Tuesday Scripture - Joel 2:15-16
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16 gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the aged;
gather the children
So we have established that we cannot pinpoint accurately what the disaster that Joel witnessed actually was. Yesterday I suggested that the point is not so much that we discover what Joel's disaster was as much as we learn from his example to face the challenges of our time with faith and courage instead of ignoring or dismissing them. In today's reading from the second chapter of Joel, we see his response to this disaster. He calls the people to worship.
Perhaps that seems an obvious choice. He is a prophet of God. But maybe it isn't an obvious choice. Not in our time and place particularly. One of the new realities for churches in our time is that regular attendance to worship is not the given it once was. Sunday morning is no longer time for worship like it used to be. On the one hand, that is because we seem to be much busier now with more demands on our time. Sporting events for our children often crowd into Sunday mornings as do family events. And to be fair, for many Sunday is the only day of leisure that a family can have and getting up for worship at church just isn't a priority. So younger families consider attending church once or twice a month to be adequate, which is not how many of us were raised. And we will all face the choice of Sunday morning worship this year as Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. Some churches will simply cancel worship.
My point isn't to inspire guilt or to fan the flames of shame. But it is to highlight the fact that for Joel, the first response to social trauma, to challenges and difficult times, was to gather the people together for worship. For Joel at least, worship still meant something, something vital and irreplaceable and important. The importance of worship has been a theme running in the background in the last two sermons as well. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah offer their prophetic warnings in the context of worship. Each offers a prophetic warning about worship. Worship is deemed ineffective and therefore rejected by God because worship does not inspire justice in society. Which begs the question, What is worship for?
Joel's assumption is that worship will re-orient what is disoriented in Judah. What has gone wrong, which we can assume is Judah's lack of covenant faithfulness, can be righted when the people are re-oriented to God. And worship is that orientation. Jeremiah and Isaiah point out that going through the motions of worship accomplishes nothing. It seems that we must go into the time and space of worship expecting and inviting reorientation. Or, more specifically, worship isn't simply an exercise in nostalgia or a moment of peace. Worship is also a challenge and an invitation. It is an unsettling moment in which we are confronted by the ways in which we are shaped more by the world than the word of God. And it is an invitation to repent, to change direction, to come back to the will and way of God. I begin my preparation for each sermon by asking how the scripture unsettles and challenges me personally. I force myself to sit with that challenge. But then I also ask how the scripture inspires and encourages me to grow and change. And I savor that healing. Which is how our verses for the week and for today, can shape us all.