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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Joel 2:1–2, 12–17

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 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? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (NRSV)

The prophet Joel proclaimed that the nation was ruined. Those darn locusts ate everything. The ground mourned, the animals groaned, the people’s joy withered—because the crops were destroyed, the fruit trees barren, the granaries empty, the riverbeds dried up, the trees and pastures burned to the ground. And it was going to get worse. The “day of the Lord” was coming—a day of darkness and gloom because a vast, destructive army was approaching.

Joel called his people to sound the alarm, to tremble before God, to lament and to repent, to cry out to God in their dire need. Joel urged them to rend their hearts, to fast with weeping and mourning. Why? Because he believed all this woe was from God’s hand, punishment for their unrighteous living. He also believed God might turn and relent in compassion and pity for the people if they returned to God. Because—as I often quote in the Assurance of Forgiveness in worship: “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

I don’t believe mudslides and forest fires, droughts and war, happen at God’s direction to punish us. I do believe creation suffers as a consequence of humanity’s unrighteous living. God calls us to examine what is making the earth heat up and dry up and then to work to decrease climate change. God calls us to examine what is increasing tensions between our nation and other nations and then to seek greater understanding. God shows us compassion by giving us opportunities to turn around. Our hope in the future is found in God’s love and mercy.

We lament our destructive ways, gracious God. We turn to you for forgiveness, for help, for guidance, for strength to make amends. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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