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Hearts Must Be Broken

00:00 / 16:29

14 Feb 2024

Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2,12-17

“The day of the LORD is coming; it is near…”

- Context of reading from Joel

- National and religious calamity: locusts, drought, possible invasion. Locusts: no wine and grain, therefore no offerings in Temple.

- National and religious calamity linked. National and religious poverty.

- Why? Not a huge detail in Joel but the implication is national apostasy, lack of care for things of God.

Awake, you drunkards, and weep,

and wail, all you drinkers of wine,

because of the sweet wine,

for it is cut off from your mouth.

Joel 1:5

“Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests;

wail, O ministers of the altar.

Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God!

Because grain offering and drink offering

are withheld from the house of your God.”

Joel 1:13

- Implication: priests not taking their role seriously. Nation, not receiving spiritual leadership, gets drunk and revels.

- Notice corporate dimension: This is happening together. We are connected to one another, socially, economically, and spiritually. Do not forget this corporate dimension during Lent: seeking individual and corporate renewal.

What corporate renewal are we seeking?

- Parallels between ancient Judah and the present day.

- Let judgement begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). The Church must take responsibility.

- CofE institutional crisis. Church Commissioners with billions of pounds in central funds, dioceses haemorrhaging money. Churches closed and amalgamated. Numbers of worshippers declining rapidly. Rev’d Marcus Walker: “doom spiral” - reduced numbers, less money, fewer clergy, reducing numbers etc.

- Walker also: continuing controversy over child abuse scandal, lack of transparency in process.

- As we approached the season of Lent, considerable controversy caused by Canterbury Cathedral’s “90s silent disco”. Drinking, singing, dancing in thousand year-old church, place of martyrdom of Thomas Beckett.

- Parallel between Joel and our day? Lack of devotion to God. Drunkenness and revelling. National and spiritual decline.

- Grain and wine cut off for worship in Judah and Jerusalem. Bread and wine lacking in our churches due to lack of money and clergy.

- “The day of the LORD”: God’s judgment for sin and indifference.

“Return to me with all your hearts…”

- “The day” is one of hope. Why?

“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.”

Joel 2:13

- God accepts sincere repentance, longs to be reunited with us, as individuals, as a Church, as a nation.

“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 you God?”

Joel 2:14

- Why God leaving blessing of grain and drink?

- Relenting of locust attack, new crops to make grain and wine, therefore religious renewal in Temple.

- Not a certain promise but could be for CofE too: renewal of religious life due to God’s blessing. Bread and wine offered in sincere worship up and down the nation.

- From doom spiral to virtuous circle: devotion to Christ, to God’s blessing, to more resources for the church, to greater devotion to Christ.

- But this must start with us, even if only a few.

How do we return?

“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord,

‘Return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

and rend your hearts and not your garments.’”

Joel 2:12

- God seeks hearts, not outward display for him or others.

- Warned by Christ in Sermon on the Mount:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…

“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:1, 17-18

- “Rend your hearts and not your garments” - more important that hearts are broken than garments torn, than religious symbols taken on.

- Religious observance signs of deep repentance and desire for God in our hearts.

- Take the ash, but do so in sincerity of heart. Approach Lent in same way.

- Let our hearts be broken for our own sin, for our nation’s, and for our Church’s. Let us die to sin in the hope that we will once again live before Him.


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