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:
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
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!
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
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: