Scriptures: Joel 2:28-29; Psalm 95:1-6; Matthew 4:17-22
The prophet Joel lived where all of us live – in the past, in the present, and in the not yet. Reading the words of the prophet Joel is as current as reading today’s newspaper or listening to World News Tonight. The world in which Joel lived and spoke for God could be the world in which we live today. The reports and the pictures that fill our television screens from around the world each day show the desperate plight of thousands of people who have had everything taken from them.They have become people who have lost their country, their home and are now live without what we would consider the essentials for living.
The little book that Joel wrote describes the dire condition of the people to whom he writes.
- A drought has come upon the land;
- the brooks and rivers are dried up;
- the locusts have destroyed the crops.
- they have no wheat to make bread;
- they have no vineyards to make wine;
- the fruit trees have been turned into sticks;
- there are no olives to make oil;
- the cattle have no grass on which to graze.
They are going through suffering that seems to have no end.
It is the prophet Joel who comes with a word from God. In the midst of great trouble there is a word from God. When disaster strikes, there is a word from God. When it seems that hope is gone, there is a word from God. When it seems that one can’t even find God, there is a word from God.
Joel, a prophet in the Temple, comes to bring that word.
Joel comes to say
- whatever your circumstances now,
- whatever your peril,
- whatever the situation in your life,
God is going to do a NEW THING.
Joel is saying to the people, “When you are DOWN to nothing, GOD is UP to something.” Joel tells them that by the power of God,
- the rain will come,
- the pastures will once again be green,
- the threshing floors will be full of wheat,
- the vats will be overflowing with wine,
- and God will make up for them the years of their drought and pestilence.
And Joel begins to prophesy about the Spirit of God being poured out upon God’s people. God will send the Holy Spirit upon both the sons and the daughters. The old men will dream what might be and the young men will have a vision of what can be. Even the male and female servants, ordinary folk, will be telling the word of God. What a radical thought! It is a sign that points to the New Thing that God will do. Even Joel could not have imagined that the goodness of God would break out to all nations and be the means by which God would be present to all people in a new and powerful way:
- a powerful way in which the dreams and visions of God could be understood by all,
- a powerful way in which God would enable persons who grasped hold of those dreams and visions to bring them to reality.
God spoke through another prophet, another forth teller, a church pastor who stood in the pulpit, that holy desk, every Lord’s Day and proclaimed “Thus says the Lord.”
The world in which Martin Luther King, Jr. lived was black and white and always the two should remain separated, separated in
- public bathrooms and drinking fountains,
- public transportation,
There seemed to be no remedy for the situation since black citizens faced many obstacles that kept them from having a voice through their vote.
When Rosa Parks was arrested because she would not give up her place in the first seat of the Colored Section of the bus so that a white man could sit, it was a pivotal moment in history. She was arrested for civil disobedience and fined $10 and $4 in court costs and the news went across all of the media of that day. Her arrest led to a 381-day bus boycott and eventually a ruling by the Supreme Court banning segregation on public transportation. She became known as the Mother of the Civil Rights movement.
It was also a pivotal moment in the life of Dr. King. The leaders of the Black community came to King for help. King was resistant to get involved.
- He had a young family;
- he was new to the community;
- he was the Pastor of the church.
King recounts that on a night, as he stood in the kitchen of their home after everyone had gone to bed, he heard the voice of God calling his name as clearly as if God were standing in the room beside him. The voice said, “Martin, this is your opportunity.
It was God’s opportunity, God’s time, God’s person, to show how inclusive God always has been and continues to be. God’s ancient and everlasting dream for all people became King’s dream. It would lead to
- attempts on his life,
- his home being bombed,
- persistent, obscene, threatening phone calls belng made to his family,
- King’s being jailed for civil disobedience,
- his assassination.
Landmark civil rights legislation was passed in 1965. Dr. King would later write:
“For well now twelve years, the struggle was basically to end legal segregation. In a sense it was a struggle for decency…It is now a struggle for genuine equality on all levels, and this will be a much more difficult struggle. You see, the gains in the first period, or the first era of the struggle, were obtained from the power structure at bargain rates; it didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate hotels and motels. It didn’t cost the nation a penny to guarantee the right to vote. Now we are in a period when it will cost the nation billions of dollars to get rid of poverty, to get rid of slums, to make quality integrated education a reality. This is where we are now.”
Of course, legislation does not change the hearts of people; only God can do that.
Until all people are seen as created in the image of God, and loved by God, and until all people are seen as equal before God, we haven’t arrived at where we need to be. Dr. King described this as the Beloved Community. He would comment in one of his writings that, “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools.”
This week we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday with
- a national holiday,
- peaceful marches,
- community service,
- and, I hope, with remembering the price that has been paid, not only by Dr. King, but by many others as well.
We live in a time when white supremacy is no longer closeted. It has moved into stark, open acts of hatred of anyone who doesn’t “look like them.” It is sometimes a violent movement. They harass and terrorize folks who are Black, Asian, Hispanic, or Jewish. They harass folks who do not worship as Christian. In other words, folks that don’t look like them or worship like them are their focus for harassment or violence.
The only thing that such a movement needs to succeed is for good folk who do not agree with them to remain silent. The Church must not remain silent. It may be the small things that we do, but noting is insignificant.
I recently found a Christmas card in a display rack that had coded racist language about giving a gift. I took it to the manager of the store and explained why it should not be for sale in their store. I also said that I would also be back later to see if all of the cards had been put back in the rack to sell. I did go back, and, to the store’s credit, the cards were not there. That’s not such a big thing, but each of us needs to act when we find that God has given us an opportunity.
May each of us be given opportunities to work toward creating a Beloved Community, and may God give us the courage to do what is needed.