There was a parish in my previous diocese who was preparing to hire a new priest. As the plans unfolded they became increasingly concerned about their capacity to be able to employ a priest. They knew they certainly couldn’t afford full time priestly ministry, and wondered about how much of a part time position they could afford. Ultimately they decided to meet with the bishop to discuss their concern around the finances. As they reviewed the books with the bishop and Executive Archdeacon the treasurer mentioned that there was an additional pocket of money that they were saving for a “rainy day”. To which the bishop responded, “Well, guess what, it is raining.” With that they then finalized plans to hire a part time priest.
Our passage from Joel this morning talks about how God pours down, “abundant rain” and that the, “threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil” (Joel 2: 23, 24). What a rich and powerful image. The point is clear, rain feeds and nourishes the field that in turns produces a plentiful harvest. God is the one who provides all things necessary for this abundance and overflowing harvest. This is a very rich and powerful image and one that captures the essence of Stewardship. We have already heard and already believe that God has provided us with everything we need.
In a time in our parish life where we find it easy to lament that there is not enough people to do all the projects and roles we would want, or more to the point, that we used to be able to do, this passage is made for us today. For sure, we can all remember a time when the pews were full and we had an abundance of help and volunteer support. Those are happy, perhaps easier times for us to remember.
When we look around today we realize that we are not as big as we once were. People have moved, died or made other choices for themselves. We may wonder, and even dread, that the consequence of this is that more is asked of us each week, each year. For sure, on one hand it may seem that the work is the same, but the laborers are few. However this does not have to be our final song.
In our passage today, God talks about rain, abundant rain that waters and nourishes the earth. My friends, that rain that God provides are you and me. We are the ones that have been called to this place at this time for God’s work. Yes, we are also fed and nourished through our liturgies, but we are also sent out. We are sent back into the world to the places and circumstances where God calls us, where our daily lives are lived. There is no such thing as passive recipients of faith. God through Jesus constantly calls us and provokes us into situations and circumstances that at first glance are overwhelming. However, Joel teaches us, the People of God, that while we may be abundant rain, we are not alone. While we may certainly not have enough for everything we want, God has given us everything we need with more than enough to share. Notice the difference between “want” and “need”.
What is implied in this passage is that the grain and crop is ripe, plentiful and the very best. Joel points out that the People of God will eat in plenty and be satisfied (Joel 2: 26). The image that captures out imagination is of a harvest that is the very best that is reaped and offered to God’s people.
For us then, as we like rain nourish and produce a crop that is the very best of ourselves, we offer the very best we have. In our baptismal ministry we are constantly called to bring our best selves, our best offering for the Lord’s work.
No one is asking you to do more than you can. No one is asking you to do anything you are not comfortable with. We have come to the point in the Stewardship campaign where we begin to reflect on the resources and people we do have, and ask how we can use these resources, God’s resources for the work that we as a church are called to fulfill.
Critical to all of this is when we pay attention and care for whom and what we have – the spinoff is that this atmosphere becomes contagious and our base support is ready for growth. People of the world will begin to see a community that supports itself in offering their best selves and will not be able to resist the urge to participate themselves. When we get this right, the dreams of both young and old will begin to be realized. As a bishop once said, “friends, it is raining. It is raining now!”