Sermon Oct 23, 2016 “The Gift of Rain” by June Fothergill Joel 2: 23-32
What comes to mind when you think of rain?
I remember an old joke about the farming community that was in a drought. They decided to have a worship service in the little church to pray for rain. When everyone had gathered, the pastor got up and looked around. “ Well, folks.” He said, “ I know you’re here to pray but where is your faith? Haven’t you forgotten something?” Then a child spoke up, “ Yeah, where’s all the umbrellas?”
I grew up in Idaho and served my first church on the east side of the mountains. Over there rain is scarce and therefore usually really appreciated. It took two years of rainfall to raise one crop of wheat on a piece of land. From what I know of the area of the world the prophet Joel lived in, it was also a dry place. The book of Joel tells of a terrible locust deluge that wiped out all the crops. I can imagine that this was made worse by a drought. The people had been through a terrible ordeal. The sky blackened by insects that ate every living plant. The land parched and dry. Themselves on the edge of starvation. What was to become of them? Joel’s word to them is- come together to worship, to turn back to God in repentance. Remember God not just by rending your garments but also your hearts.
Many of us in this election season have felt at the very least uneasy with the harsh rhetoric and accusations. We are growing tired and discouraged with the lack of civility and real addressing of the issues and concerns of our nation. There is posturing, but little listening with compassion. There is blaming, but little looking at the common needs we share. What could it mean to stop blaming and to begin to deeply listen. What would it mean to stop assuming the “ badness” of another and instead look for the “humanness “ of each other? We do not have to be manipulated by media circuses or radio commentators or protests. We can choose to look at the candidates and the issues from our own values and perspectives and to recognize that all of us fall short of the glory of God and all of us have gifts and needs to offer the world.
I will make my own decision about who to vote for based upon my values and what I know about theirs. But I refuse to demonize either one of them or especially anyone who votes for either one. I believe that we all share common needs but differ on how who chose to meet them. I believe that we all need to turn to God for forgiveness for our lack of compassion and openness, our quick judgments and our cultural biases. I love what Paul says about love- “now we see in the mirror dimly. Then we will see face to face.” Only God sees the whole of who each one of us is. God can help us restore civility and cooperation in our land.
For Joel, the rain coming down represented not just the literal water that they needed to recover from the drought and pestilence but also God’s care and love for them and their land. He celebrates how God does supply our needs. That gift of rain was healing for his community. It brought the renewal of the land and its crops. It meant the abundance of life for them. Sometimes we experience the rain here in W Oregon as distress. I admit that I worry about my unhoused friends when I hear the downpours on my roof. I long for everyone to have safe housing. Yet, I also know that without the rain, W. Oregon would not have the greenness and plant life we enjoy. The farms and produce that feed us. The rivers that bring life. I read recently that the reason Mars doesn’t have lakes and rivers is because the atmosphere is too thin. So I also celebrate our atmosphere that allows water to collect on this planet. What an amazing place this earth truly is! God made it to supply all our physical needs!
So we celebrate with Joel when the rain comes down. We are grateful for the source of life it is for us as it was for him and his community. Yet, Joel goes on to talk about more than the physical needs. He sees that God will also supply the spiritual needs of the people. In those days, Joel saw, God will pour out the Holy Spirit on everyone. Not just the male leaders, but the women, the youth, the servants, the old , the young. Like the rain brings new life to the earth, the Spirit brings new life to the inner beings of the people. No longer will they be caught in despair or listlessness. God will send the Holy Spirit to inspire and renew their hearts and hopes. And in the process create a new community- one where everyone’s vision , dreams and gifts of the Holy Spirit are honored and matter.
As you may know, I love this vision. And I understand why the writer of Luke Acts used it to describe the beginning of the church of Jesus Christ. For I find that as I turn to Jesus, as I seek to follow him faithfully, I am led deeper and deeper in to an appreciation for persons and their gifts and needs. I am led deeper and deeper in to a sense of compassion for us all. Have you found this too? As you have journeyed over the years with Christ, as you took time for prayer and contemplation, as you learned to listen to another, especially another who is different from you more attentively- that your compassion grows? I think that this is the rain of the Holy Spirit on our lives.
So far, I am a happy camper with this scripture from Joel. It resonates with me. But then we get to the last part. You know what I mean, when Joel starts seeing visions of his own of portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and terrible or dreadful day of the Lord comes.
OK if you like video games, it does sound more exciting than a rain shower. But for the life of me, I couldn’t understand what need Joel was addressing here. What is it about such visions of the end of the world? For heavens sake, the rains have come! The spirit is at work in the life of the community. Come one Joel can’t we enjoy all this for a time?
I was fussing around like this and then it dawned on me. What Joel may be saying is that the Holy Spirit opens us up to the coming day of the Lord. Because of the work of the Spirit in our lives, we can cry out to God and be saved. We can find the true humility of the tax collector, we can get right with God. We can finally admit our unmet needs, we can finally mourn our deep losses, the chasms of misunderstandings and abusive relationships that have scared our lives and communities. We can finally get real. And this isn’t easy- it’s full of blood and fire and smoke and darkness. It’s vulnerable and scary. It can bring a sadness that almost overwhelms us.
And! Joel asserts God is there! Right there. On the terrible, dreadful day when we face our deepest fears and needs. We can turn to the God who will never forsake us! And we will become renewed, once again God’s people.
I think Jesus and the early church recognized this too, that is why they included the Day of the Lord in their theologies. Maybe it’s not as I have always assumed an earth denying theology but rather a realistic, down to earth theology. Facing that dreadful day of the Lord invites us to face the truth of our sinfulness and our hurting, broken world and recognize our deep need for God. Jesus came to show and assure us that God forgives and heals. Joel trusted it. Our lives and world can be transformed. Because of this Joel and Jesus assure us- we can grow up to maturity of faith and relationships. We will discover that reservoir of Christ’s living water- our sacred space of compassion- inside. Then we will truly be able to enjoy the gifts of this planet, of each other and of God.
I remember now a friend in a spiritual direction group in Myrtle Creek decided to take time to really look at the pictures of the victims of the 9/11 attack and of victims of the war in Iraq and let herself feel the pain and grieve. This was her spiritual practice to spread God’s healing and peace in our world.
How about you and I? Can we deeply trust that when we face a truly dreadful day, when we face the brokenness of our lives and world, when we face our deep need for God- we too will be welcomed back to God. That we too can reach out a hand and grab on for dear life and discover the deep reservoir of compassion, big enough to meet all our needs. A reservoir that is available to us all. And that YES we have it inside ourselves. So Rain down. Jesus. Rain down your grace. Your salvation and compassion that fills our reservoirs! Your living waters of compassion that flow through us – your disciples- for the transformation of the world!