That's what happened to Jesus the first time. Do you suppose that's why it's taking him so long to come back a second time? If you think about it, the human race is like one big dysfunctional family. Can you imagine how uncomfortable Christ would be around our global Thanksgiving table? Half of us would be hoarding the turkey and stuffing. The other half would be starving. Late arrivals would find the gate locked, and they would have to be background checked before we let them in the front door. As soon as they were seated, someone would start talking politics or religion and we would all get out our sharp knives. Everyone would start yelling at once; no one would listen. Our poor host and hostess, try as they might, would not be able to get our attention. They would sit there, sobbing into their sweet potatoes, while the kids would run and hide in the kitchen. If the world were a dinner table, I'm afraid that's what Jesus would come home to.
When I read the Book of Joel, this is the take-away for me: We don't have to look away from the terrible things that happen in life in order to hold onto our faith. If we want to grow in grace, we have to have the courage to look right into those situations because that's where we will see the great things that God is doing.
To challenge the assumption about money and power, Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury." And what did he mean by that? She had what the rich don't have: nothing. She gave what they could never give: everything. And that tells us something: that Jesus is always messing with our values! Maybe that's why he's such a hard sell in Silicon Valley. But there's something else. Jesus is telling us about this widow: she is not just a victim, but she's a very different kind of hero.
John says that in the new earth, God will make a home and dwell with us. In fact, the Greek says that God will pitch a tent with us. So here we are in the old earth. It's as if we were living in the Jungle, right along the creek. It's raining hard, the camp is flooding, the police are coming, but will God get there first and set up a big tent to keep us all together, safe, warm and dry. Not a one will be lost, because what God made, God will save. God doesn't lose things as we do. And so we will end up right where we began. Our ending is our beginning, and it's all in God.
So, when Jeremiah buys a piece of land in prison, knowing that that land is going to be overrun by Babylonians, what is he doing? For one thing, he is standing on the promises that God made to Abraham. And he is sending a message of hope to the people of Judah, saying: "I put my trust, not in kings, not in armies, not even in a piece of property. But I'm going to buy it to show that I put my trust in God who will bring us home."
So, the message in the formation of Israel is this: don't let the enemy write your story. In concrete terms, that means don't lose hope in the midst of a messy divorce. Don't give up your faith because of financial stress or chronic illness. Don't abandon God or think that God has abandoned you because your life is busy or your family is crazy. Don't be tempted to go after other gods because you don't see how this One has done anything for you lately. Instead, do what the ancient Hebrews did. Like Joshua, keep telling your story, over and over, until you can find God in it. Because, by locating God in your past, you will be convinced that God is also living in your present.
Jocheved didn't just stand there. She made a basket of hope and gave Moses to God. If she hadn't let go of that basket, there would be no Moses, no exodus from Egypt, no Mount Sinai, no people of the Covenant, no Promised Land. There would be no King David, no Jesus Christ, no Christian Church, no kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. You see, God has big plans. The prophet Jeremiah tells us: "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." [Jer 29:11] So I don't care how old you are. If God were finished with you, you wouldn't be here. There's still life you need to live, still growing you need to do. So what we all need to do is make ourselves a basket, plaster it with hope, climb inside and push out into the river of life.
So the story of Joseph teaches us to put our hope onto a much bigger canvas than the one upon which we paint our little dreams and plans. Like most of us, Joseph was scheming for himself and didn't realize that he was part of a much bigger plan that no one but God could see or comprehend.