After a wonderful Faith Renewal Service last week led by Rev. Jones and his Revitalization Team from Lampasas, Drew was back in the pulpit this week. His sermon, on Joel 2:23-32, reminds us that when God blesses us, God calls us to use those blessings for God’s purposes.
God Does Not Bless Without a Purpose
Do you remember what it was like to be a young child on Halloween? Full of excitement, but also full of real fear. For a young kid, who we are and who we pretend to be are not so separate.
In particular, I remember one house that we used to go to, good family friends of ours, members of our church, who would always go all out on Halloween. The dad in the family would dress up as a stuffed gorilla, or Frankenstein lying on a bed. And he would hold perfectly still, until a group of children came up, so that people assumed that he was just a prop. And as the children yelled “Trick-or-treat!” He would leap up with a roar and watch them cower in fear. It was the gorilla year, I believe, that got to me. I must have been five or six, dressed up as Peter Pan, and he jumped out and roared and beat his chest, and I screamed and cried and ran. It took more than ten minutes to calm me down, even after Mr. Hefley had taken off his gorilla mask and said, “Hey, it’s okay, it’s just me” I still had a little trouble believing what was going on.
For Christians, Halloween is a reminder that although we live in a frightening world, we have a powerful God. The people that the prophet Joel is speaking to have recently seen the business end of their frightening world. A sweeping plague of locusts had destroyed their crops, their vineyards, and even crawled under their doorsteps and in their windows into their homes, eating everything in sight. The whole land looked like it had been swallowed by fire. Nothing but stumps were left of years of labor, the bark had been chewed off all the trees. Vineyards and orchards withered, and fields lay empty.
But at this point in our text, the people are beginning to see the power of God to restore and redeem. The people and the land receive early rains. And late rains. An abundance of rain is poured out upon the land. The promise found in Joel is that threshing floors will be full again and the orchards and vineyards will produce vats of overflowing wine and oil. The people will be rebuilt and restored, even better than they were before.
And then here comes the important part, this is the part that Peter quoted on the day of Pentecost, “Then afterward, I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and 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.”
After the blessing comes vision. Because God does not bless us without filling us without a purpose. God does not give us blessings without filling us with the Holy Spirit to use them. In fact, being spirit-filled is a blessing all by itself. But when God blesses us, when God pours out rain upon us, when God showers us with gifts, whether they are money, or talents, or skills, God also shows us how to use them.
Look at Abraham. God blessed Abraham with prosperity, he had great flocks and herds and holdings. But God blessed Abraham, so that God could make of him a great nation. God blessed him so that he could be the father of God’s people. Or take Moses, for example. God blessed Moses. In a time when other Hebrew children were being killed as soon as they were born, God delivered Moses in a basket of reeds. And through God’s blessing, Moses was raised up in Pharaoh’s household. He was raised in wealth and privilege, as an Egyptian prince. And when he realized the privilege that he had, when he saw the Egyptian overseer beating one of his people, Moses tried to save a life, and end up taking one. And he ran away. I don’t blame him. A lot of people, try to do good, and when it doesn’t work out the way they expected, or it turns out harder than they think they can handle, they give up.
But God does not give up. When Moses is hiding out in the wilderness, taking care of his father-in-law’s flocks, God says, “No way, Jose. I didn’t bring you all this way for nothing. Go down, Moses, and tell that Pharaoh to let my people go.” God delivered Moses and blessed him so that Moses could deliver the Hebrew people out of slavery. God does not bless without a vision.
Let me give you a more recent example: Chuck Feeney, has made more than $7.5 billion dollars over the last forty years. And by 2020, it will all be gone. No, he doesn’t have a flock of limousines. He doesn’t go out on the weekends to play jetski polo. For much of his adult life, he didn’t even own a car.
Feeney made his money opening duty-free stores, capitalizing on tax-free zones to sell luxury goods. But in 1984, he quietly gave his entire 38% stake in Duty Free Shoppers to a foundation he created, called Atlantic Philanthropies, from which he started giving it away. Feeney looks for places where a big investment can make a big difference. And when he sees an opportunity, he pounces, whether its building a new medical school in California, or giving millions to Operation Smile, which gives cleft palate surgery to children who can’t afford it, making a big difference in their lives.
He was blessed with wealth, and he was given a vision. He’s going to use wht he has to make the biggest difference he can in the world. And his influence does not stop with his donations. Both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, two billionaires who are in the process of giving away their fortunes, credit him as an influence. God didn’t just give him money so that he could be wealthy and enjoy it, God gave him a mission so that he could use those blessings to make a difference in other people’s lives.
Joel tells us, “even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” In other words, everybody, even the lowest of the low, will have the blessing of God’s spirit. This is good to remember, because many times when it comes to doing God’s work, it’s the poorest people who know best what needs to be done. They see what the needs are, and they’ve seen all the people come from afar to try and fix the problem. They know what works and what doesn’t work. All of us have heard stories of well-intentioned people going out and messing everything up. You know, bringing and X-ray machine to a hospital, only to find that the hospital only gets an hour of electricity a day. If you’re not sure of what it is you’re being called to do with your blessings, ask somebody. Ask everybody. Even if you are sure, listen to other people, they may see or know something that you do not.
Not all of us here are billionaires. But all of us can be blessed and gifted with the spirit and God’s vision for the world. If you go to the Central Market in Taiwan’s Taitung county, you probably wouldn’t notice the older woman selling vegetables. If you did, from looking at her you’d see she’s a hard worker. Her hands are gnarled from decades of hard work, and each morning she is the first to arrive and set up, and the last to leave. What you wouldn’t see is that while operating this little vegetable stall, she’s given away nearly 10 million Taiwan dollars. She’s not secretly the heir of some multi-million dollar fortune, she’s been able to give away so much simply with frugality and hard work. She says, “Money is only worthy if given to those in need.” Amen.
Money isn’t the only blessing we receive. God’s blessings are as diverse as God’s people, and each of them was given with a purpose and a goal. Every single one of us has talents given to us to be used. And every single one of us has been given a purpose, a ministry through which we can share those gifts. We simply have to find where it is that we belong. And as a community, we have gifts and talents, things unique and special to this congregation, and these too, were given to us with vision and with the holy spirit, so that we can go out into the world and make disciples.
We are a gathered and sent community, we are gathered here to be sent out into the world armed with our God-given talents and the holy spirit to fulfill our calling. As surely as we are blessed, we are given purpose and meaning through God’s love for us and through the redeeming work of Christ, of which we are all now a part. This is what Joel is telling us, that even as God lifts us up and blesses and restores us, God is also blessing us with the Holy Spirit to guide us to a new vision of what it is to be God’s people.