Where is Your God? Thoughts for Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

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.

12 Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13     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.
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?
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16     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.
17 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?’”

We begin the Lenten journey once more. There are a number of biblical texts laid out for us by the creators of the Lectionary. Among them is this reading from Joel 2. The closing phrase raises a question for God. Why should the world ask us "Where is your God?" The prophet had called for a gathering of the people to hold a holy fast. "Blow the trumpet" he shouts on behalf of God. It is a call to repentance. Let everyone come from the youngest to the oldest and seek God's forgiveness, that the congregation might be sanctified.

I pick up on that last statement -- "Where is your God?" -- because it seems so apropos for our day. The world asks of us -- where is your God? They are wondering what we're up to? Are we merely a social club?  We live in a largely demythologized world. The sacred is suspect. We can't just depend on culture to undergird the religious community. It doesn't matter how loud we shout, if there is no evidence of the Spirit in our lives, then our religious protestations will fall on deaf ears.

I think that's what Joel is saying. Return to the Lord. Repent, that is, turn around, and come back to me, for I am gracious and merciful.  We can mark ourselves with ashes, but there is need for more. Repentance requires a change of life. So we gather, seeking to inhabit our confession, so we might live as ones who have been reconciled to God and to God's people. For, why should the people wonder "Where is your God?"


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