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Joy of Abundant Rain

Sermon – 11/14/04
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Joel 2: 23-27

Our sermon text this morning comes from the prophet Joel.  As is true with many of the prophets, about half of Joel concerns a word of judgment on the day of the Lord and that judgment is described in the first chapter in the fourth verse as a swarm of locusts.  It reads, ‘what the cutting locust left the swarming locust has eaten.  What the swarming locust left the hopping locust has eaten.  And what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten’.  And so we get this image that is pretty all-encompassing of fields that are devastated and vats of wine and oil that are left empty because of the wayward way of the people. 

But then all of that changes in the middle of the book, in the second chapter verse 18 when God has a change of heart and is filled with pity for the plight of the nation.  And so the prophet proclaims the good news that their day of suffering is over. The text for this morning:

23O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. 24The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. 25I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. 26You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 27You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame.  

 

Now, if I might just regress for a brief moment, to be a little trite, this Saturday the Oregon Ducks will win their 6th game to give them a winning season and make them bowl eligible.  How do I know that?  Because we all know there is great shame in a losing season, and it says right here ‘and my people shall never again be put to shame’!  And we know the Ducks are the Lord’s people, right? J  There are a few Beaver fans in our midst who take exception to that. [Laughter from the congregation]  I even had someone in the first service who dared to suggest that I wasn’t quite correct in my perception of God’s will in our world.  But, I remain confident J. 

If you’ve ever been to any of those games in Autzen Stadium you know that before every game they play a video with highlight clips from the preceding game or other times we’ve played that particular team, and always, always, in that video montage they put together there is “the pick” – Kenny Wheaton in the ’93-’94 season intercepting the Washington pass at the 6 yard line and going 94 yards for the touchdown that marks the turning moment and the beginning of the winning tradition that we’ve enjoyed for the last 10 years.  I remember another time sitting in the end-zone with my kids at the beginning of the 4th quarter playing Oregon State in the Civil War game, and the weather was not very good and we were huddled there all together to stay warm and as I recall it was in December that year for some odd reason, so it was pretty cold and wet and miserable, but at the beginning of the 4th quarter there was a punt to mid-field, and I think it was Keenan Howry if I remember correctly who received that punt and took it all the way, running right at us where we were sitting.  And as soon as he crossed the goal line, I kid you not, the skies opened up and the rain came pouring down!  And I took that as the confirmation from God that this was God’s will J, and of course we won that game.

The rain never felt so good as it did in that moment.  I’ve known people who come to Oregon and can’t quite take our climate here for some reason, and I don’t understand that J.  I was born in Oregon, I’m an Oregon native.  I spent 17 years wandering in the wilderness before I came back in 1991.  Eleven of those 17 years were in dryer climates – six in Fresno in central California where it rains about twice a year! You have no idea what a blessing it was to come back.  For the first three weeks we were here that Spring of ’91 it rained every single day.  And I had a smile on my face the whole time, as the windshield wipers were going.  To know that blessing of driving over a bridge and to look underneath you, and to see water in the river flowing, instead of a dry riverbed, what a blessing that is.  To not have to water your lawn or wash your car only on the even days of the calendar – if you’re allowed to water or wash at all.  What a blessing that is.  When you can see the forest, the lush forest, on the hillsides and in the mountains, indeed when you can see the mountains at all!  We spent three years in seminary in Claremont and one December morning I got up after it had rained the night before and went ‘whoa!’, there’s a mountain there!!  For three months I had lived there and I could never see Mt. Baldy that’s just a few miles from Claremont because the air is so thick.  To live in this place where the air is clean and pure because it gets cleansed regularly, what a blessing that is.  So those three weeks of rain in 1992 never felt so good.

Then there was middle school camp this summer.  I went as a camp counselor, my son was a camper.  I wrote about that in my column in the newsletter I think in September.  It rained pretty much the entire week, and it reminded me of when I was in that camp in 7th grade, and Francis Hyland was my counselor along with Harold Johnson, another of the elders of this church.  There we were, we were camping, and they had a tarp that we slept under. We spent most of that week huddled together listening to the stories that Francis and Harold told, and what an incredible week that was in my young life.  I was reflecting on that and remembering that, 36 years ago that I was in that camp, and here I was again.  It came time when the camp counselors were to pick their spot for their family group and I said to my co-counselor, who is a minister down at Medford Christian Church, quite a bit younger than I, and I said “let’s go out in the woods”.  She thought I was crazy – everyone else was picking the dining room, the lodge, the cabin, because weather was not looking good that week.  I said “No, let’s go out in the woods.  Trust me, it’ll be great.”  I brought camping equipment with me and we setup a tent, a tarp, and had my Coleman lantern there, so we gathered our kids underneath that tarp.  And sure enough, it rained pretty much the whole week. 

To teach the kids the proper spirit, and how to maintain your dignity camping in the rain, we taught them the great classic ‘Singing in the Rain’.  Of course when you’re singing that song in the rain you can’t do it underneath the tarp, you’ve got to get out there in the rain to sing it, right?!  You can’t do it in camp without motions, etither.  We added a few motions – not quite like the movie version, they were dancing, but we thumbing our noses at the rain. We’d sing the chorus, and then after you sing the chorus you add to that ‘thumbs out’ – “Singing in the rain, I’m singing in the sain, da da de da de do. .. . .And then ‘knees together’ – “I’m singing in the rain, I’m . . . . . .and then ‘backside out’ – I’m singing in the rain, I’m . .. . . ‘Chin Up’ – “I’m singing in the rain, I’m .. . . . . .’Tongue out’! – “I’m thinging in da wain, I’m thinging in da wain. . . .”

You’ve got to maintain your dignity in the rain! J.  Half the kids were out there singing and dancing with us and the other half were still under the tarp looking at us like they had counselors from Mars or something – I don’t understand that.  But who knows, 36 years from now, which of those kids are going to look back at that week of singing silly songs and acting out the Bible stories and sharing together our prayers and how important that week was for young impressionable lives.  And maybe, just maybe, one of them might become a minister – in spite of the counselors they had that week!  Well the rain never felt so good. 

Not all rain, of course, is welcome.  Sometimes it can be terrifying, even life threatening.  I hadn’t taken much notice of the rain in the Spring of ’67 or ’68 there in our home in Albany, and I didn’t recognize the voice of the woman that called that night.  Her speech was incoherent.  I had no clue why she was calling us except that she kept asking for Mom.  After awhile I had to just hang up.  Mom wasn’t home – a little while later she came home, and I said “Mom, there’s some crazy woman trying to call you”, as if that was a normal experience in our household.  And a little while later she called again, and it was Aunt Lois, the wife of Uncle Roy. Uncle Roy is Dad’s older brother and lived in Salem at the time.  Roy was deep-sea fishing, the storm was unexpected, the boat was much too small.  The wave that knocked him out of the boat broke his shoulder and his arm.  It took every ounce of life he had to stay afloat until the two crewmen in the boat with him were finally able to fish him out of the sea.  For another two hours he laid in the bottom of that boat half-filled with water, battered by the storm, until the helicopter was able to medi-vac him out.  When Aunt Lois finally got the phone call he was barely breathing, in critical condition.

This summer, Judy and I and our kids went to Depoe Bay.  I saw there for the first time a monument I’d never seen before, overlooking the surf there at the bay.  There was an older couple with a toothbrush and cup with some solution in it, and they were scrubbing hard in this one spot in the monument.  I struck up a conversation with them – was this a war memorial?  And they said, “No, it’s a memorial to those lost at sea”.  And I learned that they lived in the Midwest and had been coming to Oregon to the coast, to Depoe Bay, every Summer for 30 years since their son’s name was added to that marble memorial to scrub away the brine from the salty sea air. 

Friday I went not West to Depoe Bay but East to Bend with my son Patrick (Paulina and Judy were at the women’s retreat).  We had gone there to pay tribute to Aunt Lois at the Nativity Lutheran Church.  Her daughter preceded her in death about 15 years ago, from cancer, so it was left to her son to speak for himself and his sister, of the unconditional love of their mother. She had the remarkable ability, Neal told us, as a legal secretary to type a term paper without any errors – grammatical or typographical – from the hand-written notes her attorney-to-be son provided to her on the night before the paper was due!  And then his two children, who spoke of their grandmother and that spot in her refrigerator that never ran out of Twinkies or Hostess cupcakes.  Like that spot in her heart that never ran out of love for her grandchildren.  And all three of them – son, grandson, and granddaughter, each flanked by a spouse for moral support, at times could barely speak through their tears.  I sat there, with my father, my son, my family, my siblings, and looked across the sanctuary where I could watch Uncle Roy, his shoulder never fully recovered. 

And I thought about these last 36 years that almost never were for him.  Or would not have been the same for his family.  Watching their children graduate, going to the weddings, seeing his son elected twice to the Oregon State Senate, holding their great grandchildren (three of them), that last one born just 7 months ago.  And everything else – all the beauty and wonder of life, and I thought ‘these are good tears’.  They are the tears one should be able to shed at such times, when life, as the pastor said, was “Well lived, and well loved”.

There’s a Catholic nun who wrote a song about 30 years ago that sums up such tears:

I saw raindrops on my window, joy is like the rain
Laughter runs
across my pain, slips away and comes again, joy is like the rain
I saw clouds upon the mountain, joy is like a cloud
Sometimes silver sometimes gray, never sun but far away, joy is like a cloud
I saw Christ in wind and thunder, joy is tried by storm
Christ asleep within my boat, whipped by wind yet still afloat, joy is tried by storm
I saw raindrops on the river, joy is like the rain
Bit by bit the river grows, till all at once if overflows, joy is like the rain

Joel speaks of the abundant rain as a sign of God’s faithfulness.  Just as the rainbow is the sign of God’s covenant with Moses, here the rain is a sign of God’s blessing upon God’s people, that stands in such stark contrast to the armies of locusts that are the sign of God’s judgment.  But the time for judgment is over, the time for blessing has come, and so the prophet proclaims:  “You shall eat plenty and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord your God who has dealt wondrously with you”.

Six years ago a complete stranger came into our office and asked for me, I did not know the woman, I don’t even recall her name or if she told me.  She said it takes about six years for the heart to heal after a tragedy.  It had been two weeks after the violent death of my mother, I couldn’t imagine six months let alone six years.  Well, here we are – hard to believe, six years have gone by.  And those six years have brought two grade-school graduations, and one middle-school graduation with a perfect 4.0 grade point average I might add; a trip for mother and daughter to Oaxaco and father and son to Costa Rica and Nicaragua as part of the Spanish immersion program; a very magical day at Disneyland; and then again one at Padre Stadium in San Diego when I got to see my family displayed on the big stadium screen for all to see, waving frantically ‘Look!  It’s us!’;  six years of Bryant clan birthdays and holidays and vacations; the chance to co-officiate with my sister at my Father’s wedding on New Year’s day 2000; more soccer games and school plays and concerts than I can count.  And so I can stand before you today and say, God does heal our heart, and that I praise the name of the Lord my God who has dealt wondrously with me.

Here the Good News, people of God, no matter how difficult our past, present or our future, God is in our midst surely as the rain falls in Oregon.  We of all people should know the joy of abundant rain, the joy of God’s abundant love, the riches of the blessings that we have from God.

 


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