September 18, 2016
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
The word that came to Israel from the Lord through Joel was a word to a people who had known difficulties. They had known pain. They had been through the valleys of the shadows of death. And the word we read today was of God knowing of their suffering and bringing relief.
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.
You can tell that Israel is an agrarian society. Just like native peoples in the arctic circle have so many words for snow, these people have lots of words for locusts: the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter.
We do not know if the terrible destruction that locusts can bring are literal here or metaphorical. Some of us can speak of problems like unto a plague of locusts. When the economy is slow to recover in Michigan, our difficulties feel like everything taking a bite out of us. When our health is compromised, it feels like everything takes a little out of us. And when those little bites are so many, who could stand it?
But the divine promise is not the devastation. The promise of God is health and food and life and enough.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again
be put to shame.
But the promise is more than just life. The promise is the coming of the Holy Spirit.
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
In Matthew’s telling of the story of the crucifixion, the curtain in the Temple ripped from top to bottom.
In the Bible, and often in churches, there are two views of holiness and ritual cleanness:
One view is that the things that are holy and ritually clean can become tarnished, blemished, unclean, and therefore no longer good for use in the worship of God. Sacrifices to the Lord must be without blemish. Those who serve the Lord in the temple must be without injury or defect in their sight, and must be morally pure.
In this way of thinking, the ripping of the temple curtain is a sign of the sin and impurity of the world getting into the holiest of places, the holy of holies.
By extension, the killing of Jesus by the empire and its religious collaborators is the end of what is good and right and true and of God in the world. Were the Gospels to end without the resurrection, this would be the final word.
The other view is where that which is of God is not contained or containable. Like in Solomon’s prayer at the temple’s dedication that no house built by human hands can contain God. Or when Jesus teach about the Holy Spirit, that it blows where it wills. Or when the disciples receive the Holy Spirit.
In John’s Gospel in the upper room Jesus blows on his disciples and says “receive now the Holy Spirit” (and do we not hear echoes of God breathing into Adam, the mortal one, the breath of life?). In Luke’s Gospel, at Pentecost when tongues as of fire come to rest above each of the disciples. And then in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, when even those designated to deliver bread to the widows and orphans are given the power of speech in the Holy Spirit.
When taken together with these stories, the ripping of the curtain between the Holy of Holies and the rest of the temple, does not let what is profane in, but releases that which is holy and good and righteous and true out beyond our human attempts to contain it.
In our reVision work, we will join together in prayer, in fellowship, in discernment. We are doing so not to keep us busy. We do so in trust of the divine promise: that our boys and girls, women and men, young and old, will prophesy and dream dreams and see visions, and we would discover what God is calling us to do and to be.
Pastor Ruth Moerdyk, our coach in this process, likens discernment to bird-watching. Bird-watching often starts with trying to hear the different calls of birds, to distinguish the sound of the bird they are looking for from all the other background noise.
So how are we supposed to know whether what we are hearing is the Holy Spirit or something else? How will we know if it is God or just our own agenda?
Jesus tells us that we will a fig tree by its fruits, and we will know his followers by their fruit, by what grows from them. Paul takes it a step further and describes what the fruit of the Spirit looks like. It looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [Galatians 5:22-23]
So if we want to know if it is the Holy Spirit blowing through or if it is something else, we can ask each other:
Will it make us more loving, more joyful?
Will it bring us more peace, more patience?
Does it move us to more kindness, more generosity?
Does it strengthen us to be more faithful, more gentle, have more self-control?
The promise is from God. God is the one who is doing the heavy lifting. Which is a great relief. But we have responsibility as well. Especially if we understand responsibility as “the ability to respond.”
God will provide us all that we need to do and to be all that God calls us to do and to be. Ours is to pray, seek, ask, knock, listen, wait on the stillspeaking voice of God, and trust.
God will provide. And we will praise the name of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.