Little is known about the Prophet Joel, who probably wrote these words that we heard in our first lesson tonight around 586BC. Yet with bold - even challenging - language for our modern ears to hear, Joel calls the people of Judah and Jerusalem to repent and return to the Lord during a time of national disaster (from the Introduction to the Book of Joel, ESV).
Mmmm...a time of national disaster...we don’t know anything about that, do we?
We do not know too much about the circumstances to which Joel is writing, yet perhaps this lack of circumstance may be helpful, in that it leaves room for us to hear Joel’s call to repentance as a call to consider our own lives, nation, and world, and where we have individually and collectively fallen short of the grace of God.
Indeed, each year on Ash Weds, as we begin our forty-day Lenten journey, we hear this scripture text from Joel calling us to repent, as well as this Gospel reading from Matthew that reminds us of the devotional value of prayer, fasting, and helping others (almsgiving). And as we embark on this forty day journey we are reminded to remember - to remember the things that really matter. Even as Matthew writes, “for where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”
It may be helpful to think about that word “treasure” as that thing or things about which we spend the most time thinking about. Is it our job or family? Our Xbox video game player or the next Netflix series we plan to watch? Is it sports? Is it politics or nursing a grudge against someone or something? Some of these things may not seem very treasure-like, yet if we are putting the bulk of our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual time into them, then we might as well make a pirate chest and call them our treasure, for indeed they are consuming us. Even good things like family and nation and world events can become consuming and out of balance.
Our hearts and minds and lives are called to treasure one thing, and one thing alone, and that is Jesus! And amazingly, when our hearts and minds and lives become more preoccupied with God and Jesus than anything else, we will find that we will gain the courage and the love and the wisdom and the capacity to face all of the other joys and challenges that life and nation and world will present.
Lent is a time of invitation, a time that invites us on an an invitational journey to prepare our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies. A journey to prepare to receive the good news of Christ’s resurrection, a journey made remembering that coming to know that God is revealing the good news of Jesus’ freely given love and mercy for us is precisely what makes us want to repent and change and make this journey homeward, allowing God and Christ to be seen again and understood once more in their rightful position in our lives: at the center.