Roadmap to the Future
October 27, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Joel 2:23-32 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 Luke 18:9-14
Have you ever gone on a long car trip as a passenger and, somewhere along the way, fell asleep for a while? It isn’t bad when you’re going somewhere that you have been before or taking route that is familiar to you. But if you are going to an unfamiliar place or traveling a road that you haven’t been on before, then the sensation that you have when you wake up can be a little disconcerting. Upon awakening, you find your self wondering, and even asking, “Where am I?” and “How did we get here?”
But as we go about our daily lives, we sometimes have that same disconcerting feeling and we wonder, spiritually, where we are and how we got here. And so, although I have preached similar sermons before, and likely will again, our scriptures for today offer us a link from the past to the present, and offer advice and guidance, a roadmap if you will, as we travel toward the future. Our past, found in the Old Testament and heard through the voices of the prophets, reminds us of where we have been, the promises of God, and the wisdom of the ages. The Gospels remind us of how those prophecies were fulfilled, and other books of the New Testament, such as Paul’s pastoral letters, offer us advice and guidance on how we might live our lives in a strange and confusing world, in a way that honors God. These are the three sources that we will visit today as we learn the past, live for today, and plan for the future. We begin by remembering the words of the prophet Joel as he addresses the nation of Israel in the aftermath of a natural disaster, a famine, that was caused by swarms of locusts that destroyed all of their crops and left both humans and animals hungry, starving, and searching for food. (Joel 2:23-32)
23 Be glad, people of Zion,
rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.
25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.
28 “And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
32 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be deliverance,
as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
whom the Lord calls.
Joel begins with a reminder to all of us that the rain, and our food, come to us through the blessing and the faithfulness of God. In Joel’s understanding, the locusts were God’s army and were sent to punish Israel for their unfaithfulness but also as a reminder that God is in control and constantly nearby. Joel teaches that after a time of repentance, that God would restore Israel’s fortunes, along with her food. As I read through the first part of this passage, there were two things that struck me. First, because it is God that sends the rains and causes the crops to grow, our calling is to be thankful when these things are in abundance. And second, because the restoration of Israel was a promise that had not yet been fulfilled, I also see a call for God’s people to have hope as we endure times of hardship.
The second half of this passage should have sounded familiar to most of us, because, beginning with “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” these are the exact words that we hear quoted by the Apostle Peter as he speaks to the crowd on the day of Pentecost. Peter announces that the promise of the prophet Joel is being fulfilled on that day, even still today and, as we understand it, will be completed the end of time. Joel and Peter declare that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” and this becomes the work, not only of Jesus Christ, but also of his church on earth until his return.
I think that Joel emphasizes thankfulness in times of abundance because our temptation to cry out to God when things are bad, but forget him when we are living in abundance, is real, ancient, and common. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who were in the temple to offer prayers to God. But while the average listener would have expected the Pharisee to be the hero (because they were perceived as being godly), and the tax collector as the villain (because they were seen as traitors), we are instead surprised to find that the man who appears to be blessed by God is actually distant from him, and the man who appears to be distant, is much closer than we might have imagined.
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
And so, the message for anyone who would follow Jesus is clear, if we have real faith, and if we desire the real blessings of God, then we have to walk the walk. As the followers of Jesus Christ, we must see our place in the world with humility and see the people around us the way that God sees them. Just because we are living in abundance doesn’t mean that we should take any credit for the blessings that we have been given. Likewise, just because others may not seem to have the things that our culture values, position, power, fame, glory, popularity, money, and so on, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love them or that they are not, in fact, much closer to God, and his blessings, than we are.
But what about the future? If we struggle to see people the way that God sees them, then what difference will it make? What purpose will it give our lives? And for at least one glimpse into the future, we can look to the end of Paul’s life as he is imprisoned in Rome and facing eventual execution, and there he writes his second letter to his young protégé Timothy. (2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18)
Paul says, “6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Paul writes that he can almost feel his life flowing out of him as he rots in prison and waits for his execution. But even as he approaches the end of his life, he knows that he did well with the life that he had, he fought a good fight, and pressed hard all the way to the finish line. Paul knows that the rewards of God are waiting for him and will be awarded to him, and to everyone who looks forward to the second coming of Jesus, on the day of Judgement.
But even at the end of Paul’s life, even as he sat in prison, even as he was abandoned by his friends and faced trials, God continued to give him strength so that he could accomplish his mission and continue the mission that we all share as followers of Jesus and members of his church. Paul’s mission, and ours, is to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ so that everyone, including the outsiders, the tax collectors, the sinners, and everyone else that we are tempted to dismiss and discount, might have the opportunity to hear it.
Paul’s message to Timothy is largely biographical but is also instructional. We are called to dedicate our lives, even at the end, even when we are faced with insurmountable trials, we are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people around us. For Paul, that meant, as he sat in prison and appeared in court, he was sharing the story of Jesus with inmates, guards, administrators, lawyers, and anyone else that he encountered, possibly even Caesar himself.
The witness of Joel, Jesus, and Paul remind us that following Jesus is not something that we do once during a church revival, or at the altar of the church, and assume that we’re done with it. It isn’t a box that we can check and say that we’ve finished. Following Jesus is a totally transformational lifestyle, a roadmap for life, that keeps us involved in the world around us and on mission, all the way to the end of our time here on earth.
Joel calls us to live well in thankfulness and humility whether we are living in hardship or in abundance. Jesus calls us to walk the walk every day, to remember that it is God who has blessed us, and to see the people around us the way that God sees them. And Paul call us to rely on God for strength so that we can stay on mission, even in times of great hardship, even at the end of our lives, and finish well.
May we all, no matter where we find ourselves on life’s journey, be transformed into the lifestyle of Jesus, and follow his roadmap for our lives.
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