Monday, November 23, 2015

Hope-Giving Joel 2:21-27

I've been contemplating thanksgiving and what I want to say this year as a preacher. Over the years I've encouraged people to look backwards in November and remember the blessings they've seen over the past year. But then I started to read Psalm 126 and the first few chapters of Joel.  Psalm 126 speaks of people going out in hope to plant a new crop even with tears in their eyes. And this year at thanksgiving I want to give thanks not only for the past but for the future too.

I want to start with an ancient prayer song asking God to move in the future,

4 Restore our fortunes (Or Bring back our captives), O LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him. Psalm 126:4-6 NIV
Even with tears over our current circumstances we, as people of faith, can go out with hope at planting time. Maybe I think of thanksgiving as a harvest festival because it comes at fall. And maybe I miss gift of God that comes at planting time--every seed has a plant hidden inside. Every oak tree was once an acorn--every field corn ready for harvest was once just seed in the hopper. Saying thanks to God for the future--for the gift of hope--for the year to come--that's a blessing for me this year. Saying thanks for the hope of a better day even when times are tough--that's a blessing for me today.

The prophet Joel spoke words of great hope to the people--he promised them vindication. But before the promise of restoration there's a word about all the tough times. Joel names some of tough times out-loud. His early words are cold and chilling.
What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten. Joel 1:4 NRSV
It just sounds awful. Everything eaten away--nothing left. It honestly sounds like a hopeless situation illness, divorce, jobloss, crime, terrorism, war--we know loss and grief. My temptation, in the face of painful reality, is to deny it is there. I don't want to grieve or face what hurts. I want to skip past it just as fast as I possibly can--the grief is too real and the pain unfortunately is too real. And I don't think I'm alone. God's people have long known the pains of this world. The ancient people Israel knew what grief was like because they knew first hand what exile was like. The people knew the pain. And Joel doesn't let up. He names the loss and the pain boldly...
The fields are devastated,
the ground mourns;
for the grain is destroyed,
the wine dries up,
the oil fails. Joel 1:10 NRSV
After a few years of life we can find out, very often the hard way, about the pain and the struggle of life. And the promise of scripture isn't that we will have no pain or grief--quite the opposite. The promise is that God will meet us in this world--in this life with all of our struggles and pains, with joy and with hope. The promise is that God will be with us at every step. This is where I find hope this year--not in looking back--rather I see hope when I look ahead. It takes hope to plant and think ahead. This year I give thanks not only for the year gone by--but for the blessed year to come.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

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