Let it Rain
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
So spake the prophet Joel and whilst we may feel that we have had more than enough rain of late, for Joel the rain is good. The rain brings the hope of an abundant harvest to replace the devastation brought by a plague of locusts.
The book of Joel deals with God’s vengeance as shown in the locusts which have afflicted the Israelites. The rain and the plentiful harvests which follow are a sign of God’s subsequent forgiveness. In our reading, Joel is writing at the point where God has forgiven Israel and so is going to make things better – looking forward to a glorious time ahead when, famously, “men will dream dreams”.
It was normal in Old Testament times to see the disasters which befell peoples as being punishment from God. If they were being punished then they must have done wrong and it is often the role of a prophet to point out which is wrong. It is not clear in the book of Joel what exactly the Israelites have done, but we do know that they have grown distant from God in some way – such that God has cause to say to them, “Return to me with all thy heart”.
This episode is consistent with the cycle beginning with Israel’s error prompting God’s wrath and punishment and ending with forgiveness and reconciliation which is the story of so much of the Old Testament. It is also a lot like our own relationships – we fall out, we say sorry, we forgive and, hopefully, we move on.
Forgiveness is such an important part of both Testaments that I think it is worth spending some time thinking about what we mean by forgiveness and the process which it entails.
In order for there to be a need for forgiveness there must be some crime or fault or action which causes hurt which acts as a blockage to a full relationship. If the relationship is going to move on, then that blockage must be removed.
But forgiveness is not merely a pardon, a letting off from a punishment. Because the hurt, the blockage can remain even when there has been a formal pardon. “Forgiveness” is what is required in order for that blockage to be removed.
I believe that forgiveness requires understanding – understanding of why the person has acted they way that they have. Only then can there be an appreciation of what caused what has happened and how it can been resolved and hopefully not repeated. Forgiveness requires understanding.
Similarly in order for there to be a full reconciliation there must be admission of fault on the other side – like the tax collector in our parable from Luke – understanding what they have done wrong, what has caused the hurt.
In the same way that forgiveness is not the same as giving a pardon, so repentance is not a question of making some payment or action – not a question of fasting or making a donation of a 10th of your income as the Pharisee assumes in the parable.
Rather it is a question of looking within oneself, of understanding what we do which offends and making a change. Remember that “repentance” in New Testament Greek is μετανοια (metanoia) – literally a change of mind.
And if forgiveness and reconciliation works this way with People what does this tell us about our relationship with God?
Well surely it is the same.
The message of Jesus Christ is that we are all completely understood by the creative power in the universe. He loves us such that, whatever we have done, a relationship with him is available to us – there is no block on his side.
He asks In return that we recognise and acknowledge our faults and that we forgive others as we ourselves are forgiven.
If we do that then we will find that we share in his Holy Spirit
Perhaps you know that feeling of alignment and grace, warmth and goodwill towards others which you get when you feel reconciled with someone – especially when that relationship has been difficult.
The result is a profound sense of being aligned with and “at one with” the world – this “at one-ness” is at the heart of and the proper meaning of any act of atonement.
I believe that this feeling is the Holy Spirit working among us
This is what St Peter was referring to when he had just received the Holy Spirit and quoted this passage from Joel at Pentecost, at the very birth of Christianity (Acts 2:17-21)
As Joel prophesied:
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.
for this is the Christian message, this is the good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ
“When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us you forgive our transgressions” (Psalm 65)
So I hope that we will have more rain not less
More raining down of the Holy Spirit upon us, more of the rain of grace which washes away all of our sins and iniquities (Psalm 51), more of the rain which will give us a rich and plenteous spiritual harvest. As the Psalmist tells us (Psalm 65):
You visit the earth and water it abundantly;
you make it very plenteous; *
the river of God is full of water.
You prepare the grain, *
for so you provide for the earth.
You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; *
with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.
You crown the year with your goodness, *
and your paths overflow with plenty.
May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing, *
and the hills be clothed with joy.
May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,
and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; *
let them shout for joy and sing.
So let us bring together these thoughts in prayer.
– give us the wisdom that we may know ourselves so that we can see our faults
– give us the courage to confess our faults to those whom we have wronged
– give us the strength to forgive those who have wronged us
– give us the faith, O lord, to know that we will always be understood and forgiven by you
– rain down your Holy Spirit upon us to wash us clean of our faults
– rain down your Holy Spirit upon us to cheer us and sustain us
– rain down your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may yield a rich and abundant harvest, this day, and always
St Andrew’s Box Hill, 27th October, 2013