Thursday, May 09, 2013

Here Comes the Rain

Today's sermon was preached as a part of the requirement for my homiletics class.  This was a classic case of God taking the lectionary (a minor prophet that I'd never have preached on, no less) and teaching me exactly what I needed to hear today. I hope it brings the rain of hope for some of you as well as it did for me. 
The text for today is Joel 2:21-27.

I have a little problem with bugs.
Let me back up here. . . to be perfectly honest, I don’t have a little problem with bugs.  I have a HUGE problem with bugs. Some are worse than others – for example, butterflies are OK, but millipedes are the worst thing ever - but as a general and sweeping rule, I can’t stand bugs. I’m getting the willies just thinking about them.
Now. . .I’m a big girl. When I have to, I can handle one or two bugs. Unless they’re spiders, but I’ll set that aside for another sermon. . . or possibly therapy. The thing that gets me the most is large quantities of bugs like the locust swarms referenced in this passage today.
A couple of falls ago, my husband and I took the air conditioner out of our bedroom window and as I pulled the curtain back over the window again, I stepped back in horror. . . STINKBUGS!
There were hundreds of stinkbugs covering both sides of the curtain staring at me with their horrible, beedy little eyes.  They’d been hiding in the creases of the curtain that had been pushed to the side to make room for the AC unit. I was disgusted at the thought that they had been there hanging out in the curtains directly above our bed for who even knows how long!
I took a deep breath and I did what any reasonable and mature adult would do in that situation. I screamed bloody murder as I yanked the curtain from the window (rod and all) and flung  it out the door onto our deck.
My husband thinks I overreacted a bit, but I maintain that when faced with that many bugs all in one place I acted with great courage and reason in the face of impending doom.
Swarms of bugs are awful. Even when all they are doing is sitting in the creases of your curtains looking creepy, they are terrifying.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like to be invaded by so many locusts that the crops in the entire country were all eaten and the land left totally bare. The bugs that plagued them did way more than just give people the heebie jeebies. Our stinkbugs have nothing on those locust swarms.
Israel had been doing pretty well for a while, but by the time our prophet wrote, locusts had swept in and eaten everything in sight. They cut, stripped, ate and swarmed. The crops were gone, there was a famine and the people of Israel were left feeling completely defeated and abandoned by God.
We also live in a frightening world. We don’t usually run into swarms of locusts, but we certainly have our own set of scary things we have to face today. Bills pile up. Family members get sick. There is violence on our streets and drugs on the corner. It is not unusual to feel completely defeated and abandoned by God.
Yet in this passage, God says “Don’t be afraid.” He says it to the people and even to the animals. Don’t be afraid for the Lord has done great things! He has done great things, He is doing great things and He will do great things.
 Don’t be afraid, He says, but rather look back at all the great things He has done in the past, remember that God can work through things like swarming locusts and keep your eyes ahead on what He has in store.
He has been faithful, He is faithful and He will continue to be faithful. He is as dependable as the seasons of the year that he set into motion.
Once more the autumn rains will come, as well as the rains of spring.
Rain has a bad rap in our day and age.
Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down. . .
Blame it on the Rain. . .
Rain, rain go away!. . .
Other than keeping our lawns green, rain doesn’t always seem to serve much of a purpose. I for one can’t even say it keeps my lawn green. There’s a reason I’m not a landscaper by trade. Around here, we usually just think of rain as something that makes traffic worse or cancels baseball games.
But rain has a special importance in this passage. It’s not something sad or something to complain about. Rain is a sign of God’s faithfulness. Rain is renewal. Rain is something to rejoice over!
In Israel, they could count on the rain coming twice a year: in the spring and in the autumn. It renewed the land and was a reminder of God’s faithfulness and provision. Each year, even when crops had been destroyed by hopping, cutting, stripping, swarming locusts, they could look forward to the knowledge that the rain would come again and new crops would grow. The rain would come again, just like it always had, because God is faithful now and always.
God’s faithfulness is certainly worth rejoicing over! Rejoice for God is faithful! We can look forward to rain in our lives.  God will refresh and renew. Even when we are in between Autumn and Spring and we feel as though the locusts have swarmed and taken everything good. . . even when we feel utterly abandoned and alone and destitute. . . we can look back at the rain that has fallen and remember that rain will fall again.
Once more the autumn rains will come, as well as the rains of spring.
The people of Israel had been very prosperous for a long time.  They had been living in the Promised Land and things were great. But they had not been faithful. They began to turn away and when the stuff started hitting the fan, they didn’t turn back TO God - they turned further AWAY FROM God. When everything came crashing down around them, they were mocked by the other people around them. “Where’s their God now?”
Joel tells the people to remember that God has provided in the past.  Turn back to Him. He will provide again.  Just like the rains fell before, they will fall again.
Even though the people had not been faithful, God still held a promise for them if they would only lean on Him. They were His people and He had a plan for them.
The prophet Joel tells them there will be rain. He has done great things and He’s not yet finished doing great things!
This isn’t to say that we’ll get all sorts of Earthly wealth if we just have enough faith. That’s not how God does things. The rain may not be quite what we expect it to be or the change in season may not come when or where we expect it to. The rain may not be. . . the rain often is not. . . something tangible.
But one day, there will be more than enough, “the wilderness pastures will soon be green. The trees will again be filled with fruit; fig trees and grapevines will be loaded down once more. . . The threshing floors will again be piled high with grain, and the presses will overflow with new wine and olive oil.” God isn’t literally promising us today figs and olive oil – for which I’m grateful because what He’s offering is better. God is offering to be in our midst! “I am among my people!” That is the best gift possible!
Locusts strike, dear friends! We can all attest to that.
There will be droughts and plagues and violence and hunger and all sorts of frightening things in this life. And people will mock and scorn. But we must not drift away from God in the midst of the plagues – we must run TO HIM because HE IS FAITHFUL. Our lives may look like a hot mess on the outside, but HE KNOWS the plans He has for His people even when they themselves don’t see the way out.
He has proven Himself faithful before, He is faithful now and He will remain faithful in the future.  In the plagues and droughts and difficult seasons – whether they are physical or spiritual or emotional – God reminds us that the rain came before and the rain will come again one day.
Once more the autumn rains will come, as well as the rains of spring.
Our God is sovereign. There is no other. He and He alone is God. He has everything in His hands. He has done such great things that the very earth and animals and plants rejoice and proclaim His name! We can set aside our fear and rejoice with them because He is in our midst and he is GOD.
The rain is a sign of God’s faithfulness.

Once more the autumn rains will come, as well as the rains of spring.


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