A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church
December 4, 2016
Joel 2:12-13, 28-29
The Book of Joel is best read in one sitting. I invite you to look through it this week. It’s a lovely story of destruction, fit for people recovering from Thanksgiving holidays with family.
Locusts invade and destroy the land.
A drought dries up the land.
Oh, the holidays!
And people are called to return to the Lord, to return with all of their heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. (2:12)
ALL of their hearts. They aren’t just to return to God with the shiny happy parts of their hearts that have it all together but also the mourning hearts, the fasting hearts, the weeping hearts. Because our broken open hearts will discover God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Returning to the Lord is not a casual decision, or half-hearted. We are to return to the Lord not just by rending our clothing, or other external signs. We are called to rend, to tear open our very hearts.
To rip open the scars that have closed over old wounds, keeping us from the healing we need to experience.
We are to cast open the windows, let in the light, and air out the dusty chambers of our hearts where our prejudices live shadowed in darkness and away from reflection.
We are to tear away the protective enclosures we’ve built around our hearts to keep away the pains of the world.
We are supposed to see what is broken in the world and in our lives and weep over it.
We are supposed to feel things deeply in our hearts, but too often we choose to live shallowly, allowing the pain of the world to just scratch the surface.
We try to “let it go”, but we can’t.
We need to “let it in”.
As Phil shared this morning during the time of confession, once he stopped trying to hide, once he stopped worrying if people could see his whole, torn open heart, he experienced God’s love and acceptance in new ways that also transformed his other relationships.
“Heart” comes from the Latin cor and points not merely to our emotions but to the core of the self, that center place where all of our ways of knowing converge — intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, imaginative, experiential, relational, and bodily, among others. The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones, the place where our knowledge can become more fully human. Cor is also the Latin root from which we get the word courage. When all that we understand of self and world comes together in the center place called the heart, we are more likely to find the courage to act humanely on what we know.”
We most often hear this text from Joel on Ash Wednesday, as we begin to prepare for the season of Lent that leads to Easter. In the context of Advent preparation for Christmas, I am thankful for Palmer’s reminder about the heart serving as our core, the place from where our courage flows. How can Advent be about open hearted love to a world in pain?
Because sometimes I think when we try to make sense of the world with only the screaming voices on the news, or with only our heads, or with only our anger, we don’t see things clearly at all. And our hearts remain closed to the pain of the world and we pretend we can ignore the pain in our own lives.
There’s a line from the children’s book, the Little Prince. that speaks to this:
Advent is the time to engage and open our hearts, to make room in them for the coming Christ child, and for the people around us.
There are a lot of closed off hearts in our world today, claiming there is not room for people who speak different languages or practice other religions.
There are hearts closed off, claiming our political divisions are stronger than our common call to promote general welfare.
There are hearts closed off and unable to see the humanity that connects us to each other regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, political affiliation, race, creed, or nation.
Closed off hearts make the world smaller, more isolating, and less safe.
And so we are to rend our hearts for ourselves and for the world. And we pray that God will turn, relent, and leave a blessing for us. Because we know that the Lord is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
This is what we know about God. And so it allows us to deal with the pain, vulnerability, and uncertainty we face when we rend our hearts. We rely on God being who we know God to be—gracious, just, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
The part of the book we heard today ends with this promise:
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.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
It doesn’t matter how many times you hear God promise a future with hope if all you can do is look around you and be trapped by loss you see in the world around you.
Joel wants his audience to dream up the world they want to see, even when it isn’t the world they can see right now.
And so, after the description of the desolation, and the promise of a future with hope, he tells them they need to dream, to have visions, and to be open to the Spirit being poured upon them.
Because if the future is only up to us, it might just be one of despair. But If we see the world with God’s vision, with a future with hope kind of sight, we have other options.
Cheryle shared a poem with me recently by David Whyte. And part of it spoke to this moment we’re in:
Life…. “is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.”
As we continue this Advent journey, may the Spirit bring us visions and dreams that will inspire our hearts to speak out loud in the clear air. Amen