Return to the Lord
“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”
Last week I was given the idea to invite the congregation of St. Ambrose into a 40-day period of prayer and preparation for Christmas - not counting the Sundays. Think of it as a parallel to Lent. Advent is supposed to be a “mini-Lent”, not quite so penitential as Lent, but still a time for self-examination and preparation. With making it a 40-day period, we are actually starting before the beginning of Advent.
Anyway, if you want to be part of the 40-day journey, day #1 is today.
And the first words we hear in the first (Old Testament) lesson for this day are: “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning...” (Joel 2:12)
In the aftermath of our national election yesterday, some are celebrating. It is also true that a huge portion of our country is weeping and in mourning. Just about everyone out there is saying that this has been the most divisive and polarizing campaign for President in history. What occurs to me is that whether you voted Republican or Democrat or Green or Libertarian, the Lord God is calling out to you, and to every single American: “Return! Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. Return to Me, for I am gracious and merciful and slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
Mourn all the mean and hateful things that have been said during this campaign. Mourn the fact that we seem to be a very divided nation right now. Mourn that we seem to have lost our ability to build some sort of consensus or compromise across party lines - for the common good. Mourn that so many different people - urban and rural, white, black, and brown, “legals” and “illegals”, wealthy and poor, faithful and those who profess no faith, young and old, straight and gay and lesbian and transgender... need I go on? - so many different people, at this moment, seem to be angry or sad or grieving or frightened or wondering if there is a place for them in this amazingly diverse nation of ours.
I have two reminders for you today: 1) No political party or political leader - on their own - is going to lead us to the Promised Land. 2) No political party or political leader - on their own - is going to keep us from getting to the Promised Land.
Here’s the third reminder: Only God can lead us to the Promised Land, because the Promised Land is God’s kingdom... God’s kingdom here on earth. God is the Architect and Master Designer of this kingdom. Only God has the perfect blueprints for what that kingdom looks like, so only God can lead us to it and usher us all - every single of us - through its gates.
That kingdom is not a Republican kingdom and it is not a Democratic kingdom. It is something that rises above both parties’ visions. Each political party and, indeed, all U.S. political parties, have a portion of the truth of what that kingdom looks like. But no party has all of the truth.
God’s vision for us... God’s kingdom... is more than we can ask for or imagine. Our dreams and goals are not big enough or grandiose enough, because our thoughts and dreams are not as grandiose and glorious as God’s dreams for us.
And so it is that we need to return to God, with all of our heart. Indeed, every single person - every single heart - needs to return to the Lord. For our salvation, our “future with hope” (see Jeremiah 29:11), and our transformation in consciousness are only going to happen... in God.
Will you make a new commitment over these next 40 days to return to God?
I hear God whispering. (God tends to whisper more than shout.) “Return to Me. Return to Me with all your heart.” I believe our future - if we want a glorious future, with liberty and justice for all - depends on our returning to God.