The passage we hear today from the book of Joel contains a rather darker passage which speaks in dramatic poetic language of ‘the day of the Lord’. It strikes a discomforting note, challenging us perhaps not to panic when terrible things happen but instead to trust more deeply in the love of God. For what is more assuring and encouraging is the great promise it contains: that God will take away shame and provide blessings of great life and fertility. Joel was speaking in the face of a severe plague of locusts which had devoured the food and happiness of the people of his own time. Yet the words are heartening for people of all ages. ‘O children of Zion’, the prophet says, ‘be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God’. Is that what we do? Even when things are tough, do we still praise and trust in the love of God? Or, we might say, are we downcast and distracted like the beginning of Mary Poppins?
Joel’s words are especially powerful in the following phrase, when the prophet says: ‘I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.’ What an amazing promise this is! It is such a radical message of freedom and empowerment for all of us, and not least for those who are put down or cast out. It affirms the divine value of the young and the elderly, of female and male, and of all those who are counted as nothing in our world. As we see for instance in Peter’s speech in the Acts of the Apostles, this was therefore understood later as an anticipation of the Christian Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is poured upon God’s people. For Pentecost, like Joel, speaks of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit for each and every one of us. The Holy Spirit we are told does not belong exclusively to special people, to the Virgin Mary for example, or Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the gift of God to us all, to set us free to share the joy and delightful relationship of God. Each of us, as in the story of Mary Poppins, are meant to respond, like Mary, to the wind of the Spirit, and to go, fly our kites, up to the highest heights.
There is a bitter-sweet moment at the end of the Mary Poppins film, where everyone has flocked to the park to share their spirit of joy and to fly kites together. No one, it seems, has time to attention to see Mary Poppins leaving, even the children. ‘That’s gratitude for you’, says the talking stick to Mary, ‘they seem to think more of their father than they do of you.’ ‘That’s as it should be’, says Mary, rightly. For her job there was done. Like a midwife at the birth of a new life, or like a priest when they have completed their ministry in a particular place, it was time to move on. Similarly, in all of our lives, we are called to share the wind of the Holy Spirit, and to enable others to delight in it, to fly their kites, and to draw closer in relationship to God and to one another in doing so. Yet, at some time, when that work is done, the wind will change again, and we need to be open to the Spirit’s call afresh. For, as the book of Joel suggests, in the Holy Spirit God is always calling us into new paths and new expressions of love, each and everyone of us: young and old, female and male, poor and rich, whoever and whatever we are.
So let me conclude with a beautiful song by Gungor, in the spirit of Mary Poppins and the prophet Joel:
Let church bells ring
Let children sing
Even if they don’t know why let them sing
Why drown their joy
Stifle their voice
Just because you’ve lost yours
May our jaded hearts be healed, Amen
Let old men dance
Lift up their hands
Even if they are naïve, let them dance
You’ve seen it all
You watch them fall
Wash off your face and dance
May our weary hearts be filled with hope, Amen
by Jo Inkpin, for Pentecost 23 Year C, Sunday 23 October 2016