Peace I leave with you

Easter 6
Joel 2
Mother’s Day 2007/Martin baptism

I’m a little hooked on the Old Testament these days. In part, because it gives me a chance to re-familiarize myself with books like Leviticus and today, Joel.

Joel is the ‘Pentecostal’ book, because, as we will see in a couple of weeks, it is the book the apostle quoted from in depth on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell on Jesus followers in the upper room.

Joel is also a fascinating book that has many levels of meaning. It goes from a crisis, to a mysterious threat from the ‘north’ to a future hope in God’s promises.

What was the crisis? The immediate crisis was a swarm of locusts that had destroyed the land and the crops, there was also a fire that followed this attack. Joel most likely prophesied when Uzziah was king, a time of relative prosperity, but his book has been used to point to the destruction of Israel in 722 BC and Judah with Jerusalem and the Temple being destroyed in 586 BC. Therefore, the locusts of the book are the literal locusts that caused the huge crisis in Uzziah’s day, but they also represent the foes of Assyria, Babylon, Tyre and Sidon who would harass and attack the children of Israel. There is also reason to see spiritual significance to the locusts–that is satanic evil.

Joel’s take on the locusts is that they are sent from the Lord as a scourge of the land and a purification of Israel.

When you live in an agrarian environment, one that is dependent on agriculture, what happens to your crops is as important as life itself. The land is your livelihood and survival. Rain, reaping a harvest and bearing fruit are the lifeblood of your existence. So, how do the people interpret events like a locust attack or a fire or both? How do they respond?

Mostly, what the Lord was concerned with was not how the children of Israel reacted to adversity and crisis–Joel called for a fasting, repentance and prayer. (In the time of crisis, more than likely the people responded.) What the Lord was concerned with was not how the people responded to adversity, but how they responded to blessing–before the crisis even occurred.

During this time, the ‘old time religion’ was the worship of Baal. Baal was the god of agriculture and the god of rainstorms. The Canaanites looked to appease him and gave him credit when things went well. The temptation of the children of Israel was to look at the prosperity and the harvest and to put credence in the god of the Canaanites. ‘Hey, maybe Baal is not such a bad guy after all. Let’s cover our bases and bow the knee to Baal as well.’ And that is what many did.

Needless to say the Lord was not pleased with the people. So he brought a ‘storm’ of his own–a swarm of locusts to remind the people who was in charge, who was the Lord. In fact, the name ‘Joel’ simply means ‘Yah(weh) is God.’ It’s as if the Lord said, ‘You think Baal can bring storms, what if I bring a storm that takes out everything?’ Here’s how the prophet describes it:

Hear this, you elders;
give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your fathers?
Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children to another generation.

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.

Awake, you drunkards, and weep,
and wail, all you drinkers of wine,
because of the sweet wine,
for it is cut off from your mouth.

What happened in ancient Israel is tantamount to a nation wide power outage or computer disaster in our time. Our Achilles heel as a nation is our reliance on technology. If it all went out all at once, we would take notice. Imagine a time without electricity in hospitals and homes–especially if it were winter time.

In the prophet’s mind, this kind of event in ancient Israel pointed to the end of all things–to the ‘Day of the Lord’ the judgment of God. Beyond that, though, as is common with the prophets, they have eyes that can see beyond the destruction to the promises, blessings and restoration of God. Today’s passage is just that kind of passage.
Previous to it, Joel says,

Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.

Then he goes on to say that the Lord will restore the soil, the livestock, the fig trees; that he will send rain and that the threshing floors will be filled with grain. Then he says,

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 am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

What does this say to us? Much. What the Lord says to ancient Israel he says to us. We may not be worshipers of the fertility god Baal, but we are surrounded by and participate in idolatry every day.

We can call our idolatry money or food or possessions or entertainment or whatever. But we have really gone back to the basics in our day. Rather than worshiping other gods we’ve narrowed it down to one—the person we see in the mirror every day. As our bishop remarked once, ‘sin’s face is always the most familiar.’ Most of us don’t have tiki dolls in our house or Ouji boards, but all of us struggle with our culture’s way of pampering us and singing us to sleep until we have no concept of God or his ways. We ignore him and put ourselves first. We take our eyes off of God.

When we speak of Mother’s, my mom had and still has, a way of keeping us kids on Jesus. When I was a teenager, I listened to music that I knew was inappropriate–not just lyrics with innuendo but outright bad stuff. One time my mom said, ‘OK Stacey, let’s listen to this together.’ Of course when the music started and we were both listening to the words, I cringed and turn all shades of red. Now she didn’t make me get rid of it. But the experience of listening to bad music with my mother cured me. Eventually, I got rid of it on my own.

Our idolatry is more sophisticated perhaps as adults, but when we put anything before God, most especially when it is ourselves, we get into trouble. God may not pull the plug on all the things we rely on to survive, but he might. ‘I am the Lord’, he says, ‘and there is no other.’

In our baptism, we renounce all evil and idolatry and turn to Jesus. We acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, and there is no other Lord.

An addendum to this point. Israel got in trouble for its idolatry, but also for not giving credit to God for the blessings of life. For not saying that ‘all things come from thee, o Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.’

We often do not give credit where credit is due. Our mind-set is secular. Since, I earned this degree or this money, I should get all the credit. Rather than saying, thank you God, for this blessing. Ingratitude is its own kind of idolatry.

Lastly, though we need to walk away from our idolatry, God doesn’t hold a grudge. He doesn’t play like we do. The book of Joel is a wonderful reminder of God’s blessing and his restoration. Yes, we are selfish people, but God’s purpose is that we come to him and receive forgiveness and blessings at his hands. We have locusts in our lives that destroy us-sin within and sin without, things done and left undone, but God’s purpose is that we would walk in wholeness and peace.

‘Peace I give to you, my own peace I leave with you…’ As we know, Jesus was repeating the Jewish phrase, ‘Shalom Aleichem’ which is really a prayer that asks for more than lack of conflict–it is a prayer that God would bring wholeness and restoration to your life.

In John, Jesus says he is the source of that peace and that the coming Holy Spirit would be a ‘comforter’ and would also be a part of God’s restoration and salvation. When the New Testament writers and the early followers of Jesus reflected on the book of Joel and its promises, they saw all of the promises of rain, harvest and abundance as not only God’s blessing of the land, but of the living water of Jesus and the blessing of baptism and of the Holy Spirit. As we’ll see in a couple of weeks, Peter saw Joel’s prophecies fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.

Without Jesus in our lives, it’s like being ruled by dryness and locusts. With Jesus, we have life abundant. I love what Joel says, I’ll repeat it,

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 am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Being followers of Jesus is never meant to be a dull drag. Nor is it a life of guilt and shame. The faith that we proclaim is joyous and full.

The other mom that I have observed is my wife Sarah. One of the most wonderful things for me to see is how she is with my kids.

Many nights before bed we’ll gather on the couch and the kids will pull out the hymnals and pick their favorites or Sarah will teach them a new one and we’ll sing. Talk about blessing and joy and the peace of Christ. When my girls can learn to sing ‘Abide with me fast falls the eventide…’ it is amazing to watch.

I’ll bet you don’t know what the most oft repeated command in Scripture is. It is not to be righteous or to avoid certain things, though that is important. The command in Scripture most often repeated is the command to ‘fear not.’

When Jesus says ‘have peace, do not let your hearts be troubled…’ he is repeating the biblical command to ‘fear not.’

Do not be afraid of the locusts, or ‘the arrow that flies by day or the fire that falls at night.’ Do not fear.

When I was about 8, I had a terrible time with fear. It was a bit more than just childhood stuff and I think it was my first introduction to the evil one. One night I was having difficulty sleepng and my mom taught me a very simple verse–the first verse I ever memorized. 2 Timothy 1:7. ‘For God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.’ I would say that out-loud in my bed at night and it was a great comfort to me.

You see, in Christ there is comfort and joy, peace and forgiveness–never fear.

Today a mother is being baptized with both of her grown children. What a wonderful picture for us on Mother’s Day. I know that this family has seen some adversity and the ability for Sandra to bring her kids and say–‘The Lord is still worthy to be served–do not fear.’ Is amazing to me.

As Joel reminded us, the Lord is God and there is no other. He blesses us beyond our comprehension. Have peace, do not fear.