much too much time on their hands pursue!
We, on the other hand, are industrious Presbyterians who shun such extravagance and hence, we will cut to the chase and in doing so, will declare the thrice cited aspects are perhaps catchy, yet inaccurate.
The value of property is actually based upon only two criteria: yes, one is location, and the other is situation.
Think of all of those farmers who owned acres and acres of pasture only to wake up one day to urban sprawl knocking on their barn door! Housing developers require large fallow tracts of land upon which to sprout dwellings of sticks, bricks, and vinyl! Farmland is what feeds the beast and the beast is hungry and rich and willing to pay a tidy sum for land which was formerly only valuable to the horses or cows which grazed upon it.
Many a family has amassed a fortune by liquidating the homestead! The location didn't change -- but the situation did.
The reverse is true as well. Urban blight has consumed a massive trove of property values and we only need to drive a few blocks from here and see the shell of once valued homes now ransacked and gutted which can be had for the price of demolition. Worthless today but I talk to older members who have fond memories of growing up in those same homes.
Jeremiah was obviously tutored in the "buy low sell high" school of investment strategy.
It's 1968, Wilmington, like some other American cities, has erupted in riots and violence. The Delaware National Guard has been deployed to enforce martial law. Blocks have been ravaged, stores and shops looted, and anyone with two nickels to rub together is fleeing to Fairfax where it's safe, calm, and white.
And then...a person, one who some considered a bit daft, steps up and offers to buy a block of the still smoldering city, and not at fire-sale prices, but fair market before the trouble started. If you owned it, you'd lunge for the cash like a rainbow trout torpedoing out of the water after a plump mosquito! As you're counting the dough, he's signing the deed, has it notarized, and hands it to his administrative assistant for safe-keeping! Yes...you can't believe your good fortune at unloading this worthless property...but a nagging thought worms its way into your mind...what if they aren't as daft as you thought? Maybe you're selling a little short...
You'll never know. Fairfax is very comfy -- it has its own Acme, Happy Harry's, and hardware store! Why ever leave? You have a new life, you've cashed out of the old one, it's time to look to the future and forget the old neighborhood.
As bad as Wilmington was in 1968, Jeremiah's case, frankly, is far worse!
Downtown Jerusalem is the location - in the heart of the City of Peace -- but it's far from peaceful -- it's fraught with trouble -- that starts with "T" and rhymes with "B" that stands for "Babylon!" The Babylonian army is closing in faster than the National Guard marched down Market Street and now they've encircled the city. Jeremiah is under arrest and is in jail.
He gets this crazy idea: buy land!
Jeremiah is always swimming upstream. He's constantly out of sync. He's never "going with the flow." He's a one-person "regression to the mean" machine!
When the people were happily living lives of blissful ignorance and avoidance of God's call and purpose for them, Jeremiah took them to task in the harshest of ways. He made few friends doing that but kept up despite royal pressure to cease and desist.
Now that the people are have reach the nadir of their often sordid history, Jeremiah challenges the exiled people to imagine hopeful action, he coaxes their extreme despair closer to the mean of normalcy with his extravagant purchase -- only he can't physically transact so he summons his "Man Friday" and Baruch comes running. That's right: Baruch -- not Barack and not Farogh -- Baruch! Jeremiah forks over the cash for his cousin, Hanamel's land and the family farm is now his! Baruch dutifully records the transaction and files two copies of the deed: one publicly for all to see and the other is rolled up and stuffed into a clay jar for safekeeping.
Jeremiah is carted off to exile in Babylon never to be heard from again -- but we don't know anything about Baruch other than that he's the keeper of the earthenware jar holding the deed to Jeremiah's land.
A few of you may have been lucky enough to actually have the deed to your homes, meaning that it's free and clear and you have no mortgage. For the rest of us, we still ante up the monthly payment to the landlord or bank. But whether we have a lease, a note, or an unencumbered deed, those documents represent more than ownership or obligation; they define where we call home, where we live our lives, where hope resides.
That deed rolled up in the earthenware jar entrusted to Baruch's safekeeping represents the hope of the Hebrew people. It proclaims that God is not done, that exile is not their final destination, that "the South will rise again!" Jeremiah put his money where his mouth was and backed up his musings with hard cold shekels. It was a public, collaborative, action that spoke hope in an unpromising situation and location.
We have no idea how the story ends. We don't know what ultimately happened to Jeremiah, Baruch, the deed, or the land. For all we know there's a WalMart on it somewhere in a Jerusalem suburb with a nice old Jewish man handing out smiley face stickers atop the parcel containing that jar.
What we do know is that we are called to be the carriers of hope. We're not Jeremiah in this story -- we are Baruch. We are the caretakers of hope. We hold the fragile vessel of God's promise to the world, a promise that's often a regression to the mean, a promise that says that God's grace occurs in unusual places and sometimes in contrarian forms.
Like the commercial asks, "what's in your vessel?"
What will your hopeful act be?
What will the congregation's hopeful act be?
What collaborative, inspired, public, and prophetic act will speak hope in unpromising times and places?
This is almost too easy because in the reading and hearing of this scripture, location and situation have converged and First & Central is the living metaphor of the earthenware jar and you are collectively Baruch, you are the carriers of a fragile hope.
That hope is evidenced in our engagement of youth and adults in urban mission work for at-risk Wilmington residents and in our brand new ability to host groups and run programs in ways that demonstrate our credo that “people come first and justice is central.”
That hope is evidenced in cooking classes for young people aging out of Foster Care. So they will learn important life skills of meal planning, shopping, cooking, budgeting, storage, and nutrition. More than that, they’ll be welcomed to the Corner Table where there’s a place set for them – the first taste of family and inclusion. A place setting of hope.
Both of these programs promote relationship and transformation and engagement. Both are public and collaborative that speak hope to an unpromising situation and blighted location.
This renovation project is our earthenware jar and your commitment and support -- financial included -- is the deed within.
I don't claim these the only glimmers of hope in our earthenware jar -- but they are the ones that require attention and prayer and focus now. Never underestimate the importance of this transaction. It truly is an act of faith and a tangible expression of hope.
"For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land." And young adults will again know community and desperate homeowners shall again enjoy safe and sound housing.
We are a beacon of hope in an unpromising place.
Our location? The Corner, 11th and Market, where people are first and justice is central!
Our situation? Healthy, engaged, seeking to be exhausted in the service of all God's people!
That’s what’s in this vessel. What’s in yours?