Aug 22nd | The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming | Joel 2:12-27
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The seventeen-year cicadas have come and are going. In our neighborhood, it was a nearly non-event. But in other parts of the city and across the country, the cicadas’ song was nearly deafening.
Cicadas are quite different from locusts. Oh, I can hear what you’re thinking. Last week it was smelling rain – petrichor – this week it’s entomology. I like to think you expect a little more from me than just another bland sermon.
So, cicadas are different from locusts. In appearance, cicadas are squat and oval-shaped. Locusts are in the grasshopper family – long and lean. Cicadas emerge, and do not swarm. Locusts do. Cicadas drink the liquid from the inside of stems, roots, and branches of plants. Locusts eat the leaves and any other of the softer portions of plants. A group of cicadas is called a “brood.” A group of locusts is called a “plague.”
The people of Joel’s time had suffered a plague – a plague of locusts. It was a time of ecological disaster. The locusts had decimated the fields and crops. Earlier in the book, Joel describes the failure of grapevines, wheat, barley and palm, fig, apple, and pomegranate trees. The words of the earlier chapter offer the desperation clearly:
The fields are devastated,
the ground mourns,
for the grain is destroyed,
the wine dries up,
the oil fails…
surely joy withers away among the people. (Joel 1:10, 12e)
The imagery is nearly eschatological.
The herds of cattle wander about
because there is no pasture for them;
even the flocks of sheep are dazed.
For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness,
and flames have burned all the trees of the field.
Even the wild animals cry to you
because the watercourses are dried up,
and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness. (Joel 1:18-20)
What are the people to do? The prophet offers the Word of the Lord:
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly; gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged;
gather the children, even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD,
and do not make your heritage a mockery,
a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:15-17)
All the people are called to fast and weep and beg God to intercede on their behalf.
Their prayers are heard and God responds:
I am sending you grain, wine, and oil,
and you will be satisfied;
and I will no more make you a mockery among the nations. (Joel 2:19)
God not only promises to evict the locusts but to restore what they had destroyed. This will be evidence not only to Israel but to all the other nations who have mocked and derided Israel and her God.
And then these words:
Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
the fig tree and vine give their full yield.
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. (Joel 2:21-23)
From desolation and destruction, God restores. From disaster and debacle, God redeems. From catastrophe and calamity, God rebuilds. Such is the nature of God.
In our day and time – and throughout the last 60 years and beyond – but certainly with the publication of Rachel Carson’s book, A Silent Spring, we have been made aware of the growing ecological disaster we are perpetrating on our tiny planet. Way back when I was in the sixth grade, we were talking about air and water pollution. Remember “acid rain?” It decimated forests in the east as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides were emitted into the atmosphere and transported by wind and air currents. These reacted with water, oxygen, and other chemicals to form sulfuric and nitric acids. These then mix with water and other materials before falling to the forests, destroying the trees and killing ponds and lakes.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, more than 2,557,537 acres have burned in 104 large fires and complexes in 12 states. All the large fires in California are active this morning. Sixteen large fires or complexes reported extreme fire behavior yesterday. The Dixie Fire burned 35,000 acres and is now more than 662,547 acres. The Caldor Fire made another significant run of nearly 40,000 acres.
Earlier this year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration informed us that the preliminary data for 2018 suggests that reference glaciers lost an amount of ice equivalent to 1,247 millimeters (4 feet) of water. If the final tally is close to this number, 2018 will surpass 2003 as the year with the greatest annual ice losses from mountain glaciers worldwide. Cumulative ice loss between 1980 and 2018 is 21.7 meters of water, the equivalent of cutting a 79-foot thick slice off the top of each glacier.
Again, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tells us that the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2005, and 7 of the 10 have occurred just since 2014. Looking back to 1988, a pattern emerges: except for 2011, as each new year is added to the historical record, it becomes one of the top 10 warmest on record at that time, but it is ultimately replaced as the “top ten” window shifts forward in time.
Researchers from the Alliance for Science at Cornell University combined a global dataset of field warming experiments conducted at 48 sites. Based on that dataset, researchers estimate decreased yields of 7.1 percent for corn, 5.6 percent for rice, 10.6 percent for soybean and 2.9 percent for wheat. Their estimates were 95 percent probable for the first three staples and 89 percent for wheat. Simply put, that means as the planet heats up due to global warming, food production will decrease and in the not too distant future wars will be waged for food and water.
Well, you might say, that’s just the opinions of some scientists. Well, around here we take seriously the opinions and the factual evidence of scientists and their work. The evidence is overwhelming. Our planet is in significant trouble. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change puts it bluntly:
“Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence, has strengthened…”1
The question for us is that while we know that God restores and provides for God’s people and their animals, can we ask the same when the ecological disaster is of our own making? Can we expect God to cool the planet, clean the air, refresh the waters, and put out the fires?
We need to remember that restoring the land and the plants and animals in Joel’s day was not just the work of God. The people cleared, planted, and harvested the fields, vineyard, and orchards. It won’t do for us to just hold a prayer meeting and tell God just how truly sorry we are and expect God to fix everything. That’s a little like when a child gets out all the toys and makes a huge mess and then expects Mom or Dad to clean it all up. I don’t know how that works or worked in your house, but that was a “no go” in mine.
Part of our repentance for what we have done to the creation is to do all that we can to clean it up and restore it. It means advocating for truly clean sources of energy, which will mean the end of coal production and use. That will mean that we must provide new training and education for those communities who have historically relied on coal for their economic well-being. Whatever we do to clean up the environment must be done with justice and fairness.
We must advocate for significant change for environmental policy. We must attend the meetings, make the phone calls, write the emails and do whatever else we can to bring about the substantial change of laws and policies.
And we must do this work because it is the work God gave us when God placed us in the position of stewards of creation. We are not only part of what God has created, but we are the only ones who can fix what has been fractured, mend what has been torn, and redeem what has been ravaged.
And if can do that – and are serious about that work for the rest of our lives – who knows? Maybe God will receive those acts of contrition and repentance and once again take away our fear and cause us to be glad and rejoice. Perhaps God will see our regret and our remorse and partner with us once again. Just maybe, God will give us a second chance. After all, God is the God of second chances.
Who knows? If our repentance is transformed into action, we may yet redeem creation. It may not be too late. Let’s pray and work.
All that is the balance is now and evermore. Amen.