Summary: As Jeremiah risked everything to buy some apparently worthless real estate in order to give a sign that the Lord would triumph, so I also asked our church to adopt a new but venturesome vision for its life.
Could I offer you a real estate deal this morning? Oh, it will be the deal of a lifetime! You can’t pass this up! Can I get you to buy a piece of land, sight unseen, in a sort-of shaky area? True, it might be taken over by the military, but, hey, who’s worried about that? Come on and buy! True, it might be hard to use it for anything, but why should that concern you? It’s a good investment. I personally guarantee it. Come on and buy this land. No checks, no credit cards, please; cash only! Can I get you to sign right here?!
The trouble with buying things, sight unseen, is that you don’t know, first-hand, what you’re getting. You are totally dependent on the word of the one who is selling it to you. You have to put faith in his blarney and believe that what you are buying is all he says it is. If you cannot see it for yourself, you just have to believe that you are being told the truth.
The classic swindle along these lines involves the company that was selling Florida land when the boom first opened up that territory. In the 1890’s, Henry Flagler built a railroad down the entire Florida peninsula, and people swarmed to get land somewhere, anywhere, as long as it was in Florida. One company offered its acreage at incredibly low prices, prices far less that the going rate. This company displayed maps, showing exactly where the land was located, and describing spacious lots, with gorgeous views and simmering sunsets. Their sales skyrocketed! This land sold as if there were no tomorrow! But when the buyers from cold northern cities went south to claim their purchases and make arrangements to build, they found they had bought acreage in a swamp, under three feet of water! Some deal, huh, when you have somehow to drain three feet of water off your acreage before you can even touch it, much less build on it!
Now, as if that were not enough of a swindle for us to think about, not many years after the Florida land boom, there was a boom of another kind. Immigrants. Hundreds and thousands of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, running from oppression and starvation and landing on Ellis Island in New York harbor. They knew nothing about America, but they had heard tales of golden streets and ready cash, how there was enough for everyone to live like a king. They brought little with them, these Poles and Russians and Italians and Germans, but what they did have they were ready to invest in America’s immense wealth. That made them sitting ducks for shysters of all kinds. And so in the 1920’s one of the favorite tricks, as immigrants poured into the Lower East Side, was to point out the stunning Brooklyn Bridge, standing proudly on the skyline, and tell them that for only a few rubles or kopecks or lira, that bridge could be yours! Never mind that the Brooklyn Bridge was not for sale, nor did it belong to the salesman who sold it, nor that its worth, even if it were for sale, was infinitely beyond the means of these struggling newcomers. They bought; they plunked down their hard-earned money for a nothing that looked like something. They gave away their money and received nothing of value in return. That’s why today, when you find somebody who will believe anything we tell them, we smile and say, “Well, if you believe that, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to show you.” Selling the Brooklyn Bridge is a symbol of childlike credulity.
Florida swamps and Brooklyn Bridges: two classic swindles. I want to tell you about another real estate deal that looked like a swindle. About 2600 years ago the prophet Jeremiah stood in the midst of an increasingly desolate city, Jerusalem, and wept for its fate. He knew without question that the city was doomed and that the Kingdom of Judah would fall. Jeremiah could see that its king would die, his sons would be executed, and that the people would be taken into exile. A horrible set of circumstances. The collapse of every kind of stability. Not the time to make an investment or to buy any property. Very iffy, negative times. Time to hunker down and stuff your money in the mattress!
Just at that moment comes Hanamel, Jeremiah’s cousin, offering Jeremiah the chance to purchase a field in the village of Anathoth, a field that had belonged to Hanamel’s father and Jeremiah’s uncle, Shallum. Now consider the circumstances. Anathoth is a little village out in the countryside. Not much of a place for business in the first place. But now we’ve got the Babylonian emperor breathing down our necks, and it’s very likely that Judah will be defeated. This conqueror will probably confiscate every bit of private property. And even if he doesn’t, all the men of Anathoth will be soldiering, or enslaved, or exiled, or dead – so who’s going to plow and plant this field? Sounds like a Florida swamp to me! Worthless. And, if, in fact, the king takes it away anyhow, well, it might be a Brooklyn Bridge, a whole lot of money for something that will never be yours anyhow.