Reflections on Joel 2: 12-13, 28-29 and Luke 11: 13
(for December 6, 2020)
Sculpture of Joel, Biblical Gardens of the Moshav Yad HaShmona, in the Judean Hills, near Jerusalem.
December 2020… as we start the last month of a year defined by crisis the narrative lectionary takes us straight to Joel, an irony not lost on me. Joel: it is the book of the Older Testament that poetically describes the utter devastation of a crisis. It is the book that describes a plague (of locusts) in terms of a military attack. It is a book that lays bare images of what a world in agricultural ruin looks like.
And though Joel describes a crisis the likes of which we have not seen since, well, 2020… The book provides us with a unique theological perspective. Unlike many of the other minor prophets who describe troubled times, Joel very pointedly does NOT prescribe these crises to the Israelites’ bad behavior. The author still attributes the destruction to God’s sovereign will, but refrains from saying that it is a direct result of the unfaithfulness and failings of the people of God. Instead, the author of Joel focuses on the response to the crisis, rather than casting blame for it. The imperative for a response come in various ritualistic ways – calls for fasting, lamentation, and wailing; a summons to blow the trumpets and wear the sackcloth.
In our specific texts, we have both a call to repentance (again, in traditional ritualistic ways) followed by an assurance of God’s mercy and faithfulness. Add in the Luke verse, which also focuses on God’s sovereignty and protection, and there’s a lot of good sermon fodder – especially for this final month of the year of unending crisis. Here are a couple of options for sermon writing:
Option 1: (focus in on Joel 2:12) – God calls us to “return with all our hearts” through a variety of grief rituals – fasting, weeping, mourning. Use this as a jumpstart to reflect on the ways we have (or have not) grieved during our own time of crisis. How can we ritualize this grief? Focus Advent themes around a period of grieving that will help us “return to God with all of our hearts.”
Option 2: (focus on verse 13) – The scripture says “rend your heart, and not your garments” which is a clear call to focus our prayer/ritual/worship/grief in an internal, not an external way. How can we challenge our congregations to internalize their commitments to advocacy and justice seeking, and move beyond being just “performance allies?”
Option 3: (focus on verses 28-29) – These verses remind us of the abundance that comes when we anchor our faith in God’s sovereign will. Have you seen unusual or unprecedented abundance during these pandemic times? Draw similarities between the feel good stories that are keeping us afloat during the pandemic and these verses – where are your old people “dreaming new dreams?” where are your young’uns “seeing new visions?” What new and amazing things have happened during this crisis that you can attribute to the pouring out of God’s Spirit?
Option 4: (anchor on Luke 11:13) – that wonderful reminder that God loves us like a parent and wants the best for us can lead us into a wonderful reflection on Joel’s perspective …. That crisis is not a judgement of bad behavior, but rather a call to lean into God’s faithfulness to us. How can we use our Advent journey to remind ourselves that God’s sovereign light will shine thru this darkness once again?
Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey is a writer, artist, pastor, and chaplain who lives and works in rural Minnesota. She has worked at the intersection of theology and the arts since 2001, and currently blogs at http://www.cmkolwey.com
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