Sunday, May 11, 2008

Joel.2.28-29, May 11, 2006, Festival of Pentecost

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that 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 servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (Joel 2:28-29 ESV)

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Are you parched and dry this morning? I’m not really talking about the weather; we certainly aren’t experiencing a drought this spring. This year, for right now, the ground is plenty wet. And yet I’ve heard it said “never curse the rain.” But, you do know what I mean when I talk about being parched and dry. You’ve seen drought, with the dust floating in the air, where moisture should be; great dry cracks in the ground made by the evaporating of surface moisture; brownish-green plants with shriveled leaves, clenching the dry dusty earth, steadily shrinking into nothing as they vainly suck the ground for water.

Human beings can be dry, too. Working in the sun can quickly dehydrate you. It beats down on you. Its heat makes you to sweat until your clothes are soaked. Your tongue swells to fill you whole mouth with dryness, instead of saliva. Your joints get weak, and even movement emphasizes the need for some moisture. Your mind aches for a small drop of water, on the tip of your tongue. The land can be parched and dry; people can be parched and dry, you’ve all been there, and you know what it means.

Our text today comes from the book of the prophet Joel. We don’t hear much from him in our regular Sunday morning readings, but he pops up every year at Pentecost time. He does because the Holy Spirit inspired him to write the text that St. Peter used to preach the first Sermon in the Christian Church. He did that on the first Pentecost. We heard a part of if in our reading of Acts this morning. It might seem kind of strange, but Joel, that important Pentecost book, mostly speaks about being parched and dry. In fact, almost two thirds of the book talks about an invasion of locusts, and the ensuing drought. Listen to the prophet Joel describe what’s going on:

The seed shrivels under the clods; the storehouses are desolate; the granaries are torn down because the grain has dried up. How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are perplexed because there is no pasture for them; even the flocks of sheep suffer. To you, O Lord, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has burned all the trees of the field. Even the beasts of the field pant for you because the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness. (Joel 1:17-20 ESV)

It is quite a vivid picture of a drought that the prophet paints. It almost makes you want to get up and go get a drink doesn’t it? We really don’t know exactly when Joel penned those words, or when that drought took place. It really doesn’t make that much difference; the dryness of the land that Joel talks about was something that happened in that part of the world occasionally. The people living there suffered because of it. But, Joel wasn’t only talking about dry ground; he was talking about dry people, too. Over and over again in their history, the people of God, the children of Israel, became spiritually dry. They forgot about what God had done for them. They forgot that He had given them the land they lived on. They forgot that God had supported them in the dry desert when they left Egypt. They forgot what God had done by delivering them from slavery to Pharaoh in the first place. The parched land was only a sign of their parched lives; lives without the God who was their God; lives spiritually dry and empty. Their tongues no longer sang the praises of their God; they lacked the spiritual moisture that was needed. They no longer made the thank offerings and the drink offerings that God had command them to do; they lacked the moisture that was needed. They had turned instead to false gods, made of dry stone, or cut wood. These gods sucked the life from them, instead of refreshing them, and giving them what they needed. Through the prophet Joel, God calls them to repentance. “Return to me!” He called out them. I will end the drought; I am the one who provides what you need to live. I will give you the moisture your soil and your soul need. “Return to the LORD your God,” say the well known words of the book of Joel, “for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.”

For you confirmads this is exactly what we have talked about on many occasions. Faith will only grow or die. Faith that isn’t constantly watered by God’s Word dries up and blows away. It is very important that you find yourself in worship, at a church that constantly tells you about Jesus life, death and resurrection for you; a church that reminds you of your sin and your need for Jesus every time you are there. Without Jesus, you faith will dry up.

But God always responds to repentance: “in those days I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” Like the water poured out on a thirsty land, that runs into the cracks in the ground and refreshes dry withered plants; my Spirit, says God, will be poured out on my people. They will drink up the moisture of my care and compassion; I will take care of their physical and spiritual needs. I will give them abundant water, more than a drop to cool the tongue, but overflowing to fill up their whole lives, to refresh and replenish them… “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!” That was God wanted, for the people to be saved, not only from the drought of the land, but from their spiritual dryness, too.

It isn’t difficult to see that people today are also parched and dry. There is clamoring for spirituality, those sections in the bookstore are busier than ever. “10 ways to use God to make your life better.” “Basic life principals-Use the bible to fix whatever is wrong in your life.” “God wants you to be healthy and happy, use this prayer to make it so.” I recently viewed on the internet videos where Oprah denies that Jesus is the only way. She preaches a different gospel that disagrees with scripture profoundly. It is a dry message that seems right to people who don’t know the truth of Jesus. People today are dry as the ground in a drought, sucking at the dust for spiritual direction, panting for moisture in the dryness of misleading (if not well intentioned) texts. Laying their offerings at the feet of false gods who promise and end to the drought but can’t deliver, because the moisture that people need in their lives can only come from the God who created them. It is only found in His Word and Sacraments. The moisture they need can only come from being in a relationship with the Only True God.

Do you sometimes feel dry, too? Even though you are in a relationship with One True God. Do the pressures of life, the busyness of life, the demands of life, seem to suck the life out of you? Life can be that way. It’s nice to be able to work, but when the demands of your job overwhelm you, when the workload increases, it can dry up your opportunities to do anything else. And your family relationships are affected, too. You struggle to keep them alive but the pressure leads to arguments and misunderstanding that just drain the life away from them. In your eagerness to work, you have hurt those closest to you. You have ignored people who needed your help, because you were just too busy, just like the men who passed by the man on the side of the road, you know the one the Samaritan helped. And you can’t forget those painful, hurtful memories about your past. They suck the good from current relationships and leave you gasping for moisture.

Even your relationship with your Savior is, at times, affected. There are Sundays when you may wonder why you are sitting here, because God feels so far away… so far that it seems as if He doesn’t care what happens in your dry and dusty life, so far away that you feel parched and dry.

“In those days,” says the Lord to you, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” God provides the moisture you need in your life. Just as he sends rain on dry parched ground, just as he give due every morning to thirsty plants; he gives you the moisture you need to live on this dry planet. It isn’t a coincidence that he speaks of the ‘pouring out’ of the Spirit. It’s the language of liquid refreshment, water is poured out, wine is poured out, and thirsty lives have what they need.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” (John 7:37-38 ESV)

Those words of Jesus show us that He knows how dry and parched life can be. He knows that people need spiritual moisture, but more that that He knows why life can be that way. It isn’t a coincidence that the dryness of life shows up first in our relationships with other people. That’s because it’s caused by dryness in another relationship, our relationship with God himself. It’s sin that comes between Your Heavenly Father and you, straining the relationship, just like an argument keeps your friends or even your parents away. Sin causes the moisture of life to trickle away. But Jesus says, “come to me and drink.” “I have overpowered the dryness of sin. When it drains your life of meaning by drying up your relationships, remember what I have done for you. I lay in the dry dusty tomb that should have been yours. I died the death and suffered the punishment that your sin should have brought to you. I made permanent the relationship between Our Father and you. It will never dry up again!”

And that brings us to Pentecost. Pentecost is above all things about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul wrote to a Pastor under his instruction

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7 ESV)

You see, Pentecost is exactly about the pouring out of spiritual moisture, on dry lifeless people. It is about the giving of the gifts of spiritual moisture to Christ’s church. It is the Holy Spirit at work here in this place as we hear the Good News of what Jesus Christ has done. He renews and restores, he works to pour living water into dry and parched people. He is at work, reviving the dry dusty soul at the baptismal font. Where he creates living faith through water connected to the words of God. There is moisture there for you. When we say, “remember your baptism,” we mean remember what God did there for you there. Pouring the water life into your life, washing away the sin that made you parched and dry. Whenever you remember it the spiritual moisture flows again and revives you. The Holy Spirit is also at work whenever we approach this rail to drink the spiritual moisture, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin, the very blood of Christ.

God knows about your dryness, about the drought that sometimes affects your life. He does more than offer you a drop to cool you tongue. He offers abundant overflowing “…living waters that flow from within.” as Jesus said. He gives spiritual moisture to quench your thirst, moisture to end the drought, moisture to mend the dryness in your family relationships, and bring meaning to the work you do every day. That spiritual moisture, that living water, flows from within you to everyone around you. Just as you are forgiven so you also forgive. The moisture you have been given, you give to others, and just as the ending of a drought begins with a single drop of rain, dry and parched people, the dry and parched land, are revived. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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