A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten— the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm — my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.”
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Tony Briggs went to church for years- decades-
And then he quit.
He quit because he lost his faith.
He looked all around him, and he saw empty lives-
Empty threshing floors,
And vats that were only half-full of olive oil.
That’s all he saw, when he saw his city-
People living without purpose
Or not working
Or living miserably.
And in Israel- ancient Israel-
They were shamed,
Over and over again.
Shamed by idolatry.
Shamed by greed and corruption and stinginess.
Shammed by defeat.
Shamed by occupation.
Shamed by exile.
The scholars, to a one, all disagree on when Joel was written.
There are nor references in the text that might say when.
But Calvin- OUR Calvin- he wrote that it didn’t matter WHEN Joel was written,
Because its message fits every time:
Israel was shamed,
And people were asking,
Where is the LORD?
Have we been abandoned?
So, early in Luke, when Jesus was a child, his parents took him to the Temple, and there they met someone who was different.
Someone who was faithful in prayer.
Someone who was, in Luke’s words, “Waiting for the consolation of Israel.”
That time when Israel’s shame was erased.
When her sins were forgiven.
When her empty threshing floors were opened up and filled.
When her vats were filled to overflowing.
And now, Jesus tells a parable, set in the temple.
The temple, symbol of Israel’s faith.
The temple, where they pray and make sacrifice.
And in the temple, two came to pray.
Two came, and they spoke words that in theory were directed towards God.
but only one man came knowing the truth: That he needed God.
Even then- even knowing that he needed God-
He wouldn’t have been there if he had not also known
That God is a God of mercy,
That God seeks to fill the empty baskets.
That man came to pray, and his prayers were answered.
Dare I ask this morning, how did they do it-
How did they do it, those crazy baseball fans
Who rooted 62 years for the Cleveland Indians?
Or, those who rooted 71 years for the Chicago Cubs?
I thought they were enduring a hopeless wait 42 years ago!
And today, they are all consoled.
I think we need to ask two questions, and the first is this: are those people who endure the long droughts of emptiness, even shame- are their lives BETTER for the wait?
I can’t say for better, because I’m still waiting for many things.
But I can say this: a life lived with hope is infinitely more meaningful than a life lived without hope.
And I can also say that hope needs to be fed to be sustained.
So let me tell you what feeds hope:
Number one is a regular practice of gratitude.
We’ve practiced daily gratitude lists, and weekly thank you notes in our container at the back of the church. But sometimes life gets so overwhelming that looking around for something to say thank you for is rather Pollyanna-ish- “I can be glad for these crutches because I don’t have to use them.”
So in those times, try this. Just back off.
Back off of your despair.
Back of, and wait, and God will come, even if it is in the smallest thing. But if you are over-focused on your despair, you won’t even notice the smallest things, and you will barely notice the really huge things.
And number two is this: turn off the voice of the accuser.
I have a friend, her cat disappeared last week, and she was distraught.
I was terrified, thinking about what would happen if I came home from one of my trips and Domino was gone.
But she came home and her cat was gone, so she did all the normal things.
She made flyers
She posted look-outs on Facebook.
And she prayed.
And after several days there were real-world voices that started telling her, “Your cat is dead, get a new kitten.”
Those are the voices of people who know NOTHING about cats!
Or about grief, or love, or prayer.
And to my friend’s eternal credit, she turned the voices OFF.
And she kept looking
And her cat came home.
Now folks, those were REAL world voices, saying her cat was dead. But in our lives there are silent voices, too. Jesus called them the voice of the accuser.
The accuser says, “God does not notice you. You’re not important. Give up.”
And way too often, we listen to those voices BECAUSE THOSE VOICES ARE HARDER TO TURN OFF THAN REAL-WORLD VOICES.
So here’s the thing, and it’s number three: Hope loves company.
Why do geese, flying north, fly in groups of at least 4?
Because they fly stringer and farther that way.
Now, I don’t know if that’s why salmon travel in schools, but they DO travel in schools when they come upstream.
And so should we. Because life is hard, and we are weak, and sometimes it can seem like Jesus is a really long ways away.
So remember Tony Briggs? He gave up hope a long time ago, and giving up hope meant giving up on church.
And I have to wonder a bit about what was not happening at church.
But last week, or maybe two weeks ago- time flies by-
His neighborhood got hit by a hurricane.
Downed trees and broken windows and lose shingles were everywhere, and Tony’s house was beneath it all.
But help came.
Human help, helping hands and feet.
They came into that neighborhood, teams of Christians who have been waiting a whole lifetime for the consolation of the New Jerusalem.
They came, and as soon as they saw the jungle of fallen trees at Tony’s house, they fired up their chain saws.
But two found Tony and his wife, and prayed with them.
And then two days later, they came to pray again. And this is their testimony:
“Tony grabbed his chest and said that we’d ‘given him more than we’d ever know.’ He said we’d given him his heart back.”
Well, sometimes a chainsaw helps.
But listening helps.
And refusing to eb the voice of the accuser helps.
And offering up the real truth of your own struggle helps.
And giving a hug helps.
And giving something practical helps too.
All of those things help because they say, “Until God fixes this for good, we’re here to help. We’re here together.”
And ultimately, praying helps.
Praying earnestly, knowing that WE need God, and knowing that God WANTS us.
It helps, more than you can imagine.
Those Christians in the Cuban churches who have been praying for fifty years- praying week after week, for the embargo to end- how do they do it without giving up?
And the embargo is NOT over, not over yet- not until Congress acts on the financial restrictions- and will God answer THAT prayer?
And those Christians in the Korean churches who have been praying for SEVENTY YEARS- 70 years, for North and South to be united again- how do they do it?
They do it because they trust in the ultimate goodness of God-
They trust in a God who will fill the threshing floors with grain-
They trust in a God who will make the vats overflow with olive oil-
They trust, and they wait, and they remind God week after week
That they are waiting.
They are not waiting for what governments can do.
They are waiting for what God can do.
And they are testifying to each other, by their prayers, that they are not hopeless.
No, they’re not. Because they trust in God,
God who promised a threshing floor heaped
And vats overflowing
Filled, and overflowing, with redemption.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.