"What We Forget"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon - 7/29/2018
Joel 1:1-7, 2:21-24
“What We Forget”
July 29, 2018
The United States had major crop failures in 2012, and we barely noticed them.  That year there was a drought over 80% of the country.  One article I saw summarized the year by saying,
“Missouri was hit particularly hard, with corn yields down 42 percent below its 2002-2011 average and Iowa, Kansas and Kentucky were also devastated, with yields at 20-year lows. In Illinois and Indiana, yields were down by more than a third. Kentucky, not a major corn producing state, had the largest overall corn crop failure, with more than a 50 percent reduction in yield, compared to its 2002-2011 average.
In Colorado and Nebraska, where most corn crops are irrigated, far fewer acres of planted corn were even harvested in 2012. In Colorado, only 70 percent of crops were harvested, compared to an average of 85 percent between 2002-2011, and in Nebraska the harvest was down about 7 percent from the 2002-2011 average.”[1]
We are incredibly blessed to be sitting here six years later and not even remember that.  We would also be unwise to think that our situation is inevitable, or to neglect the necessary connection we have to the land and how fragile it may become when we treat it as anything less than the gift of God.
            The book of Joel is a word to the people of God in the midst of an agricultural disaster.  The very first lines say to a country in the grip of famine,
“Tell your children of it,
   and let your children tell their children,
   and their children another generation.”
[Joel 1:3]
which is to say that there will be a future.  There is starvation now, which is terrible, but someone will live and there will also be future generations.  But do not let them forget.  Let them know what can happen.  Do not let them become complacent about the basics of life or take them for granted.

“What the cutting locust left,
   the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
   the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
   the destroying locust has eaten. 

Wake up, you drunkards, and weep;
   and wail, all you wine-drinkers,
over the sweet wine,
   for it is cut off from your mouth. 
For a nation has invaded my land,
   powerful and innumerable;
its teeth are lions’ teeth,
   and it has the fangs of a lioness. 
It has laid waste my vines,
   and splintered my fig trees;
it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down;
   their branches have turned white.”
[Joel 1:4-7]
The land may be invaded by locusts or by foreign armies.  Of the two, the army is easier to turn back.  Of the two, the army is less destructive.  Don’t think, says Joel, that it might not happen again.
            In my lifetime I have known two women who grew up in Oklahoma in the 1930’s.  Both of them remembered the Dust Bowl.  One was in her seventies and one was in her eighties, but when they talked about what had happened, each had a kind of strain in her voice that was like what you hear when somebody is describing a loss that they were still suffering.  The younger woman, predictably, recalled less details.  For her, it had meant being uprooted when her family moved to California and the sudden discovery that they had become poor, so poor that food wasn’t always on the table.  (If you’ve ever seen or read The Grapes of Wrath, the struggles of the family there were what her family went through.)  The other woman’s family managed to stay in Oklahoma but her parents’ lost their farm.  She could also tell about the dust storms that turned the sky black and buried the garden that they depended on to get them through.  Both of these women were intelligent and capable.  Neither of them finished school.  The Dust Bowl put an end to that, too. 
            Part of the tragedy in the Plains States is that the disaster was in many ways the result of human activity.  Too much land was planted with wheat.  Too much land was plowed up without regard to erosion.  Too many wind-breaks had been cut down.  If greater care had been taken in the preceding years, the Dust Bowl might have been averted, even when the rain stopped coming.  But the price of wheat was up.  The new tractors called for bigger fields.  Easy loans were available.  There was an assumption brought about by years of prosperity that prosperity was permanent.  It wasn’t.
           We forget, and forget to our own peril, when our decisions become based on the notion that we are in control and when our decisions look only at the short term, that we are setting ourselves up for disaster.  Joel had said,
“Be dismayed, you farmers,
wail, you vinedressers,
over the wheat and the barley;
for the crops of the fields are ruined.” [Joel 1:11]
The prophet saw the hand of God in the losses and in the hunger.  We are put into the world to tend it, not to abuse it.  We do alter nature, and that is not always bad.  I doubt it offends God that we have wiped out smallpox, dug wells, redirected rivers, and cleared land for settlement and farming, built great cities and flown to the moon and back.  But there is a degree of offense in creating conditions where nature, always a mighty force, turns against itself.  
            I fear that we have reached that point.  I won’t belabor you with examples.  One should do it: this past week, temperatures in Sweden, above the Arctic Circle, topped ninety degrees.  Let that sink in.  It was hotter in Lapland than in Pennsylvania.  It was only about twenty-five degrees cooler than in Arizona.
            Tell me that Joel is not speaking to us as well.  This is not a feel-good sermon.  This is a “what-now?” sermon.  We have clearly done something wrong, and have forgotten to our own endangerment that the earth is the Lord’s.  But Joel does say,
“Yet even now, says the Lord,
   return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 
   rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
   for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
   and relents from punishing. 
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
   and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain-offering and a drink-offering
   for the Lord, your God?”
[Joel 2:12-14]  
Joel calls out to an entire society, then and now.  Averting anything massive takes everybody doing their part.  (That was one of the understandings of the Paris Agreement, that was negotiated to address worldwide climate change.  The U.S. pulled out of it last year, which means that more individuals must pay more attention more constantly to compensate for that action.) 
            Before I tell anybody else what to do, let me say publicly what I will take on. 
           I live in a relatively new house, with energy-efficient appliances and good insulation.  I don’t think I can make reductions there.  Another hidden part of my carbon footprint is in the number of plastic bags and paper towels I use.  I will have to become one of those annoying people with all the canvas bags at the supermarket, and start cleaning with washrags instead of Bounty (“The Quicker Picker-Upper”). 
           I drive a lot, and that’s going to be hard to curtail.  I will try to reduce my driving by 10% by this time next year.  Pray for me.  I will start making a point of walking or biking within a short radius.  I’m in charge of holding a bunch of meetings throughout the year that involve people from across the state and I will encourage them to take place by video-conferencing instead of having everyone drive. 
           One website I checked out[2] says,
“It has been estimated that 13% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions result from the production and transport of food.”
It goes on to recommend:
“Buy local and eat a more diversified diet including less meat and dairy to reduce your carbon emissions resulting from the use of fossil fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides, and gas required to produce and transport of the food you eat.”
I admit I don’t know what that would mean for me, but I will take a good look at it.  I can easily start by saying that I will pick a day every week (it probably won’t be the same day each time) that I don’t eat meat or fish.  (I hope eggs are a responsible substitute, but I’m going to have to see about that, too).  And eating less bananas and more blueberries isn’t much of a sacrifice.
            It would be foolish to think that such measures alone, especially if they are not part of some major social shift, will make a difference.  But it is even more foolish to think that we could go on for much longer without making changes, and they have to start somewhere.  So, these are some small commitments on my part, and I could use your help in holding me to them. 
            In turn, I ask you to look at your own situation.  Find one or two options open to you to make it more likely that a hundred years after we are gone, someone will stand up and read from the book of Joel [2:21-24] and say without hesitation, but only with proper gratitude to the Maker of heaven and earth:
“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. 
The threshing-floors shall be full of grain,
   the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.”

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/18/drought-us-states-crop-damage
[2] https://cotap.org/reduce-carbon-emissions/
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