Monday, February 22, 2016

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016 - Joel (5)


The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016

The People’s Repentance - Joel (5)

Lent 10

          Well, I lied. We will not start Amos today but rather tomorrow. We have one last post on Joel I overlooked last week. So here it is today. The people Joel preached to apparently genuinely repented and returned to the Lord.

          The storm clouds of locusts undoing the national economy heralding the Day of the Lord prompted Joel to call for a national gathering in Jerusalem at the temple (2:1). Their scorched earth policy (2:3) left the people helpless and hopeless (2:6). They had hit bottom.

          My pastoral experience has led me to conclude that people change for one or a combination of three things. Either they 

-are forced to change by some external force or authority,

-hurt so badly that they are internally impelled to change, or

-encounter a compelling vision of a desirable future that draws them into a new way of living.

Using the language of the prophets in the book of the Twelve we might call these judgment, return, and faithfulness. The latter is God’s call to be his covenant people declaring and demonstrating the new way of life God intends for all humanity. Israel regularly chose not to live from and toward that desirable future (sin or i-dolatry is always self-destructive). The prophets were sent to warn the people of their sickness and point out the ways they hurt one another that they might return to God and be restored to their place and vocation as his people. Again, the people regularly resisted the ministry of these prophets and went on their merry way. Finally, at some point a threshold of sinfulness is crossed where calling for them to return no longer had a chance of working and God instructed the prophets to announce the “tough love” of judgment as the last resort. Yet, such is the mercy of God, that even in the midst of judgment, a genuine change of heart from the people, might move God to relent from his judging and turn toward them in blessing again.

So with the locust army beginning its terrible campaign of judgment, Joel calls a national gathering to place themselves before God to show what evidence there is of a true desire to return to him (2:12-13).

“Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
    and relents from punishing.”

          We noted in our last post the importance and urgency of this gathering in that the call to gather included everyone in Israel. No one was exempt from the lamentation, confession, and repentance (2:16).

          And, here’s why this total gathering of the people is important, the blessing the Lord gives to his people is for all of them (2:28-29).

“Then afterward
   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.                                              Even on the male and female slaves,
    in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”

          The blessing of God is preeminently that of his Spirit. And everyone gets it. Young, old, male, female, free and slave – everyone. Under the Spirit’s guidance they will prophesy, dream, and see visions. In other words, the repentant people of God, blessed with an endowment of God’s own Spirit, will be able to see, grasp, and share with the world that desirable future called the kingdom of God and show them even now what that will look like in real life.

          Whatever the blessing the people of Joel’s day received (2:18-27), this promise of the Spirit comes “afterward.” Whatever this indefinite expression exactly means, Luke details its definitive fulfillment in the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost (Lk.2). Yet the reality is that even this great gift can be “quenched” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) by us. And we face the call to “return” to God and be changed by him as did Joel’s generation and be refreshed with the Spirit.

          We stand, then, all of us as a community, in a similar position to Joel’s people. We too need to “return” to the Lord. We too need his blessing. And his Spirit. Then we too may become that repentant people of God I mentioned above. Blessed with an endowment of God’s own Spirit, we will be able to see, grasp, and share with the world that desirable future called the kingdom of God and show them even now what that will look like in real life. And that’s what Lent is all about!

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