Hope Among the Locusts – December 4, 2016 – Joel 2: 12 – 17, 28 – 32

I’m a forgetful person. I probably more easily forget than forgive. Or, maybe I forgive easily because I forget what the offense was.

Many years ago, I was close with 3 friends, Nikki, Clem, and Sue. We were very close and spent a lot of time together. We called ourselves the Pink Ladies like the group of girls in the movie Grease.

As our lives changed, our relationships changed. Sue got married and started having kids. Her life path led her to PTA meetings and soccer games. Clem got engaged and moved away. Nikki and I remained friends for awhile…until we had a falling out.

I don’t really remember what happened. Who stopped calling who? What words were exchanged? What the reason for the conflict was?

Like I said, I’m forgetful. I do remember how hard it was to reconcile a few years later.

Our mutual friend Leah facilitated the reconciliation. We were all to meet for a yoga class. We had class then afterwards we sat down to talk.

I was so nervous. I didn’t know if we could pick up where we left off. I didn’t know what we needed to do to clear the air. I didn’t remember why I had stopped talking to her to even remember if I needed to apologize and what I needed to apologize for or if I should expect an apology from her and for what. I’m really forgetful.

After yoga class, I was all hot and sweaty and I felt gross. I was thirsty and stinky. As if I wasn’t humiliated enough to have to reconcile with someone I had once considered my best friend, I had to do it feeling icky and looking a hot mess.

We looked at each other. We hugged. We cried and we said “I love you.”

That was it. Nothing else needed to be said. The past was behind us. No need to bring it up and rehash it. We had a fresh start.

I don’t know that I was afraid but I was nervous. Nikki was willing to meet me. I knew she too was open to reconciliation. We needed our friend Leah to mediate the meeting.
As I was thinking about repentance this week, I was reminded of this time with Nikki. Maybe because she sent me a text this week with a picture of us in the good old days.

I think we can all relate to my reluctance to reconcile. It is humbling to admit I’ve acted in a way that wasn’t amenable to a relationship. It is hard to admit that I’ve done something to hurt someone.

That is why repentance to God is so difficult. It requires humility to go to God in prayer and say, “I’m sorry for the ways in which I have offended you. I’m sorry for the things I’ve done to hurt you, hurt others, and hurt myself. I’m sorry.”

But, I think reconciliation with God is much like my reconciliation with Nikki. You just got to show up to the meeting. God is ready to receive you with open arms, ready to say I love you and start fresh. God doesn’t forget like me. God forgives.

This text I read this morning from the book of Joel is a call to repentance. It is a call for the Jews to turn back to God. Joel was speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem following the Exile. These were the Jews who had been dispersed throughout the Babylonian kingdom when Jerusalem was besieged by Babylon. When Persia defeated the Babylonians, the Persian emperor allowed the Jews to return home to rebuild the cities and Temple. It is to these people that Joel speaks.

They were struggling to rebuild, not only the Temple and cities, but also rebuild their nation. The nation would not be a sovereign nation, but they had to rebuild their society including religious culture. There was fighting about how this rebuilding should take place. And, how to establish the religious practices while the Temple was being rebuilt.

They were getting into trouble falling back into the practices that God had once judged them. Joel had this vision of locusts coming as God’s judgment of the people. The locusts are a reminder of what God has done to punish the people of Jerusalem and what may come if they don’t get their act together.

Chapter 2 has 4 parts. I read to you the call to repentance and a prophecy of the day of the Lord. The call to repentance is for the people to return to the Lord which requires that same humility of the people to turn to God as I had to reconcile to Nikki. Only, the repentance Joel asked was for the entire nation to return to God. Can you imagine how challenging that would have been? Since some 500 years later God came to us as Jesus, we all know that the people did not whole heartedly and as one turn to God to be saved. Instead, God came to them to save them.

What Joel was calling for was for all the people in their religious practice to turn to God. Most of the prophets didn’t have good things to say about the Jewish worship of God, but Joel was different. Joel thought that if the people all gathered for worship and all did it with proper humility they would be saved.

Joel says to the people, “change your hearts. Return to God with fasting and weeping.” The practice of those who sorrow or grieve would be to tear their clothes and put on sackcloth and cover their head in ashes. Joel said true repentance would be to tear your heart not your clothes. This change would be a spiritual inward attitude not an outward sign of what may or may not be felt in one’s heart.

Joel tells the people, “maybe if you get this change of heart correct God will relent because “he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive.” These words are a familiar formula throughout the Old Testament. They are probably more familiar in another translation, “he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

That’s why we know we can repent and trust we will be forgiven. The Bible tells us that God is patient. He is gracious and compassionate. He abounds in love. And, he forgives. These words were said even before Jesus came to walk among us. These words were used to describe the Old Testament God who often gets the reputation of being angry and vengeful, for punishing His people, for being dangerous. Yet, all the people had to do was be obedient and turn to God for help and forgiveness when they were in trouble. If God was forgiving before Jesus, how much more now do we know forgiveness through Christ?

It is safe to turn to God, as long as we do it with contrite hearts. We can humbling and reverently go to God in prayer to ask for guidance or forgiveness in everything. The fear and trembling we may feel is not that we are afraid of God. The fear and trembling is a sign of reverence of the mighty God who could punish, but relents and forgives. This Advent season, let us have contrite hearts, repentant, remorseful, penitent, sorrowful hearts, for all the ways in which we have let down God, let down others, and let down ourselves, for all the ways in which we have failed, so that come Christmas, we are ready to receive forgiveness given in the great gift of a Savior. Amen.

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