Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 23, 2016

2016.10.23 “A Time for Hopes and Dreams”- Joel 2: 28 – 32

Central United Methodist Church
“A Time for Hopes and Dreams”
Pastor David L. Haley
Joel 2: 28 – 32
October 23rd, 2016

“Then afterward 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.

I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.” – Joel 2: 28 – 32, the New Revised Standard Version

 

It was difficult to know how to introduce my sermon today, given that overnight the Chicago Cubs might win the National League pennant for the first time since 1945, and by the time I speak to you this morning, we would know for sure. So either we would still be on pins-and-needles awaiting the outcome of a game tonight, OR we will all be hung over from last night’s victory celebration.

And, who knows what surprises a win would bring? When the White Sox won the American League pennant in 1959, Robert Quinn, the Chicago Fire Commissioner, ordered a celebratory five-minute sounding of the city’s air raid sirens. During the height of the Cold War, this frightened thousands of citizens, who ran out into the streets thinking for sure the Russians were coming. Quinn later apologized, but was defended by Mayor Richard J. Daley, who said Quinn acted in accordance with a City Council proclamation that “there shall be whistles and sirens blowing and there shall be great happiness when the White Sox win the pennant.” So this morning, we hope there shall be (whistles and sirens) and great happiness when the Chicago Cubs win the pennant.

Obviously, a lot of people are excited about this, because it has been a long time coming. Our hats off to those “Die Hard” Cub fans, who have faithfully shown up year-after-year only to have their hopes dashed. In the sense of the Gospel admonition that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” it is they who should have been given front row seats to these games rather than the fair-weather suburbanites who buy up all the good seats only when the Cubs are winning.

Last Susteve_goodmannday, when Millete and John played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for their postlude, I told them what they should have played was “Go, Cubs, Go,” written by the late great Cub fan Steve Goodman, the song now sung after every Cubs home win. Before he sadly died of leukemia at the age of 36, Goodman also wrote “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request,” in which he said:

“But what do you expect,
when you raise up a young boy’s hopes
and then just crush ’em like so many paper beer cups.

Year after year after year
after year, after year, after year, after year, after year
’til those hopes are just so much popcorn
for the pigeons beneath the ‘L’ tracks to eat.”

Goodman’s words – Biblical in proportion, though in Chicago style – recall the words of the prophet Joel that we read earlier:

“I will repay you for the years
that the cutting locust,
the swarming locust, the hopping locust,
and the devouring locust have eaten—
my great army, which I sent against you.
You will eat abundantly and be satisfied,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has done wonders for you;
and my people will never again be put to shame.”

No, he was not talking about the Cubs, he was talking about another devastating time in the history of Israel. Somewhere around 4th BCE, their lives were threatened not by an army of warriors, but of locusts, devastating their crops and therefore their supply of food. It wasn’t clear which hurt worse; the hunger pangs in their bellies or the implication that God was angry with them, thus allowing this to happen.

Just as in painful times in our lives when we cannot imagine happiness or joy again, Joel spoke a word of hope, promising a time that a time would come again “when the threshing floors would be full of grain and the vats would overflow with wine and oil.”

As Dawn Chesser said on the United Methodist Discipleship website, it would be like God saying to us:

  • I promise that one day, the clean-up from the floods and fires, the hurricanes and the tornadoes, the earthquakes and the bombs, will be finished; and your homes and businesses will be rebuilt.
  • I promise that one day, this period of unemployment will be over, and you will have work again.
  • I promise that one day, you will be finished with your divorce, and you will be in a better place.
  • I promise that one day, your grief will become manageable and you will smile and laugh again.
  • I promise that one day, the war will be over, and you will be able to go home.
  • I promise that one day, there will be justice rendered against those who have persecuted you.
  • I promise that one day, you will no longer be a slave to your addiction.
  • I promise that one day, your life will be restored, and you will once again praise God and give thanks for all God has done for you.

As if this wasn’t enough, the prophet Joel then goes so far as to say that the day would come when God would “pour out God’s spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” That’s right, on great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, on newborn sons and daughters, on all God’s people. One day, all of God’s children will be restored; and they will once again dream dreams, and see visions that lead to a better tomorrow.

After all, when we are down and out, isn’t that when it’s hardest to imagine or dream of new ways of doing things or better days to come? Too often, all we know is what has been; we cannot dream of what might someday be.

As we have discussed on two previous Sundays now, this is the situation we now find ourselves in, in the church in North America in general, and our church, Central Church. As we have discussed, two major realities confront us: first, the rise of a new generation of adults who are largely disengaged with Church; and, second, the coming “death tsunami” of the elders who have kept our churches in existence. By the year 2050, most of the “church-as-we-have-known-it” churches will almost certainly no longer exist.

Given this, right now, we are all seeking answers, and we don’t know what they are going to be. Just as when the Cubs are losing, you can’t see any hope of winning; just as when the crops are failing you can’t imagine overflowing harvests; so in this time of decline of Christendom and Church we don’t envision the glory days of the Fifties anytime again soon. The thought of a world where only a small percentage of the population is interested in Christian church membership sends cold chills down our spines. And yet that is the world that is coming, and quickly.

The good news (if there is any) is this: in the history of the church it has happened time and again, and for those willing to listen to God’s Spirit and be willing to adapt to what new thing God is doing, God will make a way where there is no way.

Consider, for example, that tiny group of Jesus’ followers, no more than about a hundred, after his death, resurrection, and ascension? Just when they felt small and alone and wondered what would happen next, they were surprised on the Day of Pentecost by the explosion of God’s Spirit, to the degree that Peter even quoted Joel’s prophesy, saying, in essence, “That thing Joel spoke of; this is that!” And look at what happened after that; due to that and many other inexplicable and unexpected events, we are sitting here today.

Once again we are at such a time in the Church, when we are out of answers. There is no “doing what we have always done,” no “going back to the glory days,” no “magic bullets” or “programs in a box” that will suffice. Once again, as at Pentecost, we are back to Joel’s advice: listening to God’s Spirit speaking through each other.

As on previous Sundays; this is what we are going to do, turn and talk to each other. Like we also did, move around as necessary, find someone to talk to, and – for about 3 minutes each – ask each other this question:

What are your hopes and dreams for Central Church,
for our community, and for the world?

harrycarayLet me conclude with this: At the end of the last day of the 1991 Cubs season, Cubs announcer and prophet Harry Caray said this:

“Well, a lot of things happened today, and they were all great. And they were all thrilling. And they were all dramatic. Too bad we couldn’t have had a victory that meant a pennant. But that will come. Sure as God made green apples, someday the Chicago Cubs are going to be in a World Series. And maybe sooner than we think . . .”

If the Cubs can win the World Series at long last, how much more can we look to new ways and brighter days, through the leading of God’s Spirit, speaking through each other. Go Cubs! Go Central! Go God!

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