Thursday, March 19
Read Joel 3:11-16
The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake. But the Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. (v 16)
A song keeps playing in my head. It’s a wry little commentary about life in the late 50s, most famously performed by the Kingston Trio. It’s called “Merry Minuet.” It begins like this:
“They’re rioting in Africa; they’re starving in Spain.
There’s hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain.
Isn’t it interesting how much of that lyric could just as well have been written yesterday? Sixty-some years later, and nothing has fundamentally changed. They’re still rioting in Africa. Spain’s a little better off now but, regardless of the presence or absence of global warming, Florida still has hurricanes and Texas still needs rain. Substitute these lyrics, and we’re up to date:
They’re rioting in Libya; there’s strife in Iran.
They’re killing folks in Israel, and also Sudan.
Wars and rumors of wars have been with us throughout recorded history. But is there any place where conflict has been as persistent as in the Promised Land, where warfare has been raging — sometimes hot, sometimes cold — from the time of Moses up until this very day?
There are those who attribute the current Middle East crisis to the establishment of Israel as a nation state in 1948. All one has to do is read our Old Testament to notice that sovereignties in what we now call the Middle East have always been at loggerheads over power, money and — most especially — land. The only new thing in this modern conflict is the choice of weapons.
Today’s reading from the prophet Joel is full of vengeance and violence toward the enemies of Israel. The language is hateful and venomous. It seems to be a hymn of praise to murder and mayhem. Nevertheless, there is also hope for reconciliation in Joel, as there is in most of the Old Testament. The destroyers will come, we are told, but if people will return to the Lord, the Lord will be gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love — and will relent from punishing them for their misdeeds. Grace abounds!
Where there is grace, there is always hope. Maybe, by the grace of God, we’ll stop killing each other over territorial disputes. Maybe leaders will begin to use power for the betterment of their people. Maybe we’ll all remember to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Maybe, by the grace of God. Amen. Let it be so.
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