This weekend is the second week of Advent. We will light the candle of LOVE. The Narrative Lectionary calls for Joel 2:12-13, 28-29.
I preached on this text, on Advent 2, four years ago and created this image back then. You can hear the sermon here.
Now, I come to the text again, wearing different lenses.
This post has two purposes:
A New Bible Bookshelf Page
First, I want to inform you that I have finally created a separate page for the prophet Joel in the Bible Bookshelf. I’ve embedded the Bible Project’s Video on Joel there. Check out the page HERE.
A Mental Sketch for the Sermon
Second, I want to think through an idea and get your feedback.
Doom and Gloom
There seem to be two contrasting images of God going on in this set of readings. On the one hand, there is a call for repentance in Joel 2:12-13. Joel compels the people of Judah to rend their hearts, not their garments. He implores them to return to the Lord. What happens if they don’t? Do the locusts devour them? Yes, God is described as patient and loving, but the underlying message seems to be: make it fast before it’s too late. Think of the street corner preaching holding up the sign: Repent! The End is Near!
Social Justice and Equality
On the other hand, in Joel 2:28-29, Joel describes the promise that, in the Day of the Lord, God will pour out the Spirit on ALL people, regardless of social status. This reinforces our big theme for the year: God’s Promise for Everyone. This is the God of Grace and inclusivity.
Which one is accurate?
It is at this point that my own lenses, crafted by my own story, color my reading heavily. These texts can be read through two radically different lenses.
Saved by Decision
On the one hand I hear the voices of my Baptist upbringing. “You must confess your sins, repent, and get right with God. Then you can be saved.” You make the decision. God’s love is offered, but if you don’t accept it, then the locusts eat you and you burn in Hell. But if you make the decision to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, then you will be filled with the Holy Spirit and the Day of the Lord will be your victory and you can enter into the glory of God’s Kingdom where everyone is equal.
Saved by Grace
My Lutheran colleagues stand in stunned horror at the previous paragraph. Salvation is not based upon our decision, they say, but is based upon God’s grace. Luther said that, because we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, we are not even good enough to make the right decision. The emphasis, from this lens, is to focus on the social justice of the Spirit in vv. 28-29. The social strata and oppressive systems are obliterated by the Spirit. God is so slow to anger, so abounding in steadfast love, and so relenting in punishment, that ultimately, Love wins and the Spirit gets poured out on everyone, whether you rend your hearts or not.
The Candle of Love
These two portraits are caricatures, of course. Yet, I think the gulf between these theologies and the people within these theological camps is very real. I know I feel the tension in a very real way, on a regular basis.
Now, I think the fact that these two texts fall, this weekend, under the light of the candle named LOVE is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate how the underlying intuition of both perspectives is accurate and necessary to understand the Promise and the Kingdom of God.
What if the question is not about whether you are “in” or “out” or assured of going to Heaven when you die? What if salvation is all about relationships?
The promise, the Kingdom of God, is all about love.
Think about it. True love cannot exist unless our hearts are torn open in an honest, humble, repentant, and vulnerable attitude toward God, self, and others. If we are not willing to rend our hearts, then the possibility for loving relationship is thwarted. Love requires vulnerability and vulnerability is a decision.
God saves us. God’s love will wait forever. Yet, if we don’t fast and mourn, own up to our failures, and open our hearts toward God, self, and others, then our hearts can never be filled with the Spirit and the equality and mutuality of the Promised Kingdom will never happen.
What happens, then, if we don’t rend our hearts and return to the Lord? God does not punish you for that. God’s love is unconditional and freely offered. Always. Yet, if your heart is hard and un-rended, then you cannnot experience the fullness of love and the relationship with God, self, and others for which you were created. This is a Hellish reality.
We are invited to enter the Promise every day; to rend our hearts in confession and repentance, so that the filling of the Spirit will overflow in God’s liberating, life-giving promise for Everyone.
What do you think? Am I completely off base? What lenses do you bring to this text? Is this a preach-worthy topic?