Last weekend, I traveled to N-Sid-Sen our beautiful UCC camp in Idaho for the Fall Gathering of the PNW Conference. The theme was Answering God’s call. We took time to listen to each other and to listen to what God is calling us to do as conference of the UCC. It’s not so different that what we are doing as we enter our 5th week in our ReVision series and small group experience. In one session we were asked to gather in small groups and share moment. The only instructions were it had to be a moment, not a long story leading up to a moment but just the moment. It had to be our own moment and we could not comment on other people’s moments. It’s interesting to me how our lives are shaped by moments. Before and after moments. These moments of life, you know them when you hear people talk about things like before a parent died, before they got cancer, before they lost my job, before I came out. And after… after my daughter was born, after I moved, and after I won the lottery :).
Can you think of a moment?
Here is my moment.
January 20, 2005 – some know it as inauguration day, specifically the second inauguration of George W Bush. It was in the middle of the night (or early in the morning) and Caroline, not quite 2 years old at the time, came running into our room crying and upset. Unsure why, I went back to the room with her and tried to get her back to sleep. Unable to, I handed her off to Beth who a few minutes later came to our room now also upset. Beth had found glass shards all over Caroline’s pillow. And when we started looking around we found a huge hole in window above Caroline’s bed. A bullet had flown from the apartment building across our street, ripped through the cute caterpillar and butterfly curtains, through the window, over our baby’s head and lodged itself in the dresser. We were in that moment only inches away from becoming a gun violence statistic. Ever since that day, this is the moment that rushes back to me every time there is shooting in our country.
On Monday, we all woke up on to the news of the shooting in Las Vegas. There is so much pain and death and sadness for lives lost and anger and frustration in the face of the increasing yet preventable gun violence that plagues our country. Did you know since the Pulse shooting in Orlando in June 2017 (480 days ago) there have been 521 mass shootings? That’s more than 1 a day.
When moments like Monday happen, moments where we are not the same after, we seek answers/clarity and more and more I believe we are seeing the moments of our nation’s life as the result by years of actions/and inactions that often go unnoticed, that fester under the surface until they flash across our lives on our screens.
Our passage in Joel is a record of a before and after moment in time built upon a larger series of events. Before this passage we read of a people who believe God is displeased with them because locusts have devoured their land. Their whole nation is on the verge of collapse.
Because of this, the people are called to repent in a radical way. In the face of this crippling danger – the lack of food, the starvation of their animals – all statuses of privilege, social standing and age are suspended and the whole community is called to rally together for their very existence is at stake. And after this coming together, acknowledging their role in the situation, and seeking forgiveness it says that God’s favor returns to them.
I did some reading on locusts this week. They are an interesting species of grasshopper. Did you know that their eggs can lay dormant for 20 years, only to hatch and flourish when conditions are right? Did you know that locust fly with the wind, where the pressure is low and the winds carry them to fertile grounds? They seek to eat and destroy all new growth erupting in the land, consuming everything in their way. And when they get anxious, they send our pheromones that cause others around them to get anxious until they work themselves up into a swarming frenzy. And a large swarm is called a plague (sound familiar)?
The locust in this story were real but as I was studying this passage for today around across a blog commentary that talked about the metaphorical locus that swarm in our lives. These are the locusts of hatred, greed, white supremacy, violence, the hoarding of resources and climate change and they are swarming in our country. These are the attitudes and beliefs we thought we had dealt with and outgrown in this country that have erupted again because the conditions are ripe. These are the locusts that threaten to devour new growth in areas of equality and health care and they are why we as a people are growing increasing anxious by the political climate we find ourselves living in.
It feels more and more like we are living in the time of locusts. (In the past two months we have seen the hatred in Charlottesville, hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and now this week, the violence in Las Vegas).
We need to hear the words of Joel today. God comes and says; Creation, do not be afraid; animals, do not be afraid; people of God, do not be afraid. I will repay the damage done to you during the time of the locust.
The prophet Joel tells the people that God is a God of abundance and in our scarcity; God brings more than enough for everyone.
Joel also prophesies of a time when no one is despised. Brothers and sisters, there are those in this country that are still despised, those who are told to be ashamed of themselves. God says the day will come when never again will any of God’s children be shamed. In this time when even being called a Christian can be shaming, God says the foolishness of faith will be repaid by God’s presence in the midst of our lives. And we must live in to the day when no one is despised, and work to make sure it never happens in this house.
God says in these days of growing anxiety to fear not, that God is more powerful than princes and principalities. We are asked to place our faith in God’s care for us.
We often find it easy to see the Holy Spirit in the happy times, when we feel blessed. It is harder for us to feel the Holy Spirit in the difficult times. In these before and after moments of our life where is God in the hard moments, the moments when the locust are swarming and devouring?
Oppressed groups have learned to seek God in those moments and any look at the history of our African American, Native American and LGBT communities will show you their spiritual strength, especially in times of heartache.
In the passage God says, “After that (insert horrible thing), I will pour out my spirit out on everyone.” We should find hope in the realization that in “after this” and all the after this moments of our lives the Holy Spirit is poured out on everyone not just those of power and privilege but especially on those who are oppressed, saddened, in grief and in need.
We have seen these kind of moments after the disasters in our country over the past few months, we have seen many of them on TV and social media; scenes of people saving others, neighbor helping neighbor, strangers becoming life to each other.
God says, “After that, I will pour my spirit out on everyone.” The news reports these amazing stories of the human spirit that is awaken in times of crisis to go and do and the calling folks feel to engage, to risk themselves on behalf of another. It is first responders and ordinary people running into the chaos of Las Vegas to save the lives of others; it is people with boats rescuing folks form their rooftops; it is people of privilege flying supplies to PR. And it reminds us that there is more good than evil in the world.
They call it the American sprit, even though we do not have a monopoly on kindness, or they call it the unstoppable human spirit. It doesn’t matter what they call it, I call it the Holy Spirit.
It is creation responding to the powerful connection that exists between us in its purest way. And quite frankly, we spend most of our days trying to avoid it. It is time to stop pretending that the same God that lives in me and you doesn’t and can’t possibly live in (insert whatever kind of person you dislike).
This is what the Holy Spirit looks like.
This passage in Joel is seen by Christians as a prophecy of the coming of Holy Spirit and is quoted by Peter (verse 28) in Acts 2 when at Pentecost the crowd thinks the apostles are drunk at 9am. It is the Spirit of God that breaks through barriers of gender, economic status, stations of life, and pours itself out equally upon all people. God has poured God’s spirit out on us and asks us to dream, to see visions of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. And everything changes after that.
This is the spirit we have been given. This is the spirit we need in all the moments of our lives. And this is the Spirit that will guide us into the future.
What does the future look like to you?