First Mennonite Church
November 1, 2015
To “Pull the Plug” or Bet on the Future
Texts: Jeremiah 32:36-44; Mark 10:17-31
When the future seems hopeless “pulling the plug” sometimes is the best alternative. In the medical field there is something called “DNR,” Do Not Resuscitate.
It’s a legal document that patients or (more often) their loved ones sign in the presence of witnesses. It says that if the patient gets into certain kinds of trouble, doctors are not supposed to use “extraordinary means” to help them out. Typically it means if the (patient’s) heart stops doctors can’t code them and if they have
trouble breathing doctors can’t put in the endotracheal tube to keep them breathing on a machine. Implicit, it seems, in a DNR order is the idea that the patient’s “quality of life” is so low that it’s not worth the pain, discomfort and indignity of coding and ventilation.
Pulling the plug is applicable not only to extremely sick people. It is also applicable to personal projects, businesses, institutions and organizations. Pulling the plug is always traumatic and extremely difficult. It is not easy to pull the plug on something and much less on a loved one. Pulling the plug can mean letting go of a baby-project, a multi-generation family business, a beloved institution or organization. It means the situation is hopeless or beyond the point of turning something around. It means it is impossible to keep something alive or not worth the investment or of pouring more effort or resources into it anymore. When the time comes to pull the plug it means that all hopes for the better is given up. It means the end has come!
The situation for Judah and its capital, Jerusalem according to Jeremiah 32, seemed to have reached the point of no turning back. The people had remain defiant to God’s message. While everything that could go wrong seemed obviously to have gone wrong, the king was still not willing to accept Jeremiah’s prediction about temple, the monarchy and the people. Devastation was on their doorstep because God had determined to pull the plug on Hezekiah, the king and his people. In that time when it seemed like if God had given up on his people, in a time of complete hopelessness, the Lord still wanted to give his people a message of hope. This time Jeremiah was called to act out his message; God wanted Jeremiah to illustrate his message of hope. So, God asked Jeremiah to do the most irrational thing: bet his money in something that seemed had no future at all. God instructed Jeremiah to buy a parcel of land, thus indicating that life in community, business as it used to be, and normalcy and wellbeing will once again become a reality. When Jeremiah had signed the deed of the purchase and while he was still standing before the witnesses and seller, Jeremiah prayed: O, Lord God! It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. You show mercy and steadfast love to the thousandth generation….(Jeremiah 32:17-18). In verse 26, God replied, “See, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me?”
My dear brothers and sisters, acts of faith are not always rational; they almost never are. Chapter 32 of Jeremiah is a story of an irrational act of faith on the part of Jeremiah. Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonian army. With every passing day, the Babylonians tightened their grips on the city by fortifying their closure on the city. Yet in the midst of such bleak circumstances God instructed Jeremiah to purchase a plot of land, thus revealing there was still light ahead. Jeremiah carried out the whole purchasing protocol as if nothing was happening and as if he were to move to his property right away. His action was irrational, illogical, yet it was sign of hope and faith that God will replenish the land.
I beg you to allow me to attempt to articulate and if not at least to stammer in my attempt to show how this passage might speak to us today. At a personal or family level, trust and hope are the currency of our life. Were we sure we’d be alive today? Yet, we planned for it. We made up our mind to be here and to have fellowship with both God and his people. Do we know what the future holds for us? No! We do not have the faintest glimpse; not the slightest idea! Yet we might have already made our plans for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or what we want for our birthday next year. Despite being fully aware that we do not have control over the future, we still plan, anticipate and look forward toward the future. “We can only hope,” we are used to saying. We can only trust we will be alive tomorrow. God has placed in our soul a natural ability to hope for tomorrow.
As individuals and people of faith, we move to another level of trust and hope. First, our hope is tied to a promise made by God. Our trust and hope is more than just keeping our fingers crossed about the expectation of the future. Our trust and hope are grounded on the God who holds the future. It is God, who through the Holy Spirit, whispers into our ears of faith, the things he alone can do. Once more, our faith and hope might not always be perceived as making good sense according to human wisdom. But our trust and our hope are indeed not based on the best analysis of what has been or our best calculations of what is to come. Our trust and hope are grounded on the word of God whose character throughout the ages is to fulfill his promises. If Scripture is reliable, then we can trust in the reliability of the God of Scriptures.
So let me bring to you an issue which Roy was able to articulate in a very simple prayer request last Wednesday. In American Sign Language, Roy asked our group to “pray for church to continue on and on; to stay alive.” Every Wednesday someone in our prayer group would ask us to “pray for church.” But Roy asked it very plainly and maybe with the openness neither of our group members had not been able to specify—that the church would continue and stay alive.
Allow me here to make a confession to you. Please do not take me wrong. This is natural in the lives of all pastors from time to time.
More than once Lilian and I have had moments of heart-searching conversation about our life, work and ministry here at First Mennonite Church. The truth is, there have been moments in which we have thought that it would be better for us to pack our bags and leave. There have been times when we had wanted to pull the plug out. There have been moments when we were not sure if we were a hindrance or a misfit to the church. But it is only after seeking God in prayer that we had been comforted and encouraged by the Spirit of God to not lose faith and hope. God has given us grace to trust him and bet on the future, as he promises.
Today God is inviting us to bet on the future; God is asking us to commit ourselves to the challenges we have before us. The Babylonians are waiting on our doorsteps. They have been there, and even if they leave they will be back by our doors again. Like Jeremiah, we might feel we are imprisoned. Yet in the midst of such dark moments of hopelessness, and utter absence of the possibility of a future, God is calling us invest of ourselves in total trust that God will act and deliver us according to his promise. God is calling us to act in complete contradiction of logic and reason. God is asking us today to trust in his marvelous power to effect a complete reversal of the present reality. God is asking us the rhetorical questions he asked Jeremiah: Is there something too hard for God? (v. 27). The resounding answer is no! There is nothing impossible with God as Jesus states in Mark. The God who has called us can break out of all conventional ways of working and can overcome every limitation we might see as unsurmountable and bring about a new reality unknown to us, for there is nothing too hard or difficult for God! But not only will God work on the external; most importantly God wants to work internally. In us! He wants to give us a heart that beats again with jubilation. He wants to revive our soul. He wants to imprint in us his word and become our God indeed.
Hear once more God’s promise:
They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul (38-41).
The only question we need to resolve today is: Are we willing to bet on the future as promised by God? According to our New Testament reading today, the rich young man could not bet on the demands of the kingdom of God. He did not want to put all his “eggs in one basket.” He wanted to keep his wealth. In the end, he chose his wealth and went away sad and lonely. But as for Peter and his friends, they all had put all their eggs in one basket only—Jesus and his message. They bet their lives in the message of Jesus.
Peter was not bashful to remind Jesus of it. “Look, we have left everything and followed you,” Peter said. Jesus [turned around and said to him,] “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life (Mark 10:28-30).
I want to bet on the future God is promising us and I plead with you to bet as well. Amen!