Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
I’m really, really feeling this reading from Joel. If you’re not using Joel, I’m mostly wondering why not (but also scroll down for some thoughts on Matthew)?
I had a nightmare last week about a nuclear attack – I can still feel the sonic boom that rushed through me a few seconds before I woke up, terrified, wondering if my dream was just a dream or an omen of things to come. Like so many others, I feel that day of gloom and shadow coming in my bones and in my blood. I wake up most days wondering what the hell might be next.
We are all feeling it. Though we fear different things, one feeling I think most Americans share is fear. Fear, rage, dread: these feelings are spreading like a virus. This virus doesn’t get a CDC warning or time on the news (the news is, in fact, a contagion), but it is taking more lives than the dreaded Coronoa virus or the annual flu. Yet, the shadow overtaking us has yet to block out the sun; most of us know this is going to get worse.
Our fields have not been laid to waste, but far too many know starvation both of their bodies and their souls. Some are starved for food, some for justice (and often these people are one in the same).
So what are we to do as we await the days to come? Gnash our teeth? Freeze in fear? Rend our clothing?
No, no, this is not the solution.
God invites us to return to them. Calling, always calling us back to the source, to our source, to love and be loved. Look at this language! We aren’t being called back so God can scream at us or punish us (which too often seems to be how Lent leaves people feeling). We are being called back to God in our tears and mourning for a holy time. Called to fast (and we know what kind of fast God chooses, at least according to Isaiah). Called to gather together in a sacred (as one translation I found defined asarah) assembly. We are called to come together for sacred time of repentance.
Too often we don’t talk about how amazingly sacred repentance is. We have managed to frame it in a way that people feel like it is a chore and led people to equate repentance with shame. But here’s the thing: we *get* to repent. We get to sit in the loving presence of God and one another to take a good hard look at our lives so that we might see where we have gone wrong, apologize, make amends, and life differently. We have a blessed opportunity to be made new.
This Lenten season we have the opportunity to sit and reflect on how our racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and all of the other ways we harm others casts a shadow over everything: us, those we hurt directly with our misplaced anger and fear, our communities, our government and on and on. We can sit in God’s loving care and tell God all of the ways we have messed up and we will be held and loved and given the love and the grace to change our behavior as we move forward.
In this time when everything feels so fraught, when we are so mad and afraid we can’t even see what we might need to apologize for or how we might be playing a part in the shadow that is coming over us, we, like the people here in this reading, are being called back to God. We are being called by the voice of love to sit in the sanctified presence of each other and the holy one that we might rest. That we might let our nervous systems calm enough to feel where we are holding the pain and tension in our bodies, to see what part we are playing in the coming of the shadow over the sun, and to repent that we might be different.
We get to remind our people of this call and this space of rest and renewal. And that, dear ones, is sacred.
If you’re not using Joel, I offer a few thoughts on this passage from Matthew that we read every year on the same day we put crosses on our foreheads to walk around displaying our piety (this will never not strike me as weird).
For so many of us, our power comes from what we hold over someone else. We are deeply invested in self-esteem, which is usually the ability to feel good about ourselves in comparison with others, instead of self-compassion or radical self-love, the knowledge that we are intrinsically worthy of love. What if that’s what Jesus is talking about here. What if Jesus is calling us out for defining ourselves (our faith in particular) on the basis of what someone else is doing. What if Jesus calls us to pray in the closet and to give in silence to strip away that competitive, power over way of defining ourselves and to have us understand that our relationship with God is about us and not anyone else.
So many of our problems come out of the perpetuation of the power-over model of understanding our worth and the fearful, violent reactions people have when those they thought they had power over – women, Black folk, Native folk, immigrants, queer folk, etc – are moving out from underfoot. When you have been consciously or unconsciously considering yourself worthy and powerful on the merits of who you are above and those people start burning down obstacles and catching up, your very worth is suddenly called into question.
God wants something different for us. God wants us to not measure ourselves against one another as a means of understanding our worth. We are worthy because God sees us, God sees our efforts; we are worthy because we are.
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This is the Revised Common Lectionary sermonizing archive.