Returning to the Promise
When we think of prophecy, whether we are looking at the biblical witness or we are looking at the prophecies of someone like Nostrodomus, we tend to think of the work of the prophet as a predictor. As someone who looks into the future and sees something that is going to happen, and then tells other people what they see happening. So, if I were to have said on Sunday morning that the Broncos would destroy the Panthers on Sunday night, and that the Panthers would only have ten points, and I did that kind of regularly, then you would begin to think of me as a prophet and listen to what I had to say about things. Or…maybe not. But you get the point.
When the Bible speaks about prophecy this kind of thing is included of course, but the job of the prophet is less about foretelling (foretelling the future), and more about forthtelling (speaking a word from God to the people that calls them to change).
This is true in our readings tonight that come both from Isaiah and from Joel. Both men speak as God’s mouthpieces. Proclaiming God’s words of judgment and grace, God’s call to repent and endure, God’s encouragement to have hope and believe. Either way they were to hear from the Lord, and then say, “Thus saith the Lord!”
Often prophets used words that start with “re-“ in it. Words like “re”deem, “re”pent. Words that call us as believers in Jesus to not simply go through the motions, but to examine our lives and to realign our commitments, our attitudes, our actions, and words with the Message of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Lenten season especially is a time to examine our lives, empty our lives of some of the clutter, and focus our lives anew on being the kind of person and the kind of people God calls us to be, owned by Him, made to glorify him forever.
In Joel, God’s people are called to “re”-turn. With fasting, weeping and mourning. To return. To the grace and compassion and love of God.
To return. To come back to where you were before.
To return. To come back to the ones who you have ignored and left behind.
To return. To come back to God, the loving Father, who waits for his prodigal children to quit chasing after broken toys and visions of self-aggrandizement, self-fulfillment that end up being mirages that that lead to self-destruction.
To return to faith in God. To return to the holy life you were called to in the beginning. To return to the narrow path. Return to me, God says through the prophet Joel.
Lent is a time to return. This day, Ash Wednesday, is a time to begin that journey. Of returning.
This returning, Joel implies, includes repenting. Turning our backs on an old way of life, and returning to the call God has on our lives. Rethinking how we have lived and what we have done, and moving in God’s direction again instead of our own. This Lenten season is a time to do that.
Returning also means returning to the things that God values instead of what we might values. The people of God in Isaiah’s time got ritual confused with righteousness. God says he is not as interested in sacrifices of animals, or in fasting as a show of holiness on its own.
Instead he says, return to the kind of love, the kind of covenant loyalty that you should have for your Lord and especially in this case, your neighbor.
Fast from oppressing the poor, from offering low wages instead of a fair wage.
Providing welcome and shelter to the wanderer, otherwise known as the refugee in today’s language.
Stand up with people are treated unfairly by the law or those who enforce the law—that is what is saying when it says to throw of the chains of injustice.
Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Care for your family and take care of them.
Return to these values, instead of living with some spirituality that is more show that substance.
Do this and God will bless your worship. Your lives. Your ministries.
He also says that as we do this kind of thing, in verse 12, that we will be used by God to make broken places whole, and make wrong things right. We will be renewing in our world, letting the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
We will be called people who repair, restore, rebuild. Rebuilders of ancient ruins. Repairer of broken walls, Restorers of Streets with Dwellings. (The Neighborhood). Not something we are doing in our own power, as the people brag about wanting to do in Isaiah 9:10, but something that God does through us as we return to him. As we repent and re-believe the gospel.
May God bless you as you return, repair, restore, and rebuild this Lenten Season.