Return to the Lord

February 17, 2021
by Pastor Charles Nyamakope

Ash Wednesday

Scripture Reading: Joel 2:12-17


The book of Joel is a brief prophecy, the heart of which is repentance, as disclosed in chapter 2, verses 12 through 32. As we study this book, may God help us to enjoy the blessings therein through humility, repentance, forsaking of sins, turning to God, and humbling ourselves before him.

We do not know when the book of Joel was written. Traditionally, scholars believe it was written in the 9th Century B.C., during the time of Joash king of Judah. Jesus himself quotes from this prophecy in Mark 13:24 about the events of the last days. Peter quotes Joel on the day of Pentecost because it was Joel who prophesied the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last days. Paul also quotes this prophecy in Romans (10:13), about God’s answering our prayers: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

In today’s scripture reading, prophet Joel declared these words to God’s people who were experiencing extreme hardship: a plague of locusts had obliterated the crops of the land; people and animals were starving; there was no grain, wine, or oil to offer sacrifice to God; the land itself was parched and thirsty.

Joel’s prophecy is a biblical rarity in that Joel places responsibility for this calamity neither on the people nor on God. Joel simply describes the barren reality, and he names the harsh reality thoroughly – then, he places this reality side by side with the compassionate call of God to return.

Joel is aware that difficult, disastrous, challenging things happen in this life, and it is often not-so-helpful to try to assign blame on ourselves, others, or God. Through Joel, in the midst of great suffering, God calls God’s people to return, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.”

EVERYONE, Joel reminds us, is called to return to the Lord with all their heart, with all they have in them to offer; children and nursing infants, newlywed couples and their celebrating friends and family; leaders and those of low status…all are called to return to the Lord, to renew their faith, their trust, their dependence upon a reliable God through visible acts of devotion.

Visible acts of devotion are the classic spiritual discipline of the season of Lent which begins this Ash Wednesday. For Joel, such visible acts of devotion were shared together in great, public assemblies of God’s people…much like this assembly today where we confess our brokenness and seek to renew our experience of and trust in God who “hates nothing God has made,” who is ever “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

Return to me with all your heart, God says through Joel. Remember that God hates nothing God has made. Remember that God is gracious & merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, says Joel.

Friends, whether life is going well or whether life is mire, we need a season of renewal in our relationship with God. May your renewal begin this day. May you know and feel the abundance of life God so yearns for you and those you love to live, each day. Humble yourself, call upon the name of the Lord and seek his face. Repent of your sins and consecrate your life to God. Resolve and determine to obey God with gladness. Ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to walk in that narrow and straight path of righteousness. Where there is repentance, God is there. Where there is humility, God is there. Where there is confession, God is there. God’s presence is shown through our humility, repentance, and turning to him. And in God’s presence there is fullness of joy and on his right hand, pleasures forevermore. Amen.