In case you’re new to our services, we’re been going through the prophets for a few weeks now. Through the stories before the prophets we saw the creation of the ancient nation of Israel. Though the prophets we watched it’s destruction. Jonah after the fall of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria, Isaiah and Jeremiah in the midst of the southern kingdom’s fall to Babylon. We saw them in exile, saw Babylon fall, saw as they learned to live in their new lands.
Not too long ago someone asked me what you learn in “pastor school.” We call it seminary, but same-same. She said, besides having to have a deep knowledge and memorization of the bible. I had to admit to her that that is not required, really, most higher education gives you knowledge of how to research. I don’t think I ever spent must time in Joel, it’s possible all that I knew were the verses that were shared today. So let’s tell Joel’s story:
Joel prophesied in a time after the Jewish people had returned to promised land of Israel. Chapter 1 of Joel is a cry to lament because something terrible is happening. This celebration of return has been interrupted by locust. It says, “What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten. What the hopping locust has left, the devouring locust has eaten.”
It’s one wave after another after another of creatures that destroy all the growth in their path: grain, wheat, barley, grapes, everything. Here’s what happens in the midst of a plague of locust: those whose livelihood is sustained by growing things have no livelihood. They have no food to sell, and they have no food to eat. Famine spreads across the land. And when there’s no food for the people, there is no food for the animals, so would have had to decide if they let the animals starve and lose whatever income they would have usually received from their products, or eat them loss the income that would come from their products. This was a time that the working people would start to see destruction.
As an aside, those with resources would still be able to get what they need. They could pay the increased price of imports, they would have had money and space to store extra, maybe they could travel. Perhaps they had enough extra that they could buy the land of the farmers, probably for cheap, accumulating more wealth and leaving the poor with nothing when plague is over, when this season rolls around and farming might resume, except to work for the powerful how now own their land…
But, none of that sounds anything like today…
It seems almost too easy to look at this plague and our world to see that this pandemic has ravaged the means of productivity, has decimated businesses, has led to unemployment, has resulted in tough choices of which bills to pay, of what food to buy or if they can, calling around looking for resources as a way to get their needs met, all along those who were on the edge, and who were already the most vulnerable, their lives have become more precarious. At the same time, the extremely wealthy continue to gain more and more.
Joel never talks about what sins might be causing the plague he was living through, but I can name some that may have caused what we are living through. Today’s thought, and I can’t say it’s the only one on the subject I will have, is that it comes down to the heart and the walls we build around them. I had a really close friend who once told me that when we were talking there’d come a moment where we’d be sharing stories about our lives and it’s like a decided, “Nope, that’s far enough.” She called it running into a wall, my emotional wall, and to be honest, I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I’m not sure what was on the other side of it now.
But sometimes we do that for protection—because we’ve been hurt before and what if they see and they use it against us or hurt us. And sometimes we do it because we’re afraid of what’s on the other side. Sometimes it comes off as fear, sometimes as aloofness, sometimes as ego. Because I imagine that it’s hard to build your wealth on the backs of others if you have a relationship with them, if you have had moments of vulnerability, if you know each other. It’s hard to take advantage of the earth’s resources if you know the birds that come in each season, the subtle changes in the weather, the currents in a lake. When your heart is heart is broken open, it’s hard not to love the world, so it’s hard to do what “needs to be done.”
But it’s hard to have an open heart, a honest heart, a vulnerable heart, because as soon as you do, your heart can be broken. It can be broken by the hurt and abuse someone inflicts on you, and it can be broken by pain you see in the life of someone you love, and it can be broken by the suffering you see in your neighbor, and it can be broken by the world. And it is hard to live in the world where you heart feels like it’s bleeding. It’s hard to stay present, to stay open, to not build walls, to feel it.
In my time in therapy over the years I have learned… probably several things but here’s one: you have to feel it, all of it. That’s the only way to get to the next place, the place of surrender, the place of letting go. Because maybe the call of God is twofold: God longs for our hearts to be broken open, for the walls that we’ve built that keep us divided from each other to be torn down, because God longs for our honesty, for connection, for love by loving each other. And God accepts our already broken hearts: broken by pain and suffering—our own and others, broken by struggle and failure, broken by forgotten dreams and unmet expectation, broken by the images of a broken world. God accepts your heart as it is.
The promise is that God will live in the broken hearts we have taken to God. God is there in the midst of the brokenness and sorrow. In the midst of struggles and hurts. It means you are not carrying all of this alone. There is a peace in letting go. There is a peace in knowing that you can’t change everything so we give it to God. There is a peace in knowing the brokenness isn’t wasted and it isn’t all there is.
God promises that the Spirit will come to earth, and upon and in God’s people, everyone:
Your sons and daughter will prophesy,
Your old will dream dreams,
Your young will see visions
Even the slaves will receive the Spirit of God.
And imagine that, the old will dream of the future and what is to come, even if there is no guarantee that they will see it, most likely that they won’t. And the young will see visions of God, offer wisdom that is often reserved for those with age. Your children will speak the truth of God to all of creation; the truth that God is merciful and compassionate, patient and full of love, waiting to forgive.
This is God bringing hope into our brokenness, hope into the world, visions and dreams and words to take what breaks our hearts and be part of the work of renewing the face of the earth in the image of God: mercy, compassion, patience, and love. Because most of the time though not always, we, humanity, are the reason for the brokenness, the walls we build to separate us, the categories we create to divide us, commodification of the earth so we can use… abuse it, that’s us. But we, with our hearts and God’s heart at one, we can help set it right. We offer food, clothing, shelter, coats, kindness, advocacy, room to share stories, share dreams, experiences of the Divine.
You cannot have a vision or dream for the world without loving it. You cannot love the world without tearing down your walls, connecting with others, and letting your heart be broken. And that is how we draw close to God. God who is gracious and merciful, patient, full of love, and ready to forgive. We give our hearts to God, broken open. That is how we participate in the renewing of creation, that is how we take the love God has given us and love our neighbor, love the world, to be part of God’s healing of the world.