[#pictureLent] Feb. 20: Return to God

By Jack Ladd
Gray Memorial UMC, Tallahassee, FL

First, Read Joel 2:12-14

“Return to the Lord your God.” For me, this statement is a hard edge cutting right into me. It is like someone is pointing their finger at me and demanding that I go to my room, and come back when I’m ready to change my ways. I hear the difficult word “repentance” between the lines of this statement. That word, to me, demands that I critique myself and change my flaws. It is not very inviting to a relationship with God for me.

Repentance, though, at the heart of what the word means, does envision a return to God - to God’s mercy, compassion, patience, love, and forgiveness. The prophet Joel envisions hearts turned back to God, because that is what God wants - our very hearts, and all they have to offer. Whatever is in our hearts this Lenten season, God wishes and envisions them being turned back to God. God yearns for us.

The prophet Joel imagined the Israelites, called for them, to turn their hearts to God at that very moment. As the passage continues (and chapter 1 began), Joel depicts a plague of locusts coming upon them. Surely the time was imminent to turn their hearts to God. Joel called for them to turn their hearts to God with fasting, weeping, and mourning, that is to say - with honesty, sincerity, and focus.

We, too, are called to turn to God, and away from what plagues us. This, brothers and sisters, is an invitation to God’s loving, graceful, merciful, and compassionate embrace. God knows what plagues us, what hardens our hearts, and asks for us all the same. This blesses us, if only we say yes to God’s invitation.

We are asked to return to God. This depicts much more than a finger-pointing God who is obsessed with our flaws. This invitation imagines a God who yearns for us, and a people who would say yes to God. To “return” to something, one has to assume that a previous relationship existed.

The Israelites were God’s covenant people, and their time came to return to God. We, brothers and sisters, have reached the time to accept God’s invitation back to the fullness of relationship with God. Now is the time.

Prayer: Lord, Thank you for your mercy, for you are kind and tend to our needs.
Thank you for your compassion, for you know and care for the deepest parts of our souls.
Thank you for your patience, for your love remains steadfast, even if we do not.
Thank you for your faithful love, for you believe in us when we don’t deserve it.
And thank you for your forgiveness, which is made clear by your pursuit of us and invitation to us to return to you.
May we answer yes to you.
May we have the courage to overcome what plagues us, through your strength, and through your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Discussion Questions

  1. The Israelites were told of a plague of locusts that served as a warning to turn to God. What sort of danger is in store for you if you do not turn to God? What plagues you?

  2. What are ways you have seen God’s mercy, compassion, patience, faithful love, and forgiveness in your life or in the life of someone around you?

  3. What does “returning to God” look like for you?