Return to the Lord Your God
Today in our chapel service at Concordia Publishing House were were blessed by a sermon delivered by Rev. Hector Hoppe, Senior Editor of our Multilingual Department. I am passing it along to you.
Ash Wednesday – February 22, 2012
Text: Joel 2:12-14
12 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.
14 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?
You may have heard the expression: “Look what you have done!” This expression may bring you some memories. I can recall my mother saying that, not to me but to the wild dog we had at home when he messed up my mother’s plants. . . . She also said it sometimes to my brother. . . . When we hear this expression we may want to run away, because we don’t like to see the wrong we did or because we know we will get punished.
Did you know that the expression: “Look what you have done!” appears more than 1000 times in the Old Testament? I doesn’t appear exactly with all these words, but rather as a single word: “Return” or “Repent.”
During this Lenten season God is calling us to repent, to look at what we have done; to look at what we have done with the gifts that he gave us, to look at what we have done with the resources that he gave us; to look at what we have done with our lives, at what we have done in our relationships. God is calling us today to look at the ways we have despised his Word, and to look at the ways we have offended him with our sinful thinking and our sinful deeds.
Now, look at what you have done, and tell me if you don’t want to run away from God. Look deep in the secret places of your heart, and remember that your Father in heaven sees in secret, as Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount. What will the heavenly Father see in the secret places of your heart? Something that will make you run away?
You and I are no different than the Israelites to whom the prophet Joel addresses these words. In chapter 1, Joel tells the people of God that there is an impending locust plague that is going to hit the land. Punishment is on its way! Punishment for what they have done!
It is in this context that the words of Prophet Joel are spoken. “Return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” God is calling us to return to him, not to run away from him. It doesn’t matter what we have done. We cannot hide anything from him; he knows exactly what is in the secret places of our heart. It is for this reason that God expects us to rend our hearts. That hurts. It doesn’t hurt us when we rend our garments, because garments are just stuff. Our hearts, on the other hand, are precious. Our garments cannot hide any of our secrets before God. Besides, Jesus died to mend our hearts, not our garments.
The words that follow make this call from God look more like an invitation. “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful.” Why run away from a God that is gracious and merciful? Can you see how God, after saying, “Look what you have done,” invites you generously, “Come, because I am ‘slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love’?”
When God calls us to look deeply inside us, it is because he wants us to see how much we need him. He also calls us to look at him to see how much he cares for us.
The season of Lent calls us also to “Look what God has done!” He has done everything for us. He didn’t spare even his only Son in order to bring us back to him! He is not a vengeful God, but a God that is “slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” He is a God that leaves “a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering.” Jesus ascended into heaven after conquering sin, evil, and death, but he has left behind a blessing: His Word and the sacraments. In the grain offering and the drink offering, the Lord Jesus himself is there, to forgive us, to embrace us, to accept us the way we are, to assure us of his love. What a blessing the Holy Supper is, that grain and drink offering that Jesus left behind for us.
There is no better blessing than God’s Word. Sometimes we count as blessings the Christian friends that we have close to us, our families, the congregations we are part of, our jobs, our good health, but when all these are gone, we are still blessed by God because we have the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life.
Luther explains in just a few words what it is to be blessed: “Let it happen that others are rich and we poor, they powerful and we weak, they happy and we sad, they admired and we despised, they alive and we dead, they everything and we nothing—what of it? . . . You have God’s Word; they don’t!” [TLSB note for Psalm 147:20].
Count your blessings this season of Lenten by looking at what you have done and by looking at what God has done for you in his Son Jesus. Amen.