Scripture: Joel 2:23-29 & II Corinthians 5:16-21
Originally Given on 03/10/2012 at UPC of Amsterdam, NY
During this Lenten time we have talked a lot about death, both of the death of Jesus and our own deaths. Additionally, this congregation has been visited by death a few times over that time making our Lenten journey that much more poignant, that much more real. Perhaps, we have, at times, felt like Jesus must have felt when he heard about the deaths of his friends. We are told that upon hearing of the death of his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus retreated to the wilderness to be alone with his thoughts. Later, when he hears of the passing of his friend Lazarus, the Bible tells us, “Jesus wept.” Perhaps many of us have been forced to retreat into our own wilderness during this time, perhaps we have shed tears. I know I have. And it maybe that it is during these times when we grasp onto our faith to carry us in the darkest parts of the journey. So it is that these passages of scripture provide something of a respite from the journey into the darkness of Lent, provide some rest from the barrage of images and stories of desolation in the face of the movement of the story from Jesus’s earthly mission to his heavenly sacrifice and eventual death. These verses this week somehow feel much lighter. In the midst of trying to understand the sacrifice of Jesus, we are reminded by the apostle Paul and the prophet Joel that there is in fact a life of beauty and hope into which to live. These scriptures offer both the energy that comes from peering into the future and imagining the world a more beautiful place, a more peaceful place, a more loving place but they also offer a direction to guide that energy, to guide those dreams and visions. We are to be dreamers but we are also to be those who work for the reconciliation of the world to God. We are to have visions of a better tomorrow but we are also to be those who work for the reconciliation of each other to one another. We are to be in the midst of the much and mire, in the midst of the brokenness of the world, the injustice and oppression of the world and yet, we are called to live into a better way.
Joel must have sounded rather foolish in the manner in which he spoke to the people of Israel. They had just arrived back into Jerusalem following generations of being exiled in to Babylon. Having set up homes and lives in a country that was not their own and being left only with stories of their grandmothers and grandfathers of the old country much in the same manner that many speak of Italy or Germany or Russia today. And upon returning to the land of their ancestors it must have looked as if no one had lived there in some time. To be sure the generations of being ignored had left their fields an infested mess. You have to imagine there were weeds growing up throughout the farmlands of the country and locusts eating their fill of whatever was left. In the cities, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem, generations of absence had left whatever had been left following the Babylonian occupation a crumbling mess of cracked buildings and broken streets. In Jerusalem, the chief symbol of the faith, the Temple had been knocked down by the occupying forces until not one stone sat on stone. And the work to regain anything that resembled a normal life must have seemed unbelievably daunting and depressing and yet, here is Joel offering these words of beauty and hope. “O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Creator your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before.” Being an agrarian society, they knew that an early and abundant rain would mean crops like you wouldn’t believe springing up out of the ground. “The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you.” What had been a time of want, of lack, of uncertainty was going to become a time of plenty and celebration. Israel, arise and step into the light again, the army that I sent to bring you down is no more and you may plant and harvest and read and sew and inhabit the land and celebrate the great feasts without fear that it will again be taken from you. Then when you think that things can’t get any better, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. your old folks will have visions, your young folks will dream dreams. In those days I will pour out my spirit.”
It is an interesting time in which we live. A time in which cynicism has led many people to feel like there is little hope for the world. That whether it is partisan gridlock or battles within the church or the knowledge that folks are struggling to make ends meet in a time of a growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots. A time when to be wealthy is to be experiencing a surplus while being poor means an ever shrinking share of the pie. It is easy to look all that in the face and determine that the spirit of God is not being poured on the people of God. That the spirit of God doesn’t still dwell with the people of God. That the spirit of God doesn’t still pass over the waters of chaos either at the beginning of time or our own. It is easy and yet that is not what we are called to do.
We in the Judeo-Christian tradition have at our fingertips some of the most breathtakingly powerful language and imagery at our disposal. We speak of the God who pours the Divine Spirit over all flesh, of the God who inspired countless prophets from the beginning of time to speak out and call us to better envision the world and our place within it. We speak of the God who stared down into the depths of death and from it called life but too often, we allow ourselves to be stunted in our faith. To be shallow in our hopes for the future, to be overwhelmed by our lives and our world and decide before we have even tried that there is nothing that can be done to bring about real, lasting, and system change to a planet growing in number and yet leaving more and more behind to be devoured by systems of poverty and neglect. We, in this time and in this place are called to dream dreams and have visions, to see the world in radically different ways and then believe that is what we are called to make of it. To envision a planet in which resources are shared. To envision a community in which “all who believe are together and have all things in common; selling our possessions and goods and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Our God is so huge and yet we settle too often for the crumbs of wisdom from the table rather than feasting on the bounty of goodness set before us. We are called, not to nip at the edges, not to envision small changes but to cast our eyes over the plight of the world and see the spirit of God moving over the people and bringing about a new way of being, a more just way of being, a more equitable way of being, a better way.
In our second scripture passage for the morning, we read from a letter from Paul to the church in Corinth and you have to know that Paul feels some amount of frustration with the people there. There is talk about abhorrent behavior and a diminishing faith both in the message of Paul and the revelation of Jesus and so Paul writes seeking both to chide those in the community of believers but also to remind them what their ultimate mission is in the world. To evidence to the people of Corinth that they are called to be co-creators with God in the future of the world. To evidence the call of the faithful to reach out to the other in their midst, to reconcile with the other in their midst, and to ultimately take part in that which is ongoing across the expanse of time — the reconciliation of the world and of all creation back to God. And his first charge to them is to lose the eyes of separation that plague so many of us today. “We regard no one from a human point of view, even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Imagine how alive the world would feel, how lovely the world would appear, how holy it all is if we were to see each person as a new creation, to see each person as Christ-like, to see each person as Christ. To see the world not as the broken mess that it often appears with bombs and bullets, hunger and strife, but as beautiful, created good, sufficient for the living of this day and the next, and every inhabitant: woman, man, Greek, Jew, Black, white, slave, free, Muslim, atheist, homeless, Latina, disabled, addicted, tax collector, Pharisees, gay, straight, Roman, Samaritan, as Jesus in our midst. A tiny explosion of God’s grace imparted to creation as a gift to creation, your brother and your sister.
But Paul doesn’t leave it there, he doesn’t let us off the hook that easily. He tells the folks in Corinth, he tells us today, that in the same manner in which God was at work reconciling the world to the Divine, that work that was begun at the beginning of time, that was made manifest in the life, death, new life, and resurrection of Jesus, that work that God began and continues, that is our job as well. We are ambassadors of Christ, with God working through us. And that work of reconciliation that was begun at the beginning, that continues to this day, making us the beloved, the children of God.
So what do we do with this good news? What do we do with this call to be children of God, to be ambassadors for Christ, to be reconcilers of the world? We are all, each of us, members of different groups, different communities that impact the manner in which we view the world. We are all different and those differences effect us, and yet, in Christ, none of that ultimately matters. All those incidental parts of who we are fall away when we become co-creators with God, reconcilers of the world, ambassadors of Christ, children of God. When we become children of God, none of that matters because we are each children of God, born from a unification of flesh and spirit, loved in equal share by God, the Divine parent of us all, and always, always, always, each one breath, one whisper, one moment away from returning to God, the ground of our being and lover of us all.
Sisters and brothers, let’s go out of this place today, on a mission. Let’s make an agreement with each other on this morning, on this stop in our journey together, and let’s hold one another to it. Let’s leave this place today, seeking to dream dreams and have visions, seeking to see the world for what it could be and not what it is, envisioning the radical changes required to make this world a place of sustenance for all and then let’s put our whole being into it. Let’s agree to never minimize the power, the scope, the magnitude of God, nor the ability of God, to move through us to do and accomplish things that we can only imagine in some far off time and space today. But let’s also be about the reconciliation of the world, brothers, sisters, neighbors and all. Let’s work together to reach out across the whole of our community and seek communion with folks who don’t have anyone else who cares about them. Folks who don’t have a friend in this world, folks who don’t know where their next meal is coming from and let’s be with them, let’s call them in here, let’s be as Christ to them. Let’s see all people for what they are, children of the most high, the beloved, our brothers and our sisters. Amen.