The following is from Rev. Javier Ulloa who led worship on Thursday, May 28, 2015 at the BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz board of directors meeting at Misión Mazahua, located outside Toluca, the capital of the State of Mexico. Rev. Ulloa will be one of the preachers at our 2015 Summer Conference at Eastern Mennonite University.
Psalm 126; Jeremiah 29:4-7
It was still early morning, but Juan could not sleep. He was nostalgic for his homeland, the refreshing smells, its fruits, the animals, friends and brothers with whom he could share the stories of his people. It made his heart beat so rapidly that he awoke with a start, but when he realized that it was all a dream, the night seemed so much longer. Whenever this happened to Juan, he would chastise his heart for having awakened him, and for deceiving him in his dreams.
He wondered why his heart could not understand that he would be better off if he was sound asleep instead of spending the night awake and thinking of the harsh reality that he was facing.
Juan had been exiled from his land for 10 years now. He felt that he was living like a wanderer in a foreign land. He had been mistreated for a long time by the inhabitants of his community, and the people said he was a traitor to their ancestral traditions. He would tell us that one night many armed and angry men took him, his Wife, and three children out of their house. Without any explanation whatsoever they shouted at them: "We warned you that we did not want you here."
With pushes, insults, blows, and threats they took us and ran us out of town, but not before they said, that we warn you if you return it will be worse than this time. I thought, well they have already killed me, they took away my land, which belonged to my grandfather, Jacinto and my father, Felipe had inherited the land from his father. We spent so much effort on building my house, and my animals that cost so much and I nourished them. They also took away the hymns that I sang with my brothers and sisters and the happy times that we spent reading the teachings of the Bible. "For a while, we lived in different community close to ours, until hunger led us to go live in Mexico City} hoping that there we would find work and a place to live. One day, an elderly man who had been exiled with us and who had made the trip to the great city of Mexico told us:
"We are not alone, remember what we read in the great Book; that God is with us in good times and bad and that He will always be with us." He said; Jesus was exiled just like us and he has also become an exile for us. One day, he told us: He would help us to return again to our land, like he did many centuries ago with the people of Israel. He encouraged us to reestablish worship and the study of the great Book so that we would never forget his promises. He asked us to teach our children, so that if we cannot return, that they may return to take our lands, rebuild our houses, and the temple. But besides this, he said something very important: "You have to teach your children that our God is a God of love, peace and justice, so that when they return they sow love in our land and that they can see those who exiled us as their brothers and not their enemies so that they understand that our God has always been their God, and that he wants peace and justice among all. Since that day my dreams changed. Now I weave in my dreams, the hope of return and recovery of my grandfather, Jacinto's land.
How can we maintain and preserve the hope for a better world when we are living in a context of sorrow and violence, scorn, and coldness to humanity? What are the signs of hope in the midst of the despair that millions of men and women in our communities suffer? What are the signs of the creator's act when the creativity and hope are suffocated even in our own churches? Can we maintain the hope that a better future will come for our sons and daughters for our churches and for our people? When Jeremiah makes these statements, Israel was captive in Babylon and there was only one hope: "be free and return home."
However, in the center of their dreams, the response of the prophet came to be like "a bucket of cold water" on the plans of the captive people. How intolerable his words must have seemed. To wait for the fruit of the trees that they still had not planted, to live in the knowledge that their grandchildren would still be living in captivity. For this reason Jeremiah Is accused of being a traitor, and is condemned as a reactionary. However, after these words Jerusalem was besieged and captured. The hope had vanished completely. What was left and what could they expect now? Then they would understand the words and actions of the prophet.
The Seed of Hope Expressed in Dreams
“When Jehovah brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream!"
In these times when no sensible person can make plans for the future, Jeremiah purchased land from his cousin, Janameel. What an inopportune investment! However, the reason for the purchase was not for financial reasons, but prophetic. In chapter 32, Jeremiah was in prison, King Zedekiah of Judah was soon to be deported and the city of Jerusalem would finally be destroyed.
In this moment, Jeremiah is sensitive to the voice of God and understands that the present situation will not be the end of the people. They will be liberated and brought back to Jerusalem.
"But I will bring my people back again from all the countries, where in my fury I will scatter them.
I will bring them back to this very city, and make them live in peace and safety. And they shall be my people and I will be their God. Only a man convinced of his hopes and dream will be capable of this type of investment. Jeremiah in captivity keeps this hope alive, and he continued adding dreams that allowed him to accomplish things that to the captive people seemed crazy. “Yes, fields shall once again by bought and sold - deeds signed and sealed and witnessed - in the country of Benjamin and here in Jerusalem, in the cities of Judah and in the hill country, in the Philistine plain and in the Negeb too, for some day I will restore prosperity to them." Why was it so important to preserve hope in the time of captivity? Because without hope, they remained resigned to their present situation (slavery), or they could very well be devoured by apathy and resignation.
The old man of our story inspired the dreams and the hopes. He did not allow himself to be conquered by the present situation and he brought his brothers and sisters to invest in teaching their children about God's promises for his exiled people. He taught his brothers and sisters to work for their hope and dreams. I firmly believe that our lives will be capable of preserving their values, in situation that we find contradictory, only as much as we believe and we are convinced that the future will claim our dreams. And what is hope? It is the foreboding that what the church imagines is more real than what it seems. It is the conviction that the facts of the reality that oppress and weigh us down do not have the last word. It is the certainty that God's vision is not determined by the limitations of the present. Now, He is preparing us for a new creative and liberating event. This will open new paths of freedom for our captive people. Only those who can believe and dream that God's promises are fulfilled in spite of everything can experience the words of the psalmist when he said: “How we laughed and sang- for joy.” And the other nations said, "What amazing things the Lord has done for them. We will be happy."
I am convinced that instead of looking back and instead of focusing attention only on the things that are certain; that we should allow hope to move us into action. If we begin to weave our dreams for a better future for our brothers and sisters and our people, then nobody and nothing can take away our joy because we will be these men and women who know how to live with the newness of life that always comes from God and that He needs to announce His Kingdom in our lands.
The Seed is scattered with Hope
“Those who sow with tears shall reap joy. Yes they go out weeping, carrying seed for sowing, and return singing; carrying their sheaves."
What is that, which makes us have hope? When Jeremiah speaks to his people, it allows him to see that everything has its time: there is a time to leave and for freedom; and time to prepare for the departure and freedom. His reading of the history showed him that freedom cannot be given if the necessary conditions were not prepared in advance as well as having sufficient maturity, Jeremiah did not believe that this precise moment where the people-were represented the time "to give birth,” but yes, he did believe that it was to time for "conceiving something new.”
If our moment is not that of the harvest, it could be the time to sow. A seed has to be planted: The seed of our Highest Hope!
Jeremiah invited the people to allow room for freedom for their sons and daughters so they can live and enjoy the seed of love and peace sown in their time. This is the seed that we should sow, because God works for us. Will it be possible that we can build creative acts that sow the seed of a better future for our people? Will it be possible to look not only at our limitations, or our personal perceptions of life and mission, but at the glorious work that the Lord wants to do through us for so many people who suffer and cry for human and Christian action to free them from the misery what they are suffering? This seed has to be sown. Perhaps it may be like Jeremiah's time, not to give birth, but it is time to sow and plant something that is truly new and that can be enjoyed by future generations, We should not only think about our struggles and sacrifices, but we should imagine the happiness that many will enjoy because of our faithfulness and courage now.
Certainly, we have to sow with tears and walk and cry to spread the precious seed, but it will be reaped with joy and nobody will be left with empty hands.
"I have a dream," preached pastor Martin Luther King in 1963, in the city of Washington, DC. Well, I have a dream to. I see my country that is more just and fraternal where there are no more births in exile, no children who die young from curable diseases, no fathers who drown trying to cross the Rio Grande, no women who are raped, no indigenous people exiled from their lands, no young people who become addicted to drugs, no old people or children begging in the streets. But I also dream with a Christian movement committed with the proclamation of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, with its message of peace, justice, dignity, hope and life for all; with a prophetic movement that has the courage to live and die for a better future for all humanity. We have to convert our lives into the seeds of highest hope!