Pastor's Desk June 2020
How often have you been given the opportunity to begin again? How often have you been able to "wipe the slate clean" and to start over? Not many of us are given the opportunity to learn as Scrooge did and to begin life anew. In his case, three spirits came to set him straight before it was too late. Such happens only in stories, we say. Real life does not offer us such possibilities. Yet such is not the case, for as Christians we believe that God offers us time and again opportunities for repentance and renewal, opportunities to become new persons, changed persons, different persons. The Bible tells us time and again that life is not a closed system controlled by fate nor presided over by a vengeful deity who does not allow for mistakes.
On the contrary! The God whom we worship is a God, one of whose chief attributes is described by the Hebrew word, "hessed", translated as "mercy, faithfulness, steadfastness." Our God is a God who time and again calls us to begin anew, to start over.
All of us know of persons who have been given such opportunities. Witness the man or woman who is told that he or she has a deadly disease and might not live. But low and behold something miraculous happens and they are cured. Something happens in that process which often turns their life around and they become new persons, different persons. They were given an opportunity to begin life anew! Yes, indeed, we can begin again!
The prophet Joel speaks a word of newness and hope to his people long ago. He spoke a word to people who were confident of their own self-worth; a people who thought they knew who and what they were. To this people, Joel speaks a word of judgment and hope; a word which calls them to stop, look, and listen, to take stock of themselves and then to make changes. He tells them that they must turn around, repent, and start again. The time is coming, he says, when the alarm will sound, when the trumpet will be blown. "The day of the Lord is coming, it is near." It will be a time of judgment for this smug and self-satisfied people.
Fortunately, there is time to change. There is time to turn around from smug self-satisfaction to the God who created you. There is still time. "Yet even now" says 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 2:12-13a). Nothing, though, will happen unless you make a decision to be different.
It will take more than an outward show, though; more than mere pious thoughts and ceremonies, although outward signs are important: "Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people." (Joel 2: 15-16a) You must move beyond the outward to the inward person; to the heart which the ancient Hebrews felt was the seat of the true self. There must be an inward as well as an outward change.
What was important then is still important. God calls on each and every one of us to begin anew, to turn around, to make changes in our lives which will issue in new people. Like Dickens' Scrooge, we can begin again. We can change, live new lives surrounded by God's faithful mercy and love.
Jesus continues to offer an opportunity to begin again, to start over, to turn to God with heart and mind and soul. We can use this time of the year to take stock of ourselves, to look deeply into those inner recesses of the heart, soul and mind, to work at change, always remembering that what we accomplish is done so only by the grace of God; the amazing grace which supports and upholds each and every one of us on our earthly pilgrimage.
Grace and Peace,