Posts Tagged ‘Joel 2:1-2 12-17’

Remember Who You Are 2-14-18

In this Ash Wednesday sermon, taken from Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 I explore the prophetic call to turn back to the Lord. This is a fitting idea to recognize on a day when we are reminded of our mortality, and yet are given the promise of God’s claim upon our lives.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

There are two actors that arguably have the greatest voices ever. Their voices are utterly distinct and carry a gravitas that cannot be matched. Now one of them is Morgan Freeman, an actor who has perhaps becomes synonymous with a mental image that we have of God…he’s even played God in two different movies. And his voice is amazing.

Now the second actor is James Earl Jones…and he has lent his voice to some pretty amazing projects.  He’s the voice of Darth Vader…for years his dulcet tones announced “this…is CNN.” And he’s the voice of Mufasa from one of my favorite movies…The Lion King. (pause)

Now it occurs to me, that The Lion King must be pretty much the perfect movie…and apparently its chock full of scenes and dialogue and images that fall into the Theological realm…because as I’ve looked back I’ve found several different sermons where I referenced this movie…and I’m gonna do it again tonight…admittedly, I’ll probably use it again in the future as I’ve come nowhere close to exhausting the different references from this gem of a movie.

Now there’s a scene about 3/4 through…quite of the bit of the story has already happened…Simba, the hero, has gone off on his hero’s journey…Mufasa, his father and the former King lion has died…and Simba encounters the wise old sage Rafiki…a baboon who carries a stick and knows Kung Fu…seriously, this movie is perfection.

As Rafiki and Simba talk to one another…Simba is starting to come around, knowing he needs to return home, and he says “If I go back there, it won’t be easy…I’ll have to confront my past.” And WHAM!!! Rafiki knocks him on the head with his stick. “OWWW…what did you do that for?” “It doesn’t matta…its in the past.” “Yah but it still hurts.” “Ahh yes, the past can hurt…but the way I see it, you can either run from it…or learn from it.”

Now the “past” that they/re talking about includes the death of Mufasa…but just before this back and forth…Mufasa, who seems to take a page out of God’s book from some of our recent scripture lessons, and he has appeared in a cloud to Simba…they talk and forth and then as Mufasa is disappearing we hear in his amazing voice…Remember who you are. (pause)
It would seem throughout this scene…and these different encounters, that the main character needs to come to grips with the truth of his identity…and then he has a choice to turn away from it, or to turn back to it. And this is where we connect into tonight’s reading from Joel.

Now Joel is one of the Minor Prophets…a batch of short prophetic writings toward the end of the Old Testament…a batch of guys that we don’t know a ton about. We can’t put a pin exactly in what period of Israel’s history that Joel was active, we don’t really know…but the best guess places his ministry in the range somewhere between about 400-350BC.

Now what we do know is this…in the first chapter of Joel…he describes an utterly devastating plague of locusts that has descended upon the land…destroying everything. Now I’ve never seen a locust swarm…but I’ve heard it described as being so thick that it will literally blot out the sun as they fly over…an image that connects pretty well into the way that our reading starts tonight…the day of the Lord is coming…a day of darkness and gloom…of clouds and thick darkness, like blackness spreading over the mountains as a great and powerful army comes. (pause)

Now lets think about this for a moment. A plague of locust, might be just that…or it might be prophetic imagery, because he also talks about this great army that comes…and now let’s think back in our history to this point where we think Joel was active. By this period late in the 4th century before Jesus, the Babylonians had already laid waste to Israel and hauled them off into exile…that was actually a couple hundred years prior…and then the Persian empire had risen up and taken over…and they let the Israelites return…Jerusalem had been rebuilt including the temple…but now there’s a new empire on the rise…the Greeks, which soon would be led by a famous guy named Alexander the Great…who led an incredible army that would eventually conquer all of the known world…an army that would spread over the earth like locusts perhaps?

That’s just a glimpse of what’s going on in the history…but all imagery aside, whatever it is that Joel is describing…it doesn’t seem good does it? Not a lot of positivity in these opening couple of verses…Blow the trumpet…get EVERYONE’S attention, because judgement and wrath are coming…something the ancient Israelites understood to be the day of the Lord. (pause)

Now we’ve got a gap in the reading, and through this gap we hear more of the same…destruction and death…war and anguish…all pointing to the same thing, this day of Lord…and it ends by saying “Truly the day of the Lord is great; terrible indeed, who can endure it?”

Doesn’t sound very peachy does it? Sounds like something you’d want to avoid…something you’d want to run away from if it was possible…to hear this prophetic imagery points us to something that will hurt to say the least…but Joel doesn’t stop there…and when we pick back up in verse 12 we hear this.

Yet even now says the Lord, return to me with all your heart…with fasting, with weeping, with mourning. Rend your hearts and not your clothing…then we hear it again. Return to Lord your God.

Joel talks about offerings…he talks about fasts and sanctifying the assembly…of gathering EVERYONE, the young and the old, infants and children, even the priests and ministers…Joel talks about rituals that they need to do…all aimed at the same thing…bringing everyone together to return to the Lord…to turn back to the one who is gracious and merciful…the one who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…the one who relents from punishing.

There’s a word for this…this returning…this idea of turning back…the word is Shoov…it literally means turn around…to go back…might as well use it for Simba as he gets smacked on the head and decides its time to return home.

This is what Joel is calling the people to do…to gather for a ritual aimed at turning back to God…a ritual aimed at repentance for the way they have lived…for the way that they have walked away…for the path that they have taken.

Now I can’t help but think that this sounds familiar…here we are on Ash Wednesday, a day when we practice a ritual aimed at recognizing our own limitations…our own brokenness…our own sinfulness…and the consequences that come with it.

As we hear the words tonight, remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return…we come face to face with our mortality…with what can perhaps be best described as the darkness that looms at the ending of each of our lives…that unknown barrier that rests out there.

Its not quite the same thing that Joel is describing for the people to gather and do together…but its not far off either…for both are a call to turn back…to see the darkness that lies before us…to acknowledge not only the brokenness of our past, which can and does hurt, but to also acknowledge the brokenness that lies right here in front of us…and then to turn back to the one who is able to do something about it.

And as we hear from Joel…we are not the only ones who turns back…who Shoov…but we hear that the Lord will turn back as well…that the Lord will turn from punishment and wrath because our Lord is merciful and gracious.

This is what I love about Ash Wednesday…and why I find this worship service to be among the most powerful that we participate in throughout the year.  For in just a few moments, we will come forward one by one…and we will each hear those words again. Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return…words that speak of our death…but immediately after you hear those words you will also hear the body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.

We acknowledge our brokenness and the consequences of it…but we also hear the promise that the one who is able to do something about it has already done it. We hear the words of promise that we have been claimed by the one who will ultimately get the last word in the story of your existence. The one who has claimed you. (pause) Mufasa told Simba remember who you are…and with a slight tweak we do the same…Remember WHOSE…you are. (pause)

Now I can’t help but laugh tonight as I consider the date. Today is Ash Wednesday…but its also Valentines Day. A day that celebrates love overlapping with a day that acknowledges brokenness and death. But maybe putting love and death right up next to each other isn’t the worst thing in the world…because the Love of God is shown to each one of us through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…love is found as life meets death.

You might notice that there’s a plant sitting down here on the piano tonight…its small palm plant…one that I was given about a year ago and it sits back in my office most of the time. Now, you’ll walk past it right after you’ve received the ashes and communion and as you do I’ll invite you to take a look at it…I’ve been watching a couple new leaves develop over the past couple of weeks and which are just now starting to open up…and as I was looking closely at it, I realized that there’s one leaf that’s mostly dead right next to that new leaf that’s forming…death and new life, all wrapped up together…and this is what we recognize within ourselves tonight.

We acknowledge our own death…something that creates the ultimate separation…but we hear a word of promise from the one who claims us…even beyond the point of death…and so we turn to the one who has already turned to us…

Tonight we remember who we are…But more importantly we remember…WHOSE…we are. Amen.


Turn Away From Turning Away…Ash Wednesday 2-18-15

This sermon, which occurred in the context of Ash Wednesday, is based on Joel 2:1-2, 12-17. In the sermon I explore the call that God gives us to acknowledge our sin and turn away from it and back to God.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Have you ever heard the expression, life imitates art? In a moment of personal disclosure, I fought this sermon tooth and nail…not that I didn’t want to write it, but because I didn’t want to write it on Monday, which is normally my day off…yet the longer the day went on the more my mind kept coming back around to this sermon…to the need to write it…I just kept dwelling on it and as much as continued to try and blow it off and relax…that just didn’t happen…and before long I was pacing the house…round and round…lap after lap…cycle after cycle. (pause)
And the more I thought about it, the more the notion of cycles seemed to be significant…because life is just full of cycles…and the more I pondered on that particular thought…the more I got to thinking about a theme that has emerged this year in the class I teach on Sunday mornings with the confirmation students and the adult forum.
Those of you who have sat through those class will likely recognize this cycle as we’ve talked about it over and over again…but in particular we discussed this cycle early in the program year…starting last fall…as we discussed the narrative found throughout the Old Testament.
The people follow God…things go well…time passes…the people turn away from God…things stop going well…things start to get bad…things remain bad…the people can’t figure out why things are going bad…then the people remember God…the people turn back towards God…God once again blesses the people as they are following God…things go well…time passes…repeat…repeat…repeat. (pause)
Now perhaps I’m just keenly aware of this idea because tonight I’m preaching out of an Old Testament passage…and not just a regular Old Testament passage…but a prophetic passage…and not just any prophetic passage…but one of the passages featured in the category known as the minor prophets…namely the short books found towards the end of the Old Testament from prophets that we just don’t know much about. (Pause) And of course…I’m talking about the passage from the prophet Joel that I shared a moment ago. And here’s the skinny on Joel…we know hardly anything about him…period. We know his name and his father’s name…and that’s pretty much it. Scholars will tell you that Joel was active at some point between 2 and 10 centuries before Christ…so we’ve got a nice 800 year window of history…a history full of that very cycle that I talked about a moment ago…The people follow God, the people forget God, the people turn away from God.
And so as I thought about this passage in preparation for this evening, I found that it was extremely difficult to try and place this passage in any sort of context that might just help connect it into our lives…simply because we know so little about it…but then I kept thinking about the cycle…going round and round and round again…both the people through the history of the Old Testament as well as my own pacing round and round…
And as I pondered on this cycle itself…I got to thinking about what Joel is instructing the people to do…declare a fast…call an assembly…bring together the people…and in the midst of bringing everyone together…we hear the word of the Lord “Return to me with all your heart.” (pause)
In this random moment, at some unknown point in the history of the Jewish people…in the midst of that cycle that repeated time after time…we find ourselves at the point when the people turn away from what ever it is that has captured their attention…whatever it is that has pulled them away from the Lord…and now they are turning back towards God. (pause)
This notion of turning back…or turning away from that which captures our attention…this is where the theme of repentance comes from. A theme that has been present throughout Old Testament history…and one that comes all the way through the New Testament…and right up to today…because to repent means…quite literally…to turn away.
And its funny because the idea of turning away can really be found on both sides of the coin in terms of the cycle that we live out in our lives…because everyone…turns away from God…everyone gets distracted by something…or places something above God…everyone across the board…and when its gets right down to it…that’s sin…that is what hinders us…that is what stands in the way of our relationship with our maker…and none of us are immune to it…and because of this…because all of humanity is caught by the power of sin…we all turn from God…and because we turn away from God…God calls us to turn back…to fix our attention back to the one that has made us… (pause)
But at the same time…as easy as that sounds…in theory…we all know just how impossible it is to pull it off…we can’t do it on our own…and because of this…because of the human need to place ourselves above God…because of our inability to due to the will of God…all of humanity has been cursed by sin…with death. (pause)
And today is a day…one of the few in the church year…when we sit back…and acknowledge it…Ash Wednesday…Good Friday…and funerals when they happen…and when we stop and think about it…that’s really about it….maybe because death is painful…because death is the ultimate separation…and it is…any of us who have lost loved ones knows this…death creates a barrier that we cannot cross…and God knows this too…because death is the result of sin…death is the result of the broken relationship that humanity has experienced with God…death is the result of humanity turning away from God…not because we want to or that we chose to…but because we live an existence that itself has already turned from God. (pause) That’s the power of sin…not some bad thing that we say or do…but an active evil within existence…and active evil which has taken hold of us and offers us no hope of escaping by anything that we can say or do or accomplish. (pause)
Yet there is one that can do something…there is one that can overcome this separation…and that is God…and so as the prophet Joel tells us…we turn to the one who can do something…as we recognize whatever it is that holds our attention and has caused us to turn from God…and we turn away from that…back to God…we turn away from turning away…
This is repentance…this is turning away…and returning our attention…our devotion…our love to the one who can act on our behalf…who has already acted on our behalf…and who is still acting on our behalf…and we look towards the saving grace of God found in Jesus Christ…not the man who did the miracles…not the great teacher or healer…but to God himself who took all that sin and all the death and all the darkness upon himself as he hung on the cross…dying in our place…but then going beyond it so that one glorious day we may join with him in the resurrection…fully forgiven of the sin that entangles…of this sin that captures our attention…of the sin that turns us from God. (pause)
Now here’s the thing…the resurrection of Jesus is an amazing thing…it is a life altering…not to mention a death altering story…one full of hope and joy…And just last Sunday, this was the story that we discussed downstairs in confirmation…and after the lesson was over, and we gathered in groups to talk a little more about it…I was sitting with the adults…and rather than focus on the resurrection itself…our discussion centered on death…and that was hard…I think it was hard for all of us as we sat there…and for some it was harder than others…perhaps due to personal circumstances…and personal history.
And as I thought about that discussion, I wondered just what it was that took us from the glory of the resurrection back to the pain of death…and then I realized that we can’t get to the resurrection without experiencing the death first. Jesus couldn’t be raised from the dead until he was dead…likewise…we can’t join with Jesus in a resurrection like his until we experience our own death…and make no mistake…we will…because the wages of sin are death…and our belief in Christ as our savior does not excuse us from it…but it does open the door to what lies beyond it… (pause)
This is why we acknowledge death…because it is a reality…one that we will all share…and this is why in a few moments we will each hear the words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is death that we are talking about…but because of the saving of love of God expressed through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are able to turn away from it…we are able to turn away when we hear the words that we are forgiven.
And so tonight…immediately after you hear those words that acknowledge your own death…you will also hear the words the body and blood of Jesus Christ given for you for the forgiveness of sins. (pause) We acknowledge our sin…we turn from our sin…and we find the grace of God…not because we earn it…not because we’re entitled to it…but because God chooses it. (pause)
So over the course of the next several weeks, as together we travel through this dark season of Lent…the season that culminates on Good Friday with the death of Jesus Christ…remember this…we have to go through death to get to the resurrection…we have to go through the pain and the fear and the darkness…not as punishment…not as penance…but simply because it exists…but praise God that through Christ…through his death…there is something more and he has promised…that we…will…receive it. Because through the death of Jesus, God has made it possible each and every day for us to turn away from turning away…and so Even Now, declares the Lord…return to me with all your heart. Amen