“Pouring”

Have you ever been caught in a downpour?

I don’t mean the drizzle that passes for rain here in Seattle, those dry rains for which the natives don’t even pull out their umbrellas.  I mean downpour – stop the car on the highway because you can’t see through the sheets of water rain.  Soaked to the bone in two seconds flat rain.  Thunderstorms sweeping over the Rocky Mountains and out onto the wide open plains rain.  Knock you out of your normal, maybe there’s a reason humans talk so much about the weather rain.  Restore the land in one afternoon after months of drought rain?  Last summer there was one weekend in July when the rains came to my dad’s farm in south central Kansas.  Three days it rained, and it saved the corn.  A $50,000 rain, he said.

Have you ever been caught in a downpour?

The book of Joel is an overlooked part of our sacred scripture that offers a grand vision.  Joel is a minor prophet, stuck between Hosea and Amos, one of those books that is hard to find when you’re looking for its three chapters within the 1,189 chapters of the Bible.  But it’s an amazing book.  In three short chapters Joel tells the human story of despair and repair, a story of desolation and restoration, a story we all know, one of drought and rain.  By the end of chapter two, which we have heard from today, the people, the Israelites, had already been through drought, famine, and locust invasions.  The country was in ruins.  And in the midst of the struggle there was a clear call for repentance and prayer.   And in the midst of the repentance and prayer there was a merciful response from God.  Our scripture today tells of fertility restored to the ground, fruit trees bearing abundant fruit, threshing floors and wine vats filled once again, and abundant covenant blessings.  And it doesn’t stop there, doesn’t stop with material restoration, for after the land is healed, so are the people.  The text says:

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.

Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.

Your old men shall dream dreams.

And your young men shall see visions.

Even on the male and female slaves in those days I will pour out my spirit.

Ahh – it’s a grand vision, an Anabaptist vision – this is that the church can be.

The three-week worship series we begin today on empowering God’s people starts right here in Joel chapter 2 with the creative love of God generously giving gifts to all.  God fills us, empowers us to follow Jesus in our words and deeds and to use our gifts in service to the church.  This text from Joel, echoed later in the Pentecost story of Acts 2 is a timeless passage that captures a key message from the biblical tradition.

All flesh, all God’s people have a role.  Everyone in the congregation is a leader in their own way – prophesying, dreaming dreams, seeing visions.  No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, God calls you followers of Jesus to a vocation of faith, to a ministry in this world.  By virtue of God’s spirit pouring over us, no matter our station in life, no matter our age, race, housing status, or sexual orientation, we are gifted to minister.

Oh it’s a grand vision.

And then there’s what we really are.  We are busy. We are tired.  We are weary. And our dreams are restless.  And the visions do not come.

JENNIFER DELANTY: I am exhausted. I am so tired.  I just want to sit down.  I just need to rest.  This past week was so stressful at work and now half the weekend is already behind me.  Everything I pushed off ‘til the weekend to get done  around the house still isn’t finished, and I’ve gotta go back to work tomorrow.  All the bills, housework and laundry are piling up and it didn’t help that I had to spend a few hours in the office yesterday just to keep up with the dozens of files sitting on my desk.  (phew!)

We barely got here to church on time this morning.  Motivating the kids to leave their warm beds and get up as they have to do during the school week is a challenge.  I try to let them sleep a little longer; no matter how early I get them up, we still scramble to get properly dressed and eat breakfast so we can early enough to allow 30 minutes to get to church.  Usually we leave with only 15-20 minutes to spare, though, including today.  Tamping down their grumpiness and disagreements sure zaps my limited energy.  The dreary rain and overcast skies didn’t help, either; I wanted to stay in bed, too.

But here we are, and I’m glad we’re here.  But I’m just so tired!  Would anyone think less of me if I just sat here and did nothing but rest?  Would anyone fault me for coming to church just so I can have one hour out of the week away from the demands of work, home, marriage and parenting?  Is it OK to just be?  Most of my life feels like I’m a human doing in lieu of a human being.  I’m not trying to have a pity party, I’m just so exhausted and overwhelmed by all the demands!

Goodness, tears are falling out of my eyes.  I am so glad I’m here.  I need this place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God.  Help me find Your center, dear Lord, blanket me with Your peace.  Help me calm down and just be, here and now.

Have you ever been caught in a downpour?  I don’t mean the irritation that comes with one bad day; I mean a downpour: the struggle of having too many things to do for the time you have; chronic unemployment and question of your own worth; mental health struggles that the world doesn’t understand; managing kids and a job and a family and church responsibilities all in the space of one life.  How many of us have been there?  How many of us are there?  How many of us will be there again.

The great teacher and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor explains.  “Affirming the ministry of every baptized Christian is not an idea that appeals to many… people these days.  It sounds like more work, and most… have all the work they can do.  It sounds like more responsibility, while most… are staggering under loads that are already too heavy.”  She tells a short story: “I will never forget the woman who listened to my speech on the ministry of [all God’s people] and said, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be that important.’”  (The Preaching Life)

Joel’s potent call to the ministry and leadership of all of God’s people can feel more like a burden than a blessing.

Unless, unless the calling is less being and doing than we realize.

One of my teenage summers, my family was on our regular vacation from Kansas to Beaver Lake in northwest Arkansas.  We had been out on a boat in the water when the thunderclouds that had been forming in the west swept over that Ozarks lake and caught us in a downpour.  We made our way as fast as we could to the dock, and my dad navigated us into the covered boat slip.  We were safe from the downpour, sheltered under the symphony that rain makes on a tin roof.  What happened next shocked my teenage self.  Instead of taking off his life jacket and hurrying toward the cabin like the rest of us, my dad hopped out of the boat, took three running steps and leapt into the lake, downpour and all.

Barbara Brown Taylor continues: “Like many of those who sit beside her at church, she hears the invitation as an invitation to do more – to lead the every member canvass, or cook supper for the homeless, or teach vacation church school. Or she hears the invitation to ministry as an invitation to be more – to be more generous, more loving, more religious.”  …  “No one has ever introduced her to the idea that her ministry might involve being just who she already is and doing just what she already does, with one difference: namely, that she understands herself to be God’s person in and for [God’s] world.”

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.

Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.

Your old men shall dream dreams.

And your young men shall see visions.

Even on the male and female slaves in those days I will pour out my spirit.

This one verse, Joel 2.28, despite what our active, busy minds might hear most, is less about doing, less about being, and more about pouring.  The phrase “I will pour out my spirit” bookends our call; twice God says, I will pour out my spirit onto you.  The text invites us to stay a while in the creative, generous abudance of God, to not move too quickly to the prophesying and dreaming.

Just in being who you are, you are leaders, you are ministers, you are channels of the spirit of God.  The call is not a call to do more.  It is not a call to be more.  It is a call to name and claim what you are already doing as God’s.  To see God pouring her abundant gifts onto her people.  To see that you, people of God, have been caught in a downpour.

So I invite you to stay a while in the pouring of the spirit.  And I invite you to return to it over and over again.  Let it fall upon you and drench you in two seconds flat.  Let it repair and restore you.  Take three steps from under your tin roof…  See yourself, at least in your best moments, as God’s person and not your own.

Have you ever been caught in a downpour?

When a spare moment comes to you sitting at your desk, riding the bus, searching for a job, wrestling with addiction, sitting with your family, remember you are God’s person.  And let the spirit pour.

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