This sermon, from Joel 2:12-13, 28-29, looks at the two sides of love. On one side we must open our hearts. When our hearts are open, then, on the other side, the Spirit of love and peace can flow to and through all people.
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When I was a boy, my grandpa had open heart surgery. I was very worried about him. One day my family went to the mall and I was determined to buy a gift for my grandpa. I had a little money, so my Mom let me shop on my own for a while.
I found a glass shop kiosk in the middle of the mall that sold all kinds of objects made out of glass. I found it. I called to me from the display case. A little glass frog. I don’t know why, but I knew that I had to buy that frog for my grandpa. When I saw it, my heart broke for him and I felt connected to him.
So, I stood there and stared at the frog until my Mom came back, so that no one else would buy it. It felt like I stood there for five hours, but it was probably ten minutes.
My grandpa recovered from his open heart surgery and I was able to give him that frog. Then, every time I would go to his house I would see that frog proudly displayed on the big console TV in the living room. And I knew that my grandpa knew how much I loved him.
I tell that story today for a couple reasons. First, because we have lit the second candle of Advent, and it is named love. Second, because our text is from Joel chapter 2 and the prophet Joel talks loving with a whole heart.
That’s what I want to talk about today. What does love look like, and how does love tie in to our big theme of God’s Promise?
Before we dive in, let’s take a quick look at the book of Joel.
Joel was a prophet. That means he was a preacher who brought a message from God to the people of Judah. You can see on the timeline that Daniel, who we looked at last week, was taken captive in the 580 and taken to live in Babylon. The Persians defeated the Babylonians and returned the Jewish people to Jerusalem, but still controlled them. Joel lived during this time, when Israel had no king and was under the control of the Persian Empire.
Joel’s sermon has a central metaphor running through it. Apparently the country had just suffered a terrible plague of locusts that destroyed their crops and they were in a food shortage. They interpreted this as God’s judgment. Plus, they were continually being threatened by the invasion of another Imperial army that would destroy them again.
So, Joel is telling the people how to live in to God’s Promise for the world.
As I look at our text for today, and hold it up to the candle of love, we can see that Joel is demonstrating for us what Love really looks like.
Love has two sides.
Let’s read the first half of this together from vv. 12-13. I will read the white words, then I would like you to read the colored words out loud, together.
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.
Rend your hearts, not your clothing. That’s a weird phrase. Back in those days, when someone was truly grieved, or heart broken, they would tear open their tunic. This became a symbol of grief, and like many symbols, can be done externally without real meaning.
God is pleading with the people to not just follow meaningless rituals, but to have a change of heart.
Now, let’s read the other side, in vv. 28-29. Again, I will read the white text, you read the blue.
Then afterward I 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. 29 Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
Do you notice anything about this? Who will receive the spirit of God? All flesh. Everybody. In those days, the Spirit of God only came on the leader, and the leader was always a man.
As I look at these two passages I see two sides to love.
On the one side are open hearts. On the other side is the liberating spirit.
Let’s explore this a little deeper.
What is the opposite of an open heart? A closed heart.
I want you to do this with me. Clench your fists, wrap your arms tight to your chest, and hunch your shoulders. Now turn away from your neighbor.
How does this feel? This is a closed heart. A closed heart is shut off from other people in order to protect itself.
There are many reasons why people have closed, or hard hearts.
Sometimes it is because of something that was done to you, maybe as a child. You were hurt by someone, and now you can’t allow yourself to trust anyone, so you close your heart.
Sometimes it is because you don’t want anyone to have what you have, so you close your heart to others.
Either way, whether your heart is closed because someone did something to you, or because you just don’t want to share with others, the result is the same.
When you are like this [closed and hunched over] you cannot receive or give love. So, your heart grows cold and hard.
That is why love must begin with a heart that is torn open.
We need open heart surgery. And let me tell you something, it is painful.
We must become open in three ways.
Open to God, to realize that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. God is for you. God loves you.
Open to Self, to realize that I am created by God and that is a good thing. I am loved by God, therefore I can actually love myself.
Open to others, to realize that all other people, no matter who they are, are also created and loved by God and deserve my love and respect.
Jesus made this really simple. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
Do know what I think is one of the number one reasons why people suffer from a closed heart and are cut off from God’s love and can’t love others? Because they don’t actually think of themselves as a love-worthy person.
What about you?
Do you believe that God loves you, right now, warts and all, and that God wants to walk with you and shape you into the best version of yourself?
Do you know what happens when we tear our hearts open like that?
The conduits are open and the Spirit of God can flow through the relationships that are now open.
When we are open to God, to self, and to others, then the promise of God can be fulfilled to pour out the Spirit on ALL FLESH. On men and women, on old and young, on slave and free. This is code for all the ways that society creates class barriers between people.
In God’s Kingdom, in God’s love, ALL people are equal and love-worthy.
This is God’s Promise for EVERYONE.
One of the reasons we care about Joel so much is because the apostle Peter quoted this passage in Acts chapter 2 and explained that this promise was fulfilled in Jesus.
God broke open God’s own heart by becoming flesh in the person of Jesus and by dying on the cross for us, to open up relationship with God, with self, and with others.
By doing this, the Spirit of God was, and is, poured out on all people, just like Joel promised.
And, this, my friends, is the candle of love, the light of the world, that shines the promise of God’s love for everyone.
So, let me challenge you with this today. What kind of heart surgery do you need today? Who has hurt you? Who have you hurt? What relationships need to be mended?
Know this, as painful as it is, God is staring at that glass frog while you are in surgery. God loves you so much. God wants you to have an open heart and experience the liberating power of the Spirit, right now.