If I were to summarize the voice of the prophets in our story of faith thus far, it would sound something like this…[3 clashes of cymbals]
Wake up! You are in Babylon and becoming Babylon! That’s the cry of the pre-exile prophets. What this entire section of our faith history in the story of God is trying to get to us to do, to recognize. Comprehend what is going on in you and around you. Grasp what God is doing against you, against all that is in rebellion to his goodness. Appreciate what God is doing for you, and for his good world.
Impending peril always gets us to question our life. What we value. What we have spent our energy and resources on. What we believe. What we love.
Looming disaster in the pre-exile prophets is always met with a picture of hope, of future. In fact, the only way a future different and better than the current state is to be achieved is through judgment; the Day of the Lord putting an end to whatever evil is oppressing.
Where judgment meets hope is where we come into the story. Neither do we determine the measures by which judgment is made, nor the means by which hope is achieved. Yet, we are not absent from the history of righteousness and mercy.
In fact, it is our response to God, our reply to judgment which allows us to experience hope. Experienced hope is an often repeated act our faith family calls practicing repentance. The habitual practice of turning from subjugation, allegiance, and/or partnership in the evil to a recognition and submission to God as one, the only, none else, King, ruler, Almighty, judge of good and evil.
We see this connection of hope and judgment through repentance most clearly in the book of Joel. In this short text, Joel retells of a judgment past, grounds in a judgment present and expands the horizon towards a judgement future. All to show us something new.
Thoroughly awake by the cymbals of calamity, let’s jump into Joel together.
PAST | READ verses 2-4, 15-16 aloud. In chapter one (vv. 2-12, 15-20), Joel recounts a “natural” disaster, divinely unleashed, meant to bring us to a place of dependence on God, to put to death, destroy the pride of prosperity and controllable religion.
This is not a new judgment. Suffering because we have forgotten and forsaken God was the spiral of Judges and the often repeated story line of the Kings. Here, judgement feels like a removal of God’s favor and blessing so that we cry out to him whom we have taken for granted in the comforts of abundance and predictability of religious routine. A judgement we all experience at times in our own stories. (Think the book of Judges)
PRESENT | READ verses 1-3, 11 aloud. In chapter two (vv. 1-11), Joel shines light on an eminent military and political disaster meant to bring us to a place of dependence on God, to put to death, destroy, the pride of strength and intelligence.
The moment you realize that what you have trusted to make the world a better place, proves to be the thing that takes life. When what is built—an economic philosophy, a governmental system, an educational scheme, a religious institution—is shown to be something that crumbles. A judgment every nation, culture and institution has or will experience at some point in their story. (Think of the book 2 Kings)
FUTURE | READ verses 9-17 aloud. Lastly, in chapter three (vv. 1-16), Joel foretells of a final and future world disaster, a war against God that will put to death the pride of self-rule, human sovereignty, divine rebellion, kingdoms in conflict with God.
All that which brings about evil and suffering, finally exposed and overcome in fullness. A judgement that condemns and renews the human story from creation beginning to recreated end. (Think the book of Revelation)
With each disaster, these sequences of death, there is a call to repentance. The first two in response to judgment.
Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the LORD your God and cry out to the LORD. (1:14)
Recognize your own culpability in forgetting God, your godlessness, and return to God. Have you become complacent in prosperity towards those in need? Confident in religious routine that you have no need for God himself?
Next in chapter 2,
Yet even now, declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (2:12-13)
Repent because the LORD is merciful, gracious, and unwavering in his love; as he has always been. Individually and as a collective people, repent. Realize where you hope has been and how it has failed and cry out to God to do something about your evil and the evil in which you find yourself.
Theses verses are a paraphrase of Exodus 34:6-7; God’s response after the adultery of the golden calf a few chapters earlier. Repent because judgment is not the last word “he relents over disaster”; for you or for your nation.
The final judgment is not followed by repentance; but is preceded by an invitation to repent and trust the LORD to end evil and bring new life, to let God be our hope, our refuge, our salvation from evil within and among,
And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke [the images of God’s presence]. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood-red [undoing of creation as we experience it], before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem [in God’s Kingdom] there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls. (3:30-32)
The three proclamations of judgment met with three calls to repentance helping to awaken us to something more than simple contrition—penance, sorrow. For you see, the three calls to repent are not the cycle of protection and rescue we saw in the times of the Judges; where Israel forgot God or took him for granted, suffered in his absence, cried out in their suffering, and were mercifully relieved of their suffering only to repeat the spiral of descent.
No, the repentance in the prophets, here in Joel, is a repentance that leads to rescue yes, (2:18-27) yet to something more and better than before,
And that is just the beginning,
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 servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.
Through judgment, evil is ended. Because of God’s mercy to not let judgement be the last word, there is more. In repentance we are given new eyes to see, a revelation of the world—prophesy, dreams, vision—as it is, God has he is, of you and I as we are meant to be. Something new!
This passage may sound familiar to you if you have much history in the faith. It is one of the few Old Testament passages quoted in length in the New Testament. It is shared again after a Day of the LORD, a day of judgement. This time it was Jesus who experienced the Day of the LORD due you and I. A day in which he took on everything evil could put on him and overcame. And now, 50 or so mornings and evenings after the Day of LORD on the cross, a “birth”, the new beginning of the church as we have come to know it in our Christian faith heritage:
READ Acts 2:16-39
Judgment leads to something new, to new life; when we repent. When we embrace the death of pride, of missing God. When we see that Jesus was judged and resurrected. Thus, every time we remember judgement past, judgment looming for our Babylon culture, future judgement for the entire world, and most especially the judgment of Jesus on our behalf; we practice repentance. We question our hearts, our souls, our minds, our strengths love for God, the One and only.
Practicing repentance actually does something in us, for us. Practicing repentance leads us not into pious contrition or flagellation or self-hatred; but hope experienced! New life, not a life limited by our imagination, but a life beyond our imagination in the mind and character and purposes of God,
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with the power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or imagine, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:14-21)
Every time we confess and receive communion we are re-enacting this story of judgment and hope. The story of death for life, death to new life.
“’Only where graves are is there resurrection.’ We practice our death by giving up our will to live on our own terms. Only in that relinquishment or renunciation [read “repentance”] are we able to practice resurrection.”
As Jesus said in John’s Gospel,
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die…(11:25-6)…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (12:24).
Death first, then hope. Death than new life. Our new cycle of ascent, rather than spiral of descent! Letting the story of God and the stories of God in our lives sink into every crevasse of our being, to every cell of our body. Imagining a life with God, in Christ, by the Spirit. A way of living where death brings new life!
Our family practice of repentance keeps us living the hope of judgement, the promise of a resurrected life now and forever more. Putting to death that which keeps us from living fruitfully and effectively in God’s Kingdom (2 Peter 1:1-11). Keeping us in submission to God as Lord, as one, the one and only, so that we might love him with all of our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. Abiding.
Keeping us out of the trap of pride and trust in prosperity, in routine religion, in nationalism, in strength, in intelligence. Keeping us from the seduction and distortions of evil and the evil one. And keeping us resisting Babylon in the way of Jesus—through sacrifice, through love, through invitation to a new world, and life lived in a different kingdom now. Thus opening up a new world, a different dimension of life known and experienced.
What needs to be put to death in our faith family for new life to be experienced?
What about in your Gospel Community?
In your own life?
As we ponder death to life; let us practice repentance, together this afternoon. Together, as one family, one body we repent—declare our need and our hope—as we receive a fresh the pouring out of the Spirit so that we might live in a new life, in a new world, as a new people beyond our imagination in the imagination of God—to the glory of God and the blessing of our city and all the earth. Death then life!
Before we practice repentance together, I want us to be prepared for something. Between the last line and our “Amen”, there will be a few moments of emptiness. Open space. Silence. What began with the clashing cymbals of judgment and hope is resonate in silence. God speaks, we listen, then we say “yes” to God in Jesus, “Amen”.
Almighty and most merciful Father, we are thankful that your mercy is
higher than the heavens,
wider than our wanderings,
deeper than all our sin.
Forgive our careless attitudes toward your purposes,
our refusal to relieve the suffering of others,
our envy of those who have more than we have,
our obsession with creating a life of constant pleasure,
our indifference to the things you call good and best,
our neglect of your wise and gracious word & the WORD.
Pour out your Spirit
Let us walk by the Spirit
Change our way of life as we live by the Spirit
so that we may desire what is good,
love like you love,
and live the way you have created us to live,
all for the sake of your Son, Jesus,
who loved us and died so we could live.
 Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, 290.