Return, Rend, & Receive

By Sharron R. Blezard, November 29, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent, Narrative Lectionary, Year Three

December 4, 2016

Lessons: Joel 2:12-13, 28-29; Luke 11:13

Theme: God’s people are called to return, to rend our hearts in repentance, and to receive the outpouring of God’s spirit. It’s a gift that never ceases to give, and it equips us to be faithful and generous folk.

Key Scripture: . . . 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. – Joel 2:13

Preaching/Teaching Reflection

This week’s Lectionary lessons remind me of watching the movie previews during a holiday outing to the theater. You get a little bit of character and a smidgen of plot, just enough to (hopefully) make you want to return to see the entire film. The risk, of course, is that the few minutes of teaser for the feature will fail to accomplish its goal of engaging the viewer enough to commit to returning and plunking down good money for yet another couple of hours. And so it is with these three short “previews” of the what God is up to in the world and in our lives.

We are given a call to action, called to return to God with our whole hearts. We are not to put on a display of repentance by rending our clothing in a public display but rather to do the hard work of breaking our hearts open, to lay our deepest selves naked and vulnerable at the altar of the Lord. It’s quite the drama; indeed, one that is more easily observed than enacted. Yet that is exactly what we are called to do. We must mourn, fast, and weep—not for show but because our hearts are broken and we can do nothing else but return to God.

How’s that for a killjoy way to start the second week of Advent? Yes, even as the consumer cycle continues to gear up, as the cookies are baked and decorated, and the decorations hit a festive note, we are to be about something else—something more. We are to give our whole selves to God by acknowledging our sin and shortcomings and as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “Change your life, not just your clothes.”

Granted, the prophet Joel was speaking to a particular people in light of a particular devastating event (a locust plague), but the words ring equally true to us today in our divided nation and world. Times are scary, uncertain, grim in our age, but God doesn’t change.

In responding to the call to turn to God, we are promised the outpouring of God’s spirit. This is a gift that is life and world changing—far better than the most lavish Christmas gift we could receive. Better yet, there are no returns needed because the fit and purpose are perfect. God knows exactly what we need. Check out that little verse from Luke’s gospel (11:13). If we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more so God knows how and what to give! Forget that hoverboard or Playstation. The gift of the Holy Spirit is cosmic in scope.

Yes, dear preachers and teachers, our lessons are but a preview of the blockbuster God has planned for us and for this beautiful, broken world. The folks in the pews may be dreaming of a White Christmas or stressing about how to make their own Wonderful Life happen, but you’ve been given the words and the witness to proclaim a better way. We are stewards of the promise that leads to life eternal, a powerful charge, indeed. Blessings on your faithful and prophetic words and deeds! May the Spirit be with you.

In Worship

Repentance as an act of stewardship?  Why yes, yes indeed! Careful stewards consistently take stock of how they are doing in managing their resources and the many good gifts of God. When human nature and the bondage to sin pulls us away from our intent to be faithful stewards, repentance calls us home and re-centers us in Christ. Why not begin today’s confession with a note about how especially at this time of year we all too easily find ourselves pulled away from our rootedness in Christ and our intention to be good stewards of time, talent, and treasure. Invite worshipers into a brief time of silent prayer to take stock of their “state of stewardship” before beginning the confession.

Use the sending as a reminder to go out into the world bathed in the light of God’s Spirit and nourished at Christ’s table to be good and faithful stewards of all God’s good gifts.

With Youth

Focus on Joel 2:28-29, especially the part where the prophet says that “Your sons and daughters shall prophesy.” Invite youth to think about how the outpouring of God’s spirit might enable this to happen today. We are, after all, given the gift of the Holy Spirit in our baptism.

Granted, the prophet Joel was writing to a specific group of people at a particularly terrible and traumatic time in their cultural history—devastation by a plague of locusts. Invite youth to consider what in our own time is terrible and traumatic. What calls for us to prophesy? (Note: You may need to help define what it means to prophesy.) How can we speak a bold, faithful, and true word in the face of evil, violence, hate, and destruction? How might it be good stewardship of our gifts to do so?

With Children

God gives us good gifts that last!

Gather for your children’s time around the font. Children will be anticipating gifts that come at Christmas. Invite them to ponder what gifts they are hoping their parents will give them. If you have a story about receiving a Christmas gift that was quickly put down and forgotten, share this with the children. Ask them if they have experienced receiving a gift they had longed for only to see it quickly lose its sparkle and shine. If you are using the gospel verse today, use this as an opportunity to link it clearly to the lesson from Joel. Our parents know how to give us good gifts, but God gives us a gift that never, ever loses its sparkle, that never, ever gets old, and that’s always new and fresh. What is this gift? Entertain answers. If no one guesses the gift of the Holy Spirit, trouble the waters in the font and remind the children that they received this gift in their baptism, that God’s Spirit goes with them everywhere and is poured out FOR them and ON them. The Spirit is the gift that God keeps on giving—forever! Best of all, this special gift helps us to take good care of and share all the many other gifts of God we are given.

Finish with a short prayer asking God to “stir up” the Spirit in the children and in the entire congregation during Advent.

Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert

Repentance is an act of faithful stewardship, as we clean out and make space for God in our broken and contrite hearts. Consider this week how you can prepare not only your heart but also your home  and your congregation to receive Christ and to welcome the presence of neighbors who may also be strangers. Return to God in prayer this week, seeking forgiveness for the times you fail to see and asking for an open heart and mind and eyes receive Christ incarnate in those around you. Be ready to be surprised and challenged to steward the mysteries of God’s amazing grace and love in this Advent season.

Stewardship at Home

Wait! What? Repentance as an act of stewardship in the season of Advent? Aren’t we supposed to be making our hearts and homes ready to receive Jesus? Well, yes, of course! It is, however, so easy to forget about drawing near to God in this time of preparing our homes, readying for our family feasts, and checking off items on our gift list.

An important part of preparing and anticipating is repenting and returning to God, making clean space in our hearts so that God’s light and Spirit-life can infuse every nook and cranny of our lives and homes. Spend some time this week in confession for the times you fail to see, hear, and experience God throughout the day. Ask God to open your eyes and your heart to welcome Jesus in the many surprising ways he comes to us.

Make this a week to clean both house and heart. Find something in your home (a room, closet, porch or garage) and pray while you clean. If you live alone, invite friends over for a potluck meal and enlist their help with a short time of cleaning. If you have family at home, find a way to involve everyone. As you clean, consider repeating a simple prayer like this one: “Lord Jesus clean my heart, open my eyes, and prepare my mind to receive you.”

Everything already cleaned and decorated? Have a blessing bag party potluck. Assemble simple bags to distribute to people experiencing homelessness that include travel sizes of personal care items (shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, shaving items, etc.), a washcloth and hand towel. Put the items in a gallon zipper freezer bag. Include other small items such as gum, hard candy, hand warmers, and gloves if there is room. Pray over the finished bags and give to a local homeless ministry or distribute personally where those experiencing homelessness gather in your community. Better yet, spend some time talking with someone who currently has no home or learn about the root causes of homelessness.

Photos: David Goehring and Javonni Christopher, Creative Commons. © rolffimages – Thanks!

Note: Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2016, Rev. Sharron Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire:

About the Author

The Rev. Sharron Riessinger Blezard is an ELCA pastor currently rostered in the Lower Susquehanna Synod. She came to ordained ministry after teaching secondary and college English, working in non-profit management and public relations, and moonlighting as a freelance writer. See more posts by .

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