Rend Your Hearts

Joel 2.12-13
Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart
and not your garments.

From John:
This weekend we read through the short book of Joel. Some books of the Bible are like towns off the beaten path that you only go to if you really want to. One of the benefits of a whole-Bible reading plan is not skipping over these uncommon destinations. Thank you for being a part of walking through God’s Word with our community.

Reflection: Rend Your Hearts
By John Tillman

Joel may be one of the least read books of the Bible, but other biblical authors certainly knew it well. In fact, Joel’s most famous passages are familiar because other biblical authors quote them or allude to them.

Joel is thought to be one of the early books of prophecy chronologically, and many other prophets pick up on Joel’s language, repeating the themes he introduces…
He speaks of The Day of the Lord as a dark day of judgement…
He speaks of the pouring out of God’s Spirit on men and women…
He foretells drought, a consuming fire, and a swarming, undefeatable army pictured as locusts, with God riding at the head of their columns…
He speaks of beating plowshares into swords and pruning hooks into spears. (A phrase which 100 years later Isaiah and his contemporary, Micah will reverse.)

Historians debate whether Joel’s locusts were allegorical or literal, but there is no doubt that the destruction comes from God in response to sin, and that this same God “relents from sending calamity.”

Joel tells people throughout Jerusalem to mourn and repent in traditional ways, which included to weep and to wail, to rend their garments and wear sackcloth. Then in chapter two he pivots, saying, “Rend your heart and not your garments.”

In ancient times, rending one’s clothing was a public sign of mourning or repentance. This formalized mourning might be due to the death of a family member, a personal crisis, or in response to more widespread events such as a national emergency or natural disaster.

Our modern world has nearly eliminated traditional social norms of mourning. Yet, we still use social media to engage in an approximate modern equivalent of rending one’s clothing. On many platforms our “cover” photos and profile photos are the outer garments that cover us and show the face we choose to the world. Like garments, they conceal and reveal. We can use them to feign happiness or signal our virtuous struggles and suffering.

Joel’s admonition is to go beyond public signals of mourning or confession. It is our heart that we must rend in mourning and confession, because God looks at the heart, not our outward appearance. When we rend our heart in community with others, we invite God’s power to work in us for redemption and restoration. As God speaks through Joel, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…”

God will replace what is lost—including replacing our hearts of stone with the pierced-heart of Jesus.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statutes. — Psalm 119.145

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Joel 1 (Listen – 2:59)
Psalm 140-141 (Listen – 2:44)

This Weekend’s Readings
Joel 2 (Listen – 5:26) Psalm 142 (Listen – 1:01)
Joel 3 (Listen – 3:20) Psalm 143 (Listen – 1:34)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Radical Procedure of the Gospel
It’s lovely to think of God giving us a new heart and putting a new Spirit within us. But it is terrifying to admit to the diagnoses that would lead to such a radical procedure.

Read More about Where Our Hearts Are
No matter how distracted we become, and no matter how often we misplace our hearts—serving gods of mammon, fashion, and culture—God won’t forget us. He stands ready for us to return to him.

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Finding Sovereignty :: Weekend Reading List

Prayer is an invitation to unite one’s soul with limitless power, infinite grace, and radical sovereignty. Yet, in the face of everything going on in our world, the call to prayer seems like a passive and feckless response—a cheap excuse to skip out on the hard work of engaging and making a difference.

The residue of modernism continues to reject the reality of transcendence. In other words, our key problem is not about the substance of prayer, but about our orientation to a life of prayer. “When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying,” reflected Abraham Joshua Heschel. The rabbi walked arm-in-arm with Dr. Martin Luther King—to these men, prayer was action.

In Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity Rabbi Heschel explains:

Prayer must never be a citadel for selfish concerns, but rather a place for deepening concern over other people’s plight. Prayer is a privilege. Unless we learn how to be worthy, we forfeit the right to prayer.

Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.

The world is aflame with evil and atrocity; the scandal of perpetual desecration of the world cries to high heaven. And we, coming face to face with it, are either involved as callous participants or, at best, remain indifferent onlookers.

The relentless pursuit of our interest makes us oblivious of reality itself. Nothing we experience has value in self; nothing counts unless it can be turned to our advantage, into a means of reserving our self-interests.

Dark is the world to me, for all its cities and stars. If not for my faith that God in His silence still listens to a cry, who could stand such agony?

Prayer will not come by default. It requires education, training, reflection, contemplation. It is not enough to join others; it is necessary to build a sanctuary within, brick by brick, instants of meditation, moments of devotion. this is particularly true in an age when overwhelming forces seem to conspire at destroying our ability to pray.

Every action of grace, justice, and restoration is built on the foundation of prayer. In I Asked for Wonder Heschel concludes, “To pray means to bring God back into the world, to establish His sovereignty for a second at least. God is transcendent, but our worship makes God immanent. To pray means to expand God’s presence.”

Reading List

Today’s Reading
Joel 3 (Listen – 3:20)
Psalms 143 (Listen – 1:34)

This Weekend’s Readings
Amos 1 (Listen – 2:38) Psalms 144 (Listen – 1:56)
Amos 2 (Listen – 2:12) Psalms 145 (Listen – 2:19)

 

Better Angels :: Throwback Thursday

By Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”  — Psalm 142.5

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right?

If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.

By the frame of the Government under which we live this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief, and have with equal wisdom provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance no Administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years.

My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

*Abridged from Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, 1861.

Today’s Reading
Joel 2 (Listen – 5:26)
Psalms 142 (Listen – 1:01)

 

Prayer, Silence, and Civility

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you. — Psalm 141.2

How much we need our words to be incense today. After a night of watching maps and months of debate—after our national rhetoric was dragged so low—how much we need the fragrance of our prayers to rise before God.

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! — Psalm 141.3

In our silence, may the voice of thunder be heard. For even when we believe ourselves to be right, the good, holy, and perfect truth is beyond us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:

No good at all can come from acting before the world and one’s self as though we knew the truth, when in reality we do not. This truth is too important for that, and it would be a betrayal of this truth if the church were to hide itself behind resolutions and pious so-called Christian principles, when it is called to look the truth in the face and once and for all confess its guilt and ignorance.

Indeed, such resolutions can have nothing complete, nothing clear about them unless the whole Christian truth, as the church knows it or confesses that it does not know it, stands behind them. Qualified silence might perhaps be more appropriate for the church today than talk which is very unqualified.

For though our battle is not against flesh and blood, it must be met here and now—as we partake in the flesh and blood of Christ. May every prayer, every word, and every action stream from the heart God is sanctifying within us.

Do not let my heart incline to any evil. — Psalm 141.4

Our best-laid principles betray us. “Tolerance becomes a demand for acceptance, humility is supplanted by moral certainty, and patience loses to outrage,” John Inazu laments. The law professor shares his vision for “modest unity,” even in the face of what seems like unyielding opposition:

I am hopeful. And one reason is that the American experiment in pluralism, for all of its failures and shortcomings, has actually worked well for much of our nation’s history. This is not the first time we’ve confronted deep racial tensions, divergent views of morality, religious difference, or course rhetoric. In many ways the success of the American political experiment has always required finding and maintaining a modest unity against great odds.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Today’s Reading
Joel 1 (Listen – 2:59)
Psalms 140-141 (Listen – 2:44)

 

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