“Is Our Holiness and Piety Showing, Yet?”
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday; we admit that. But today, this first Sunday is when many people become more aware of the season. If there are rituals to be adopted, they will often begin today. So, we are on the brink again, or still, or even for the first time, of the journey. That’s why we begin with promise; we begin with covenant.
Of course, you think, there are lots of promises in the Bible. That is true, but the variety of gifts and encouragements and equipping all stem from the singular promise of presence. “Best of all, God is with us,” as John Wesley supposedly said on his deathbed. We can, of course, and should, enumerate some of these manifestations of the promise of presence throughout the series, but here we focus on that simple and profound truth: God is with us; we are not alone.
There is a Word from both OT reading’s of today. And I might add, not. Just a Word, but a powerful Word of restoration, of righteousness and of justice. It speaks to the nature and ways of the LORD!
The Prophet Joel shouted and preached:
2:1 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 …
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
What these words are telling and informing us is that we(collectively-or-individually) cannot stand before the presence of God, in the sight of God if we are to continue to do that which is unacceptable in the sight and presence of God…
This then is venturing into the preverbal “though shall not, thou are not to,” it is about those things that hurt and abuse persons, it’s about that which has driven some away, hurt many and keep others away from formal association with the church.
It is within this context that the church and rightfully so I will add, has been called and too often confirmed historically by its actions, or non-actions to be both “judgmental and hypocritical.” That is Professing, saying and preaching one thing, then doing or accepting behavior that affirms something is amiss in Christ Jesus we encounter in the Bible.
Mahatma Gandhi When asked his thoughts about Jesus Christ and Christianity, once responded;
“I truly like and greatly appreciate the Jesus I encounter in the Bible…But if it weren’t for the Christians I’ve encountered, I’d consider being a Christian”
Apartheid in South Africa, Segregation in America, it is recorded that Gandhi had been denied entrance into a church early in his life because he was not white. Our church, the Methodist church split in 1856 over the issue of slavery, re-uniting in 1939 but casting nearly all Black congregations into a non-geographic singular “Central Conference.”
Not God, but those who claim to represent God have acted in some brutal and reprehensible manner. From supporting slavery and segregation, to failing to stop or condemn over six-thousand lynching’s of men, women and children.
It was just in 1995 that the Southern Baptist Convention one of our nation’s largest denominations, adopted a resolution to renounce its racist roots and apologized for its past defense of slavery , segregation, and white supremacy.
The church has often failed to live up to adherence to the Word, Will and nature of God Almighty.
If indeed as our sacred Scriptural texts proclaim; “God said, ‘Let us create them both male and female in our image,’ and then breathed “Ruach”(the spirit) and the breath of life and they became embodied beings. If we truly believe that, then we must live that, must reflect that in all aspects of our faith walk.
What does that exactly like in our faith walk, we walk with grace, we walk with concern, care, and compassion. What did the prophet Micah preach about concerning what God wants from each of us;?
Micah asked; “With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
God’s response to the prophets question;
“The LORD has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what exactly does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8)
In short, or in summary, our walk in this life as baptized professed followers of Christ Jesus persons ought to see our Holiness, I ask you therefore is our piety and holiness showing?
We all must repent, especially we Christians. Repent comes the root Greek word “META” which means amid, with the exercise of our mind, meaning engagement with an understanding we act.
Not being a holier than thou, not being judgmental nor condensing, hurtful, or haughty, but humbled, thankful and appreciative for all that God has done, given and provided in your life and living.
The theology of our church holds that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of; Scripture-Tradition-Experience-Reason, these serve as both foundational guiding principles for our understanding and practice of what it means to be a Christian.
Scripture; The Word of God primary and authoritive…
Tradition: What are the true teachings of Christendom over the millenniums, that tradition has transmitted down to us…
Experience: What has the informed collected experience of Christian life, living and creation given and taught us
Reason; With God’s creation gift of free-will, and agency how has and what and how does our rational minds of reason shape and inform us in all that we are as beings created in the “Imago Dei” the image of God…
It is these four Christian concepts and principles that we arrive at, and
apply the terms “Holiness and Piety” to our lives and our living. The
words of Joel today set before us a call to not only repent, but to prepare to enter the presence of the LORD with our hearts humbled, open and receptive the word, will and nature of God. Let us now re-visit those challenging and charged words:
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…
sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly… gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants…
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?'”
To make this point more focused as we enter this season of Lent, to remind us, to keep us in an apperceived and again humbled attitude I want to close with some the words from the prophet Isaiah, who spoke to his people concerning their needing to be reminded how to be when approaching the LORD.
I think those words of caution and concern are very appropriate for us as we prepare and approach Easter.
et day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.
58:4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
God declares; Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
58:8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
58:9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
58:11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
We dearly Beloved find ourselves at an “in-between time” as well as a time when we are presented with both great peril, and great opportunity. Let our “Piety and Holiness” be shown, not to tear-down, not to hurt, nor condemn, but to build-up.
To glorify God, to care for those who suffer, those who seek a better way, those hurting, mourning and in need of hope…
As we move through Lent, preparing for Easter, let us not forget there are those we shall encounter who need to know, to realize the love, grace, mercy and assurance of God.