Ash Wednesday at Hope, Jerseyville
Sermon Text: Joel 2:12-19
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
For about the first year that my family was here, a wise and beloved member would tell me, just about every time he saw my son, Joel, that we were “livin’ in the days of Joel.” It made me smile every time because it was cute and personal, but then it made me a little sad because he was also right. We are living in the days of Joel.
The book of the Prophet Joel is a short one, only three chapters, and is known for prophesying a plague of locusts and calling people to repentance. A plague of locusts today seems a bit farfetched, but the idea behind it is not. The plague of locusts in Judah and Jerusalem then wasn’t simply a natural phenomenon, but was the coming of the judgment day of the Lord and his punishment of the people for their unfaithfulness. So Joel’s prophecy then still holds true today, that the judgment of the Lord is coming and when it comes it will punish and destroy the unfaithful.
So if you know that this day is coming, how do you prepare for it? If you knew you had forty days left to live, the Lenten season and no longer, now until Easter, and then you would die and the day of God’s judgment would be upon you, how would you prepare? If you had forty days left to live, how would you spend them? I think the inclination for most would be to check off a sort of bucket list, a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket and die. And there is nothing wrong with a bucket list, but what is on yours? Is your bucket list made up of things that are going to prepare you for the day of God’s judgment? Or is your bucket list your way of living up the last moments of your life, trying to see the best that this world has to offer? With the last forty days of your life, would you try to get the most out of this life or the most out of the life to come?
For many, I think the desire would be to do or see all the things on earth that they have not done or seen: travel the world, go skydiving, eat the best food made by the best chef in all of the world, or maybe just spend time with family, do the little things with them so that they will remember you even when you are gone. And while these things may not be bad, I’m not sure that they will prepare you to die and prepare you for the plague of locusts, the judgment day of the Lord.
Joel, the prophet, has a suggestion for us, for the way that we spend our remaining days, for the way that we spend our days of Lent. He tells us how we should prepare for this plague, for God’s coming judgment. “’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.” Live not for this life, for this here and now, but for the life to come. “Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.” Go to church, everyone, no matter what you have going on in your life.
For the next forty days, prepare yourself for the coming judgment of the Lord, because in forty days it will be here. I pray that you live longer than that, but regardless, in forty days, the judgment day of the Lord will be before us, so prepare yourself for that. For the next forty days, prepare yourself to see Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, God Himself hanging upon the cross to His death for you. And do it not by giving up coffee or Facebook or chocolate, do it by going to church. Do it by rending your hearts, not your garments. Prepare for the day of God’s judgment through repentance and faith.
For the Lord your God “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?” Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, God is calling you not to make the most of this life or to be a better person tomorrow than you are today because you are not drinking coffee anymore, but calling you to continued repentance and faith. Maybe God is working in you to create and sustain your faith by His Word and Sacraments.
But there is no maybe about it. He is. He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. He is preparing you to see His Son hanging upon the cross in your place, as a blessing for you in faith. And He is leaving behind and sending to you a grain offering and a drink offering, grain, wine, and oil. He is leaving behind and giving to you a bit of bread and some wine for you. He is giving you His body and blood for your forgiveness, for your salvation, for your eternal life.
He is the one who prepares you for God’s day of judgment by taking that judgment upon Himself for you so that when that day comes, when the locusts infest the land, when all of the earth is destroyed, you will not die, but live. So live, come, repent and believe, eat, drink, and be satisfied. Be prepared for the coming day of God’s judgment that it will be a blessing to you, forgiveness for you, eternal life for you, salvation for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.