21Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!
22Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and the vine give their full yield.
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.
27 You 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.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you - that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
Spending as much time on the road as I do, from my daily commute to running around to meetings and visits, I listen to the radio a good deal. Mostly, I listen to the news. As one theologian said, you should preach with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.
The news these days is pretty bad.
Seems like every time my radio comes on, I hear another report of warfare around the world. My Facebook timeline and Twitter feed swarm with accounts of harassment and vandalism. The newsstands glow with reports of wildfires in our backyard.
The news these days is pretty bad.
The man Joel is a prophet, called by God to speak on God’s behalf. His ministry could have taken place in any of dozens of moments throughout Israel’s history. He speaks of agricultural disaster and the threat of foreign invasion. The news those days was also bad. And into those days of bad news, the Word of the LORD carries grace: “Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!” Though the news these days is full of terror and disaster, Joel reminds us that God has done great things in the past.
Once we were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, and we were afraid, but the LORD brought us out with a mighty hand. Be glad and rejoice! In the past, we trembled before a giant named Goliath, but God sent his servant David, a young boy without armor to strike down invading armies. Be glad and rejoice! In years gone by, we were carried into exile in Babylon, and we were terrified. But God brought us home again at the appointed time. Be glad and rejoice!
These stories are our inheritance. They belong to all who are adopted into God’s kingdom. These are the stories our family tells around the Thanksgiving table. These are the stories that show God’s presence with his people. And when Jesus himself stood among his disciples, these are some of the stories he pointed to as he reminded them “that everything written about [him] in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
The news these days is pretty bad, but when we look at the world and all its bad news, we see it through the good news of Jesus Christ. We do not see the world through eyes of fear, we watch for what God is doing right now, all around us. We see God’s grace in the world around us so that not even our rebellious hearts can deter the reign of Christ. The gospel of the Lord Jesus brings good news to the poor, release to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind. Faced with days of oppressively bad news, the good news liberates the oppressed and proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. We are witnesses of these things, we have seen God’s grace.
In my family, as in many others I’m sure, part of the Thanksgiving tradition is to go around the table and say what we are grateful for. It shifts our perspective from the worries and busyness of the holiday season and roots us in the present, when we sit before God in gratitude, surrounded by those whom God has given us.
We describe the world, in that moment, not in to-do lists or obligations, but with grateful hearts. Joel looks out over the world, his eyes shaped by the stories of the great things the LORD has done, and shapes his description according to the grace of God. “O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God…he has poured down for you abundant rain.”
The rain God pours out for us washes away our fears, cleanses the land of our past punishment, and set new life before us. For the people of the land to whom Joel preached, that was a literal promise. For our inventive-age minds, this rain loosens us up so that we can participate in building up the kingdom of God and reaching out with the Gospel. Even though The news these days is pretty bad, the early rain cleanses us like the waters of baptism. God’s abundant pour reminds us that our cup runneth over with the grace of our Lord. This early and later rain restores us to who God has created us to be, his children.
The news in those days will be different. “The threshing floors will be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.” There will be an end to disaster. The trauma will not be erased, for it has shaped our walk with God. But it will also not be the end of our story. “Indeed, bad things have happened, but they will not last, Joel says. We are to be fed, not destroyed, in God’s coming time.”
But Joel cannot speak of God’s coming time in his own voice. We have passed beyond a grace-shaped description into the promise that can only come from God. The day of the Lord to which Joel points is the moment “…when plenty will replace want and the presence of God will be made manifest in the people’s words and hearts.”
God speaks, “…You 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. You 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.”
The promise is almost ridiculous when offered to a people who are starving in the land that once was fertile. This cannot be the promise of Joel, because he is only a man. It’s unrealistic, almost absurd! Only God, who has done such great things in the past, who continues to do amazing things before the eyes who watch him, could get away with such a bold claim.
After all, hasn’t God heard the news these days? There’s famine, drought, fire. There are wars, terrorism, civil unrest. Urgent and frightening reports come to us over the radio, the internet, and in print. The news these days is pretty bad.
But we, the people who are the Presbyterian Church of Lowell, know that there is still good news to be had. We do not know what the future holds for our little town, or even our communities of faith. But we know that our God reigns. We know that the day is coming when all of us, especially the poor and the oppressed, “will eat in plenty and be satisfied.” Therefore we “praise the name of the LORD [our] God, who has dealt wondrously with [us].” We who are the church know that grace still abounds. Joel reminds us of our shared history. Jesus calls us out, saying “You are witnesses of these things.”
We are witnesses that once we were separated from God by our sin, and fear held us captive. But God became a human being, and walked among us to encourage us. Be glad and rejoice! Once we rebelled against God, hiding from him because we were afraid. But Jesus was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Though our fear seemed to strike down our Lord, not even the grave could contain him, and he rose again. Be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!
The LORD has done great things, and the reign of Christ extends over all the earth. We know that “thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” The Church is called out into the world, building up the kingdom of God, reaching out to those who are oppressed by the bad news of these days. We are the ones who love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and his good news challenges us to live as witnesses to his unending reign.
We gather together because know that the future belongs to God, and that his promises are stronger than fear, stronger than sin, stronger than death. We go back out because the news we have is too good to keep to ourselves. We go back out because “we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty.”
We know that the Christ is in the midst of us. We know that the LORD is our God and there is no other. We know that the love that made us makes us one, even if our particular communities express our thanks in different ways. We are witnesses of these things.
The news these days is pretty bad. But we have been given the good news of the Gospel. Therefore, let us be glad and rejoice. Let us give thanks to God with every fiber of our being. Let us participate in building up and reaching out. We who are called by the name of the Lord are witnesses to these things: The good news into the ages.