The Rev. Jennifer Adams – Sunday, October 23, 2016
Proper 26, Year C: Joel 2:23-32, 2Timothy: 4:6-18, Luke 18:9-14
This morning I want to begin with the reading from the prophet Joel, because it’s one of my favorite passages (and preachers have the privilege of running with their favorites when they show up.) So come on along and hear what Joel had to say.
“O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God, the for he has given the early rain for your vindication,” the prophet spoke. “The 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…You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you…You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. ..28I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old shall dream dreams, and your young shall see visions. 29Even on the male and female slaves, (meaning therefore, upon everyone) I will pour out my spirit.”
I love this passage because it’s a beautiful articulation of how the Spirit comes to a community and works through us all – old and young, sons and daughters, free and not so free but soon to be – the Spirit has been poured upon all flesh for the sake of all flesh. Which that’s a beautiful and profound grace to consider. And it sort of makes me want to walk around the congregation, and ask everyone here today, “So, what are your dreams?… What are your visions?” Hey all, the Spirit will/has been poured upon us! We are intergenerationally blessed!
But don’t worry, Episcopalians. We are by nature a little shy about group shares especially during worship, especially using the language of “dreams and visions of God,” so I’m not going to roam right now. But trust me, trust Joel, and for that matter remember the language we use at Baptism: the Spirit is upon you and you and you and you and me. Everyone here has a dream, everyone who walks through these doors has a dream, and we need the old, the young and everyone in-between to share the visions they have been given in order to be the community we have been called to be.
So part of what we do for each other here at Grace is honor and help shape and nurture those dreams, weaving them into some sort of larger whole that becomes not just individual but a collective “grace for the world.” Joel is telling us that God is doing something through us, among us. And it is our job, our work as people of faith to nurture the gifts that the Spirit sends.
Which is energizing and literally, inspiring. “I will, with God’s help” is how we respond to the charge at Baptism and the assurance here is that God’s help has come and will continue to be poured out. As we enter into this time of year when we focus in on the gifts we have to share, the time, talent, treasure to use traditional language – remember that it’s all for the sake of engaging the Spirit’s gifts and God’s dreams for this church and this world.
Each and every one of us has something essential to bring to the table, this table and others too. And so we set goals, we listen, we support, encourage and cheer each other on. And we remember that the Spirit is here and is always calling us to a time of literal abundance – of food, of shelter, of mercy, of peace and spiritual blessings. Part of what we do together here is dream and work for a re-newed church and world. And I could say Amen right now and sit down.
But in the spirit of full disclosure, I need to say more. Before we go all vision on ourselves and go way heavy on the dreams, we have to acknowledge that there are challenges to all of this vision stuff. As coincidence would have it, The Second Letter to Timothy from which came our second passage this morning reminds us of some of those.
The author of this Epistle was Paul who had been up to his ears in visions and dreams for a VERY long time by the time he wrote this letter to his right hand man, Timothy. Paul had walked miles and miles and miles. He’d written lots of letters, preached lots of places, encouraged one community of faith after another, and Paul had also been imprisoned for his faith.
By this point in his story, some of Paul’s buddies had left. We heard that one had gone on to Thessalonica, another to Galatia, and recently yet another had gone off to Ephesus to work on something else. So the people of Paul’s day were very busy – and distracted – they struggled to live and worship as one Body. There were theological, ideological conflicts and sometimes just simple human misunderstandings. And not only that but the local coppersmith was apparently blatantly and publically opposing their message, Paul had left his jacket at his last stop, his books were all over the place (he had to ask Timothy to pick them up,) and his parchments weren’t terribly organized.
And so the challenge is that that’s what they had to work with when it came to a community of people sharing the dreams and visions of God! Busyness. Blatant opposition. Differences of opinions and priorities. Distractions!
And all that sounds familiar to me too. Here we are a people who have dreams and visions. A creative, compassionate, faithful people who also have day jobs, and meals to cook, and baths to give, homework to do, schedules to juggle, struggles to wrestle, and parchments to organize. So we are challenged to balance holding on to the larger vision of the grand and holy dreams of God with the reality of remembering to pay the electric bill and not bumping up too hard against the local coppersmith.
Our work is hold all of this in one very real place in which God is present: the dreams, the distractions, the visions, the day to day in one big incarnational bundle of being God’s people in this world. And so we hold up where we are headed while we stubbornly, patiently, passionately, hunker in to a step at a time sort of approach. (Sometimes we take three steps at a time. Sometimes two steps back, but, like Paul and probably even Joel, we keep walking.)
Remember the visions are for threshing floors full of grain where no one hungers and so the step we take is to we welcome all to this table every Sunday and everyone gets fed. And we fling wide the doors for our mobile food pantry and we come together for Holy Chow shared meals – all signs that we are committed to that way of being in this world. The vision is for dreams being poured upon all flesh and so the step we take is to welcome a refugee family and other outcasts too – one family or person at a time – one person or family whose dream it is to be safe, to be welcomed, to be home. We do that. The vision is for reconciliation and healing of all kinds and so the step we take is to visit, listen to and pray with someone who is hurting and we work to break down one very real barrier at a time today. The vision is for prophets to sing among us and so we teach the kids, the language and hopes of God.
The day will come, God promises when the Kingdom is here in full – and God will make it so. And the day is now Paul and others remind us when we are called to give what we have of ourselves, providing glimpses and experiences of mercy, of peace, of abundance, of shelter, of love, of home. And we offer it all as a people whose gifts abound.