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mtsthelenMt. St. Helen's is rumbling and puffing again, although it seems less likely this week that a big eruption is imminent, than it seemed a couple of weeks ago. I lived a thousand miles to the east when it blew in 1980, but I remember smelling the sulfurous odor one morning and hearing on the local radio that the smell was from the eruption. The photos of it erupting are spectacular. Reading accounts of people who were on the mountain or near it and survived, it was an experience of absolutely overwhelming awe and magnitude. And of course there was enormous destruction. The Toutle river was rerouted. Spirit Lake disappeared and there were many deaths. Also interesting was the more long term after effect. Volcanic ash was distributed for many miles around, and we know that volcanic ash is filled with soil nutrients. Agricultural valleys east of the cascades range became benefactors of the mountain's fury.
mtsthelenMt. St. Helen's is rumbling and puffing again, although it seems less likely this week that a big eruption is imminent, than it seemed a couple of weeks ago. I lived a thousand miles to the east when it blew in 1980, but I remember smelling the sulfurous odor one morning and hearing on the local radio that the smell was from the eruption. The photos of it erupting are spectacular. Reading accounts of people who were on the mountain or near it and survived, it was an experience of absolutely overwhelming awe and magnitude. And of course there was enormous destruction. The Toutle river was rerouted. Spirit Lake disappeared and there were many deaths. Also interesting was the more long term after effect. Volcanic ash was distributed for many miles around, and we know that volcanic ash is filled with soil nutrients. Agricultural valleys east of the cascades range became benefactors of the mountain's fury.

A man named Joel had an experience not unlike that in many ways.
It was a vision of judgment and disaster, followed by renewal.
Joel's experience was framed by the Spirit of God into a window into the heart and mind of God.
That really is what most of the prophets were about. God would open a window to them so that they could see in the events of their time, the purpose of what God was doing, as well as inspiration to tell what God wanted people to know and to do.

The name Joel means "Yahweh is God"
We know almost nothing about him , and when he lived is sketchy but supports sometime just before destruction at the hands of Babylon. This would make him a contemporary of Isaiah and Jeremiah..

Joel like so many of the other prophets warns his people of the imminent judgment of God.
Judgment comes as a plague of locusts. This may be suggestive of an invading army, but the consequences are the same.

Locusts would be blown on the wind into Palestine from Arabia by the millions. They grow rapidly from the larvae stage to their full winged adult stage and at every stage have a voracious appetite. In numbers so overwhelming that they would turn the sky dark, it would take almost no time to strip the landscape bare of any green growing thing.
The result is devastation and famine.
Joel says they would have nothing to eat and nothing to offer to God.

Joel calls upon the people to repent and to turn to God in a time of prayer that God may spare them.
Rend your heart and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and have pity

The theme is similar to Isaiah and Jeremiah. God pronounces judgment on the state of life and warns of imminent judgment to come which is described in vivid language.
But with the pronouncement of judgment there is always the opportunity to escape by repenting and mending their ways.
We know this did not happen.
But in each of these prophets there is also promise from God that punishment is limited in its scope and that a time will follow when God will heal them and restore them, just as a parent disciplines for the specific offense and then moves quickly to restore the child.

The passage we read this morning speaks of God's restoration.
"I will restore the years that the locusts have eaten"
says the Lord.
To me that is one of the most hopeful verses in all of scripture.

When we individually or collectively turn our back on what God is calling us to do or to be, God will work with us to bring us to our senses. But often if we simply will not change direction, God brings us into discipline which is painful and often destructive. Sometimes that discipline is just allowing us to suffer the natural consequences of our own behavior.
Whatever it is, it is not meant to destroy, but to correct, though at the time it may feel like hell on earth.
But when God disciplines us as His children the purpose is always to bring us to a better place.

And at the end of discipline is restoration.
God promises that we will be restored.
The prodigal son comes home and the father welcomes him back and restores him to the family.
Life will be different.
It will be impossible to return home as if his disappearance had never happened, but his status as a son is never in doubt.
We may live years when we either out of ignorance or willfulness walk to our own drummer rather than ask what God wants of us. Then we have a change of heart and come to our senses.

The years we lived apart from God best will have their own consequences and we cannot simply turn the clock back as if none of it had ever happened. But when God restores us, He gives us a new lease on life.

Do you remember the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge?
A seaman shoots an albatross out of boredom and the dead albatross is hung around his neck in supernatural punishment, and he suffers a series of agonies. But when he repents, the dead albatross falls from his neck and he is set free.

We may have lived lives that have caused much misery, but when we repent from the heart and return to God, we do not go through life with our albatross hung around our neck. We are set free. We are restored and given a new lease on life.

Last week I briefly  mentioned that John Newton, the hymn writer had influenced Sir William Wilberforce to take up the cause of battling slavery. The same John Newton who wrote the words to Amazing Grace.
slaveshipThe early years of Newton's life were spent as a deserter from the British navy and later aboard a slave ship, ultimately as a captain where he participated in and witnessed what hell on earth can be. In a storm at sea in a ship he thought would sink, he turned to God and asked for mercy. God gave him mercy, and he began his journey which would lead him to become an ordained minister, a hymn writer..he wrote almost 300, and an opponent of slavery.

We know the words to his most famous hymn, Amazing Grace.
The first three stanzas:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

'twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

There is the story of a man who has seen the judgment of God and has turned away.
Here is Newton's epitaph which he himself wrote. It is on a plaque in the church of St. Mary's Woolnoth, London:

newtonJOHN NEWTON, Clerk
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour
JESUS CHRIST,
restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach
the Gospel which he had long laboured to destroy.
He ministered,
Near sixteen years in Olney, in Bucks,
                            And twenty-eight years in this Church.

That's what God means when he says, "I will restore the years the locusts have eaten".
It means something different in every life, but it means God will give you new meaning and purpose to replace the years of waste.
We hear the sorrowful soul and the gratitude at being pardoned in Amazing Grace.
In our final hymn, Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken, also a Newton hymn, hear the new man restored to a new life with a new sense of destiny. The albatross is gone. The years of the locust are past.

What God means by repentance and turning back to Him is that we recognize the futility of living after our own desires alone and quit the battle against God. We simply ask the question, "what do you want, Lord?" and then we do what we hear from God.

I do not know what futility or sorrow you carry within you.
I do know that there can be an end to it, and the beginning of a new life without that burden. It's never too late you know.
God will restore you and give you a new day.

Preached 
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia


Online Resources Consulted
The Cyberhymnal, section on the life and work of John Newton