LentBlog 2015 Day 1: Joel 2:1-2; 12-17: On Confession, Repentance, and the Means of Grace

Hard to believe it’s Ash Wednesday already. I write this with not a little guilt, because I told myself I was going to blog a lot more this year, not just during Lent. And that didn’t happen. But here we are, anyway… another LentBlog begins. I’m a little behind the 8-ball this week- it’s been terribly busy- and I haven’t chosen a scriptural book to read during Lent this year.

I was asked this weekend to preach an Ash Wednesday Gathering, and I chose the OT Reading in Joel as a text. I KNOW this is a no-no, and I will not be doing it again, because preachers who use their sermon texts devotionally are headed for trouble, but for tonight, I’d like to post what I’ve wrestled with a little from this Joel passage. Here is my sermon script for tonight. May it edify:

Joel 2:1-2; 12-17
There’s bad news in the congregation… Or at least there was among God’s people on this day.
It turns out God’s people don’t always live as God’s people… And these folks were really terrible at it.
They had a sin problem… See, they kept breaking commandment number one. They kept forgetting. They kept serving other gods. Serving themselves. Forgetting every single thing they had was from The Lord. Even their religious practices became nothing more than a thinly veiled “Look at me!”
They kept committing the same. Old. Sin. Day after day. Week after week. Even year after year. And it seems in this passage God has had enough. And that’s bad news.
We don’t do that, do we? We don’t ever get in a self centered rut, do we? None if us ever get stuck in a pattern of struggle, sin, confession… Struggle. Sin. Confession. Do we?
Here’s this passage from the Prophet Joel who comes along and says, “enough.” The day of The Lord is coming. And his judgement is about to fall on folks… Like us.
He elaborates for another 9 verses about how bad the Day of The Lord will be (the lectionary reading edits it out)  and thankfully he doesn’t leave us there.
He inserts the word, “yet.” Yet can be a really good word. Kind of like “but” (example a little) A lot can turn on “yet.” “Yet” is a hopeful word. A word that means there’s more to come, and the more that comes isn’t necessarily bad.
Yet. Yet even now. After all this. After all your struggle. After all your failures and faithlessness. Yet even now…
…you can return to The Lord with all your hearts.
Really cool word in the Hebrew here: “shuv” (say it, elaborate)
They never really returned…. They never really repented (and turned). They never really shuv-ed. Sure, some prophet would come along and point out their sin and they might even confess it… Might offer sacrifice… But they never returned. They never really repented. You can confess your sin all day long. Week after week. Month after month. And never be free. Confession has to lead to repentance and repentance must lead to transformation of our lives, or we get nowhere and we stay stuck. You must shuv. it is not God’s will that your spiritual life be an endless struggle, dealing with the same old junk over and over again. It could be that God wants to change us, replace our cold, hard hearts with hearts of flesh and then write his law on them so we can love him undividedly. Wholeheartedly. With integrity. And you don’t have to sit there and struggle. You must shuv.
Turn to someone and say, “it’s time to shuv to The Lord.”
How do we shuv?
-replace old patterns of life with new ones.
-call a fast. Assemble the people. Gather even the babies together. Repent. Shuv. Return. Rend your hearts, not your clothes.
-The season of Lent provides us with a perfect opportunity to do just that.
-here’s the key though…. There’s a catch: All this confession, repentance, fasting, soul searching, spiritual discipline… We must practice them as Means of God’s Grace. They are means to an end, and the end is transformation. you can Do all this stuff and if all it ever is is a thinly veiled “look at me and how Godly I’m trying to be” you will only wind up back at square one. Struggling again with no real change. It’s not you who changes you. It’s God who changes you.
And that’s why before we receive the ashes and begin this lent journey, we are going to come to the table tonight.

We followed this with communion, then receiving the ashes. I think it was helpful.

I’ll have a full devotional reflection tomorrow night.
Until then,