23 O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
24 The threshing-floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit the life of the age to come. (translation by NT Wright)
Let’s explore the prophecy of Joel before we come to the Gospel.
The prophet Joel is writing about 400 years before Jesus. Clearly the people of Israel have been ravaged by a devastating locus plague. Famine was a very real fear. That lovely film I have mentioned once before, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, gives us a sense of the depth of fear when famine is affecting communities. Thieves steal others only supply of food. Rioters risk their lives to take food from Government store houses. Families choose to have just one meal a day. Some walk for miles to places that do have food. Children stop attending school because they can’t afford it.
The prophet Joel wanted people to put their faith in the God of abundance. He does call them to repentance. The people of Israel believed that God brought punishment on them for their sins. That punishment may have been invasion by another country or the ravishes form mother nature. They saw God’s hand in all that happened. Joel prophesied an abundance of rain and good crops such that they could praise God and be satisfied. He does say there will be more darkness before the promised abundance arrives.
As I reflected on Joel’s prophecy it reminded me of a new film. In a sense it is like the story of the boy who harnessed the wind. In both films you come away with a sense of hope. The young lad in Malawi built a windmill that drew up enough water from their well that they could irrigate their small farm. It would soon produce enough food for the community to keep going until the rains came.
In the new film 2040, named for the year 2040, we are again given hope that we have the technology now to turn around the environmental crisis. Some of the things he shows in the film are relatively simple. He shows a village in Bangladesh where people trade electricity from their small solar array on the roof of their tiny houses. The money generated stay in the village as they are more able to buy food and other things. Even the town markets are able to be open at night.
In the film we see scientists developing algae farms in the sea. The algae not only draws down carbon from the atmosphere but it can also be used for food for cattle and marine life as well as for fuel and fertiliser. Algae grows even more quickly than bamboo so you may find yourself wear algae tee shirts one day instead of cotton. We will still need to plant trees but that is a multi-generational project.
One of the other simple things the film mentions is educating girls. Sadly, in many parts of the world the education of girls is a very low priority. But educating girls is a game changer for families, communities and society as a whole. Educated women are better able to protect themselves and their families from the effect of natural disasters because they can provide a better quality of care for their children and are better able to prepare, adapt and bounce back. They bring in income for the family and choose to have smaller families helping to halt the global population growth. Just completing primary school alone makes a huge difference. We’ll try to organise a parish viewing of the film.
But like the prophet Joel this is a vision of the future. And we can expect more darkness before we these changes will bring the needed changes. The film maker mainly focuses on the promises rather than calling us to repent as Joel does. He believes if you show people what is possible they will choose to change.
Before we leave Joel I want to quote professor Walter C. Bouzard He wants us to hear Joel’s prophecy as an invitation to live a life of faith. He says:
Joel 2:25-27 make it clear that the promised abundance is still on the way. Eating, praise, and satisfaction are all promises of the wonders to come, as is the twice repeated promise that “my people shall never again be put to shame” (verses 26, 27). The foolishness of faith will be repaid by God’s generous provision and, more importantly, by God’s presence in the midst of God’s people.
In an era like ours and in a culture hallmarked by a fear of scarcity, it is difficult to live lives that are unstinting and free of anxiety about the future. Nevertheless, believers can and do live freely, hopefully, and generously because we know a secret: the God of abundance has promised to care for us at the “hungry feast” until our longings — and those of the world — are fully and forever satisfied.
I love his phrase “the foolishness of faith”. It is not hard to have a kind of cultural cringe in the church. The vast majority of our community think we are a bit loony. Maybe we need to embrace the phrase, the foolishness of faith. We can’t prove God exists, we can’t prove the things we see as a gift from God as anything other than chance. But may be choosing to give our lives in faith to a God of love and forgiveness, a God who is generous and provides abundance. If we live our lives hopefully and generously because of our foolish faith in God, we will be happier and less anxious. Our stewardship will be marked by generosity and this faith in an abundant God. We won’t stop putting money into superannuation or paying insurance. And we won’t reject science. We will see the resources we have as a gift from God to be used for the welling being of ourselves and others. We will see the genius of scientists as a gift from God.
This foolish faith gives us hope in God. God who not only provides for our needs but also provides for the needs of the global community and the earth itself. Our faith means we confidently enter into the work we are called to. We join in God’s work of creation, salvation and sanctification. When we fully embrace this faith that seems foolish we actually become agents of change bringing hope to others.
Let’s very quickly join the ruler in his question to Jesus. NT Wright translate it as ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit the life of the age to come.’ He wants to know what one has to do to enter into the life that Joel has prophesied. Even 400 hundred years after Joel the people of Israel still had hope in the Lord’s day, a day of blessing for the faith. This ruler wanted to make sure he would be a part of the company who enter this time of plentiful rain and abundance.
In many ways he is a faithful Jew endeavouring to keep the commandments. Jesus can see deep into his heart and loves him. The only thing he needed to do was to let go of his security blanket. When you have great wealth, it shields you from much of the suffering in the world. But as that wealthy ruler knew money could never get rid of the deep anxieties. When we have wealth and others around us who don’t, we become a target. We don’t feel safe. When we have money, we can ward off sickness and death but inevitable we prey to these things.
Jesus suggestion to go cold turkey on the addiction to wealth is just foolishness. The rich, Jesus says, find it impossible to enter into the age to come. And of course we can look up the line at CEOs of banks and mining magnates and declare that we are not rich. But if we have a reasonable income, a high school education and an Australian passport we are among the top 10% of the world wealthiest people. Jesus invited that ruler, and he is inviting us to let go of a life based on the fear of scarcity and to embrace a life of foolish faith. At the very minimum we need to see our riches as gifts from God. We are to hold what we have in trust for God. We are to use it not only for our benefit and not just for our family but to be a blessing for the wider community.
Jesus invites us to live a foolish faith embracing a life of abundance for all and to be agents of that abundance for all. It may be foolish, but it is a joyful journey full of surprises. We encounter God’s generosity in places we least expect it. The earth itself is blessed by our foolish generosity and responds with it’s own abundance.