3/15 Lesson

Beloved,

Let me first say that it breaks my heart to not have the chance to see you all this week and worship God together as a family. Our family fellowship/communal worship time on Sunday mornings is something to be cherished and valued highly. It is in recognition of this that I am greatly appreciative of the leadership that God has given our church family, in the form of our Deacon board. Canceling Sunday morning services is not something we do lightly, but this week we do it for a good cause. We face uncertain circumstances and none of us find ourselves uniquely qualified to give clear and correct answers. The best we can hope to do in a time like this is pray, trust in God and seek to be for others to the best of our abilities. This is why we will sacrifice a truly meaningful communal time this week, in the interest of others.

Our government and schools, acting off of information from the disease experts, are seeking to disrupt the spread of the covid19 virus by “flattening the curve”. This means limiting large group gathers in an effort to limit the number of paths the virus has to spread. We as a church are putting time and energy into being good neighbors to Norwood School next door and the community around us. So, for at least this week, we will join in the effort to minimize the spread. In doing so we sacrifice something valuable in an effort to show that our neighbors’ lives and livelihoods are important to us as well. In this Lenten season, God has presented His church with a unique opportunity to live perpetually for others, to make daily decisions that value the lives of others, and to sacrifice in areas we don’t expressly “have to” for the sake of others.

Let me also make it clear that canceling services is not a concession to fear. We are called many times in scripture; up to 365 times (one for every day of the year) to not fear. This is a call we have every desire to follow. We know that God is in control and that as children of the One True King that even death has lost its victory (1 Cor. 15:55). That even death is not something to be feared, to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).  We hope that in this decision we are acting in love and putting our trust firmly in God to lead us when the correct course of action is unclear. We do apologize if our canceling caused a negative response for you, we do not wish to add to the fear or panic. Know definitively Beloved that we are not afraid of the virus, we simply wish to do everything in our power to be for our neighbors in uncertain times. Church leadership will meet again this upcoming week and make decisions about gatherings going forward. Please be careful and reach out if you need anything or have any concerns.  

Be Joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer Romans 12:12

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Jacob

“Rend”

Beloved, this morning we enter the fourth week of our Lent series on being emptied of the things that distract, deceive and blind us, so that we may be filled with Christ. However, we enter this week differently than the last few, we enter in our own homes. But still beloved we must faithfully continue down our Lenten journey together. We must continue the undesirable work of praying for clarity and coming to terms with our sin in light of Christ’s perfection. This morning we meditate on a passage from Old Testament prophet Joel. I provided a link to the Bible Project’s overview video on the book of Joel, I recommend you watch it now for better context and understanding of this morning’s passage.

                                      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQLazbgz90c "Overview: Joel" By The Bible Project

Our Passage for this morning is Joel 2:12-13. “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.

We find ourselves in a season of repentance, a season that matches the tone of this passage. For some of us God has shown a light on sins and comforts in our lives, these things coming to light has led to shame. For others the Lent season has been fairly surface level, mostly going through the motions. Others find themselves somewhere in the middle. Wherever you find yourself this morning know that God’s word through the prophet Joel is true, “Even Now” you can, and you should return to the Lord.

Joel uses the language of “Rending” our hearts. Rend is not a word we use often in modern conversation. It means to rip or tear, some translations say, “tear your hearts.” It was commonplace for people who were mourning or repenting to tear (rend) their clothing as a visible sign of their sorrow. Joel tells God’s people that God desires not outward signs but inward conviction. Does the sin we find when we take inventory of our lives break (tear) our hearts?

To be clear God is not looking for his people to live in shame. But rather to recognize their sin as wrong and in need of fixing. The language of Rend is rough around the edges. Think of tearing a piece of fabric, all the jagged edges torn and mangled. It’s far from clean or manageable. God is asking his people, in the light of his mercy and goodness to see how broken their sin is.

Shame is a byproduct of misplaced hope in ourselves. Shame often sees sin as a problem that needs to be hidden until we can fix it. Rending our hearts admits the messiness of sin and tells God we need you to mend us. This posture and acceptance can only come in the light of God’s mercy and goodness. He is faithful to mend us when we earnestly desire it.

“He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love”, which Joel quotes, is repeated several times in the Old Testament but comes originally from God’s willingness to forgive the Israelites when they created the golden calf (Gen. 34-36).  Much like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness we sometimes lose our way and place our hope in lesser things, in gods of our own or of society's making.

If we are to pursue the call of lent to emptying ourselves and being filled with God, then beloved we must desire God more than the lesser gods we fill ourselves with. God is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, He is willing to mend our torn hearts and fill us with his spirit, but we must actually want it more than the comfortable sins we enjoy. Beloved we find ourselves this morning in uncertain times, times that require reliance on God. When you pray for protection and calming the panic, will you also pray for God to break your hearts? To show us how broken everything else is in light of His grace and mercy?

 Beloved, at the bottom I also provided a link to a song by Jimmy Needham entitled “Rend”. I ask that you listen to it and reflect on the sins in your life that need to break your heart so that God can mend it. Do not take this as a message of condemnation or sorrow, for God is faithful to restore us when we repent and ask him earnestly. Apart from God, our sin meets us in denial or in shame, but in light of God’s grace our sin tears our hearts and then because we cannot do it ourselves, God mends us.

Beloved if you have time this week read Romans 8 and 9:1-5. See how in response to a beautiful declaration of God’s love the Apostle Paul’s heart breaks for those who do not know that love. His heart breaks to the point of wishing to switch places with them. If we are to be the light in the world, the agents of reconciliation that God has called us to be, we must be able to see the beauty of God’s grace and love. We must also be able to see the desperation of sin whether it is in our lives or the lives of others.

                                     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVk0p4x4j7Y  "Rend" by Jimmy Needham