Reading Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

A reading for Ash Wednesday: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God. The day of the LORD is a day of darkness and doom. He comes leading his army, which in the skipped over verses from the reading is a devouring fire that destroys everything in its path.

Here is why so many Marcionites don’t like the Old Testament. But here he is. Behold your God.

In the later verses, I love this phrase in the NRSV: Rend your hearts and not your clothing. It is such a powerful, poetic phrase reminding us that religion is not about outward show or ritual, but about the human heart. God does not lay a bunch of duties on us that we can grudgingly perform, like the chores our mother’s used to make us do around the house.

He wants our hearts.

Weep and mourn over the way we have rejected God. Gather together and offer prayers to God: Do not forget us, LORD. Do not destroy us. Do let the world point and ask, “Where is the God they said would rescue them?”

A church in my town ran a column in the religion section of the newspaper. It said it was observing Lent by going on a carbon fast. As far as I could discern, this meant it would encourage people to reduce energy use and it would have worship service with no paper bulletins or worship materials.

Somehow, against the thundering voice of the prophet, this just does not seem like a robust response to the summons to “rend your hearts.”

Last Sunday, I used the typical mainline Protestant language with people to stop some activity or forgo some luxury to make room for God during Lent. Today, that seems rather tepid in the face of Joel’s words.

Rend your hearts. These words I will carry around with me today.