Sunday’s sermon: It Happened Anyway … In the Face of Our Own Failings

Text used – Joel 2:12-13, 28-29

  • My kids have a book that they love to read called The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes.[1] (If I could have found it before coming to church this morning, I would have showed it to you … but such is life with kids!) Anyway, it’s a story about Beatrice, a girl who has never in her life ever made a mistake. She doesn’t mismatch her socks. The proportions of her peanut butter and jelly in her sandwich are absolutely even. Her homework is always perfectly done. And for the last 4 years running, her act in the school talent show has been the winning act.
    • So perfect that no one calls her Beatrice → just call her “The Girl Who Never Makes
    • Day of this year’s talent show is a little different
      • Beatrice is nervous
      • She has a couple of near misses
        • ALMOST trips and falls
        • ALMOST drops eggs in her cooking class
    • As she’s getting ready for the talent show, Beatrice grabs everything she needs and heads out the door. At least, she thinks she grabs everything she needs.
    • Gets to the talent show and begins her juggling act → juggling a water balloon, her hamster, and a salt shaker → Except, when she grabbed all of her juggling items on her way out the door, Beatrice didn’t grab the salt shaker. She grabbed the pepper shaker!
      • Pepper flies out as she’s juggling → causes her to sneeze → sneeze startles the hamster who grabs a hold of the water balloon in mid air and pops it → And suddenly Beatrice finds herself on stage soaking wet and holding a hamster and an upside-down pepper shaker. Not only has she made a mistake, but she’s made that mistake in front of everyone. And for a moment, the whole world freezes.
    • Now, I’m pretty sure that if I asked how many of us have never made a mistake, I wouldn’t see any hands raised. We all know we make mistakes, right? We know we have faults. We know we have flaws. We know that we fail. And so often, we get it in our minds and our hearts that those flaws and failings somehow exempt us from the love and work of God.
      • Our flaws are too many
      • Our failings are too great
      • And yet here we are in the season of Advent, a season in which we await the birth of the Savior once again – a Savior who comes into the realness of the human experience, a Savior who comes into the messiness of the human experience, a Savior who comes into the fracturedness and flawedness of the human experience.
  • Scripture reading this morning reminds us that this fracturedness and flawedness aren’t a surprise to God → God has been with humanity since the beginning, all. There is not a mistake that’s been made – in your past, in my past, in human past – that God hasn’t already seen. Since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, people have been making mistakes and turning away from God – both intentionally and unintentionally. That was the whole role of prophets: to deliver God’s word of reproach to the people to remind them to turn back to God in repentance.
    • Book of Joel = words of just such a prophet
      • LAST WEEK: book of Daniel → one of what we call the major prophets
      • THIS WEEK: Joel → one of what we call the minor prophets (those short little books all sandwiched together at the end of the Old Testament)
      • A bit of a hazy book[2]
        • Can’t really pinpoint the timeframe for Joel like we can for many other Biblical texts
        • Relies heavily on the work of one of the previous minor prophets: Obadiah
        • Know that it’s the word of God for the people of the southern kingdom of Judah
        • Speaks more broadly than specific time and place → renowned Old Testament scholar Elizabeth Achtemeier: The book brings with it a message that was a matter of life or death for Judah, but Joel also deliberately directs that message to every age, and thus this prophetic literature is never out of date.[3] → So Joel the prophet was deliberately stretching out his message of reproach and repentance for the people because he knew that it was a message that people in every age would need to hear.
    • And, indeed, it is. – first portion of today’s text is message that we could hear over and over again every single day: Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your hearts, with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow; tear your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive.[4] → genuine and realistic call to repentance
      • Realistic in that it recognizes mistakes have been, are being, and will be made → We will turn away from God. We will make choices contrary to what God wishes for us. We will do things that we know we shouldn’t do and neglect to do things we know we should We will mistake the call of the things of this world – fame, fortune, things that glitter and shine, people that flatter and fawn with their own agendas in mind – with the call of God and follow the wrong voice. We will misunderstand God’s call. We will even have moments when we plug our ears a lá a 2 yr. old and outright refuse to listen to God.
      • Genuine in that it makes it clear what God wants from us
        • Genuine regret
        • Genuine repentance
        • A turning and returning to God that is wholehearted and true to the depths of our spirits – text: return to me with all your hearts → Heb. expressed the utterness of this request
          • Heb. “heart” = sort of all-encompassing Heb. word that means heart but also inner being, mind, and will → So we are to return to God with everything in us. Fully. Wholly. Unequivocally.
          • Heb. “return” = Heb. “repent” (same word) → So the language implies that when we make the conscious choice to return to God, we must do so with repentance.
  • 2nd part of our Scripture reading this morning makes it clear that God’s promise of presence and hope and blessing remains even through our mistakes and mishaps
    • Text: After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days, I will pour out my spirit on the male and female slaves.[5]
    • One of the most difficult things as a parent is trying to raise your kids to be good people, right?
      • Boys used to have shirts (that they have sadly since grown out of) that said “Boys will be boys” with the 2nd “boys” crossed out and replaced with “good humans” = shirts: “Boys will be good humans” → And that’s the ultimate goal, right? To raise kids that are kind and respectful and confident in who they are. To raise kids that want to try their best and help others and make the world a better place. To raise good humans.
        • Difficulty in walking the line between holding them to task when they’ve made a mistake without beating them over the head with that mistake (figuratively beating them over the head!)
          • Talk through the mistake with them
          • Help them to learn from it
          • Help them to find confidence and reassurance in that learning
          • Watch the evolution of their moral compass as they learn and grow
        • The saying is true, friends: parenting is not for the faint of heart! But as we help our kids navigate through the ups and downs of learning through mistakes, one of the most important things we can do as parents is make sure our kids know they are loved through it all, right? “Yes, you made this mistake. Yes, you should have made a different choice.” Maybe even “Yes, I’m disappointing in that choice that you made … but I love you anyway. No matter what.”
    • This text from Joel is God’s reassurance of that. After those initial verses about repentance, God is reassuring the people (us!) of God’s continues promise and blessing: “I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.” “Yes, you made this mistake. Yes, you should have made a different choice. Yes, I’m disappointing in that choice that you made … but I love you anyway. No matter what. I love you so much, that I will come down anyway. I will inhabit all the messiness and flawedness of humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. I will be born to imperfect people and grow up among imperfect people. I will teach imperfect people and lead imperfect people. I will heal imperfect people. I will love imperfect people. And I will die for imperfect people to show you just how far my grace extends.” And that is what God did, friends. It happened anyway. God came down to dwell among us anyway, not in spite of our flaws and failings but because of them. God loves us enough to love us through those mistakes, helping us to grow and learn and deepen in our faith.
      • Need a reminder of that? We have one right here → communion table = God’s promise to us that no matter what, God is with us
        • God’s grace extended in something as simple and universal as wine and bread
        • God’s grace extended to us in something as common as a shared meal
        • God’s grace extended to us in blessing and prayer, in ritual and familiarity
        • Most importantly: God’s grace extended to us not just once … but over and over and over again → “Whenever you do this, remember me. Remember my love. Remember my grace. Remember that I came for you anyway.” Amen.

[1] Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein. The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes. (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), 2011.

[2] Elizabeth Achtemeier. “The Book of Joel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 7. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 301-303.

[3] Achtemeier, 302.

[4] Joel 2:12-13.

[5] Joel 2:28-29.

2 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: It Happened Anyway … In the Face of Our Own Failings

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: It Happened Anyway … In the Face of Things That Hold Us Back | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  2. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: It Happened Anyway … In the Face of Broken Dreams | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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