Return

December 4, 2016 – Advent 2 – Joel 2:12-13, 28-29

Here’s the Facebook live video of the sermon: click right here

Here’s the audio of the sermon.

Here’s the written version of the sermon:

It was our return flight home from Chicago just last month. I was with Nan Crary and Jill Springer and we returning from a church event for new congregations. I don’t fly regularly, and I always forget the systems in place that remind me that I don’t fly regularly. First class and reward members and the Gold standard go here, go first, get an extra half inch of leg room. Well, preparing for this return flight, I made it into the pre-check line through security. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in this line and I don’t know how I was selected for the line, but the guy told me and so I went. There was no one in front of me and I couldn’t find the bins where you put all your worldly possessions including your shampoo and your shoes. I’m beginning to take my computer out of its case as the woman at this particular station smiles widely at me and says “you don’t have to do that.” And I exclaim, “there aren’t any bins! Where are the bins?” And she said to me, “You’re in pre-check, honey. Just come on through.” What!?

Today, it’s as if the prophet Joel is running airport security. Return, he says, quoting the Lord. Return with all your heart. That’s it. That’s all we’re told to bring. Put away your laptop, lady. Just bring your heart. There is no mention of lines to get in or bins to load up or I.D to show. In fact, return, no matter the state of your heart. Bring your grief and anger. Bring it all. And don’t just bring it, break it open. Rend your heart. Tear it open for the Lord. Be at your most vulnerable with the Lord. Lay it all bear. Bring your whole heart. The whole crooked, messy, dark, cracked, broken heart.

Which sounds awful, right? To be so vulnerable and exposed before God? That sounds awful. Because to return is to repent. And repenting breaks your heart open. It shakes your heart awake to the fact that it has gone cold and it has left the God it is tuned to love. Repenting is to realize your loves have gotten all out of order. Sin is disordered love. And returning with a heart torn open, well then, the Holy Spirit has something to work with.  As Glennon Doyle Melton says *[book cover]“I came from love and I am love and I will return to love…”[1]

To return is to be open to who God is and to know that no amount of security measures will keep God from loving you, forgiving you. Don’t wait to return only when you’ve got it all figured out. Don’t wait to return until your life is neat and tidy. The point of returning to the Lord is to arrive in a heap of a mess. Because when we are left to loving and forgiving, we create lines and classes and order and bins and surveillance. God does away with the lines and the screening and the ID check and the bins. And instead, God tells us the only thing we need to bring are our broken open hearts and we will be met by a God who is gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Now, says Joel. ReturnThen afterward, says Joel.

Well then what’s going to happen? What happens after we return and tear open our hearts for the Lord? It’s when the Holy Spirit gets down to work– now that our hearts are broken open, now that there’s blood pumping through them again. The Holy Spirit gets creative and, as Joel says your sons and your daughters will become prophets of God and they will tell you what it is supposed to be like when God lives right there in your heart. And then Joel goes on to say that there will be dreams dreamed like you’ve never dreamed before, not even in your wildest dreams. And you’ll wake up, blinking in wonder that there is no line, no bins, no pre-screening.

And, says Joel, there will be visions, wispy and real visions all at the same time of what life is like when we have returned to a life with God. This powerful Holy Spirit will work in your heart and in your life and nothing will ever be the same.

We are dis-membered, aren’t we? Separated into lines, parties, classes, races, neighborhoods, by grades and gender.

Yet, you are re-membered by God. Never forgotten, but God re-assembles us, puts our broken, bleeding hearts back together not because we have passed through security successfully or because we got all the stuff in the right bins. No. God re-members us because God is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love. So return with your heart broken open for God. You’re in pre-check honey. Come on through.

Thanks be to God.

[1] Love Warrior p.223

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