Sermon:         Heart Call Scripture:       Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 Preacher:       Rev. Michael Bodger Location:        Bethel AME, DeLand Date:               February 14, 2018 Tonight we enter into a time of 40! The 40 days of Lent. It’s a number used frequently within the scriptures, in fact it’s used 146 times. But church beware, it’s a number that comes with both rewards and with warnings, it comes with trials and tribulations that abound. For 40 days and nights the rain fell and the earth was submerged and only Noah and his family survived with the animals. For 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness before they came to the Promised Land, and then there on the banks of the Jordan, they sent spies into the Promised land for 40 days to investigate, they came back and the people listened to the spies and not the voice of God for they were afraid, they rejected God’s plan and they wandered for 40 years more! Moses climbed high on Mount Sinai and spent 40 days with God, he brought back the 10 Commandments, and when he came down, the skin on his face was so radiant – it was too much for the people to bear. For 40 days, Goliath taunted the Israelites. Elijah went 40 days without food or water at Mount Horeb. The prophet Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days to symbolize Judah's sins (Ezekiel 4:6). 40 days, Jonah cried, 40 days more and Nineveh will be overthrown. The Ninevites heeded God’s warning in their hearts and God spared them and the expected judgment never came. 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted and he came through it all. Tempted by satan along the way, just as we are tempted today in our lives. Say mercy. Jesus, after he rose from the dead spent 40 days with the disciples and others, before returning to the right hand of the Father. The number 40, trial and tribulation. We stand on the threshold of 40 days sisters and brothers – will it be a time of warning, a time of reward, will it be both, because it cannot be neither! You heard our text already read to you this evening and it comes from the Old Testament, from the prophet Joel 2:1-2, 12-17. It’s a text that promises both warning and reward, not just for those that heard the prophet proclaim, but also for us today as we go about living life, as we enter into this Lenten Season. It’s a reminder as we get our ashes today of whose we are, were we have come from and were we will return.   Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! It’s a summons. People, troubles a coming – why, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near. The return of our Lord is as close to us today as the first coming was for the people of Joel’s time. The cry sounds out God’s intervention and interaction with all of God’s creation, it is near.   Later together we will hear the words, “from dust we came, to dust we will return.” We are all linked together as a part of God’s creation.   The people needed to hear the warning message, because of how they were living life and oh church, we so need to hear the same warning today.   The expectation of that day was that the Lord would come and judge all the nations in how they had treated Israel. It was to be a time of redemption and celebration for Israel, a return to glory. They were the ones who carried with them the blessing of God, they would be okay and Joel says absolutely NOT. In fact, because much has been given, much is expected and if the people have not done and been who they are supposed to be, then judgment will fall upon them. It is the same for us today. You see if we carry on where we are, when the Lord comes, it is not going to be pretty. In fact Joel tells us, 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. O Lord - may it not be – but its coming.   Have you watched the side of a mountain as the sun goes down. One minute it’s in brilliant sunshine, everything is illuminated, it is all bright and beautiful, all seems wonderful. Then the darkness comes, creeping up the side like a shadow. There is no stopping it. It sweeps up the mountainside until it covers it all – Joel says, such will be the great and powerful army of judgment that comes upon all. Nothing can prepare us, nothing is its equal, nothing like it has ever been seen before and it will never be seen again. Joel told those listening in his day, you’re not following God in your daily lives and living into what it means to worship the Lord your God and God alone, you have rejected God and when God comes, oh mercy, you better watch out.   Church, is that what is in store for us. Do we hear a message from Joel today or are we deaf to his words? Better be listening.   [1]Four year old Jason was visiting his grandparents. Grandpa was in his study intently watching a TV program. Jason walked in carrying a peach and he said something to grandpa, which grandpa didn’t quite hear as he was distracted and Jason handed him the peach. Grandpa, thinking his wife had sent him a snack, took the peach from Jason and ate it, while he continued to watch the program. So intent was he on the program that it distracted him from realizing that Jason was still there. Jason just stood there – if Grandpa had realized or turned his attention in the right direction, he would have noticed Jason’s eyes had been getting bigger and bigger as Grandpa ate and he would have seen the horrified look upon the boys face. Just as he swallowed the last bite, left with just the pit, Grandpa looked away from the TV and saw Jason’s lip quivering, quickly he asked why, wondering if the boy was okay? Pappy, said Jason, I didn’t want you to eat the peach, I just asked you to get the worm out?   Are we able to hear the message that Joel has for us today or are we too busy, too distracted, maybe even too distracted by working hard for God instead of listening to what God has to say, or doing the very things we are warned about, that prevent us from hearing what God has to say.   Do we even realize there is a worm in our midst, even after we have been told! Are we living into what God would have us do in this time and this place, in this community we call DeLand with our brother and sisters in Christ. Is our relationship with God close enough, that we can discern that what we are doing is God’s will and not our own? And who is it that guides our steps each and every day in the path we tread and the decisions we make? Is it God, is it ourselves, is it as Paul writes to the Corinthians, the ‘god of this world.’ Who does order our steps?   Clearly Joel tells the people of God, think about what it is God is saying, but then Joel continues.   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.   It’s a call to repentance to acknowledge our brokenness as well as our ultimate dependence upon God. Even now, despite everything, it is not too late. Church, bring your brokenness, bring your addictions, bring your hurts, bring the weight of your oppression, bring your burdens, bring your questions, bring your anger, bring your differences, bring everything that takes you away from the Lord your God and all that stands in the way of that relationship, but bring it with your heart in the right place. Your heart given over to God!   Return to me says God, for I want to be in relationship with you, despite who you are! Don’t give me outward signs, don’t bother me with your empty rituals, your outward shows of understanding and false expressions of your supposed love towards me.   Don’t stand like the Pharisees on the street corners to make sure others can see. No, as I call out to you says God and you realize your brokenness, don’t rip your clothes in a show of mourning or repentance, don’t give me a quick prayer, a Sunday worship service or two now and then, read a scripture here and there, give grudgingly to the church, for if you do, then I, the Lord your God take them for what they are – nothing in my sight. No, says God instead,   return to me with all your heart, rend your hearts unto me says the Lord our God.   that’s the language that God wants and understands and accepts brothers and sisters. God knows our falsehoods, God knows our pretense – we cannot hide from God. God says, express to me your actions from your hearts, your fasting, your weeping, your mourning – from your heart – I know if they are true and that alone is what counts with our God.   Rend your hearts, God is making a Heart Call – says Joel. The question is church, How are we going to respond? While we think about our response, while we are wrestling with all that has just been said, Joel says, remember, remember who the Lord, your God is. A God who is gracious, Amen A God who is merciful, a God who is slow to anger. Amen A God who is abounding in steadfast love and who relents from punishing.   This is the God whom alone we should worship and serve. This is the God who would walk alongside us. Who are we, humanity, that you are mindful of us O God?   And there is more, Joel in this whole process, tells us that it is God alone who judges. Who knows whether God will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?   In other words, who knows if God will restore your fortunes if you turn back to God, that you will once again have grain and drink to offer back to God in thanksgiving and gratitude. Only God.   We are not the ones to know, we are not the ones to be the judges of ourselves or of others, whether we are worthy or not. We are not the ones to determine who God will have mercy upon – Paul tells the Romans, God has mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy. Don’t take on the role of God for ourselves or with one another. Look to yourselves church, take the plank out of your own eyes and don’t be haughty towards others in spotting a speck in their eyes – oh no. Don’t go around thinking that you have it all together and are better than they are, that they are more sinful or think you know the mind of God. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – not one is an exception – save Jesus Christ. Amen And Joel says the cry is to go out to everyone, there is no one to be left out, all are to hear the call. The trumpet blast in Zion is for all peoples. Gather the peoples without exception. This is a communal summons. We are to look at ourselves, but we can only do so in the context of being in community. It is a cry to both the individual and to the community as a whole. The aged, the children, even infants at the breast, gather them all. There is no circumstance that can be found that those summoned should not leave – even those about to enter into marriage are to leave their places and come forth and the priests are to make intercession. The priests of old and the priesthood of all believers today, that’s you and me, it’s us. We are to cry out  - Spare your people O Lord. Spare your people!   The world is fallen, it is not a good place and may we by our actions not give voice to a skeptical, unbelieving world that scornfully mocks – ‘Where is their God?’ For if we do not live the lives we are called to live because of our relationship with God, then others can point to us and question the very presence and existence of the living God in our lives, whom we say we serve. Ohhhhh mercy.   [2]Peter Marshall, a pastor and then Chaplain to the Senate in the late 1940’s said this, If God does not enter your kitchen, there is something wrong with your kitchen. If you can’t take God into your recreation, there is something wrong with your play…. We all believe in the God of the heroic. What we need most these days is the God of the humdrum – the commonplace, the everyday.   God needs to be involved in every aspect of our lives. What’s more, when we have turned around and we are walking with our Lord. Then we are to become the voice of the prophet Joel in all the places we frequent, all the places that the Holy Spirit takes us to. We hear the voice of the prophet and then we become the voice of the prophet to this broken world. Let those who have ears hear God’s word.   Church, 40 days, 40 days in which to examine ourselves and our relationship with God. If it is not where it needs to be  - mm mm. 40 days to hear the Heart Call that God places upon our lives – because God wants to be in deep relationship with us. Sisters and brothers, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that when the 40 days are over, we are able to stand in the shadow of the empty cross, at the entrance to the empty tomb and say to all those who encounter us – there is our God. Amen Our God, who overcame the cross, our God who won victory over the grave and took the sting out of death, our God who is risen in Jesus Christ, our God who is not dead, but alive – and is with us every day of our lives and they can tell by our words and by our deeds that we dwell with our God, and that is where our God is. We have 40 days – don’t go running to that the empty tomb too fast, prepare, get ready, don’t go thinking that we have everything already in place, listen to Joel, 40 days to let others realize, for us to realize that we need to examine ourselves, we need to heed the Heart Call from God that Joel proclaims not just this day, but in all the days to come, ‘rend your hearts’ so that we, as church on Easter Sunday, can be the voice of the prophet for the days to come – and all of God’s people said. Amen.   Michael D. Bodger, M.Div. Pastor & Teaching Elder First Presbyterian Church 724 North Woodland Blvd. DeLand, Florida 32720  © 2018 Michael D. Bodger. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved. [1] 1001 Quotes, Illustrations, and Humorous Stories. Baker Books. 2008 by Christianity Today Intl. [2] 1001 Quotes, Illustrations, and Humorous Stories. Baker Books. 2008 by Christianity Today Intl.