Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 “Broken Hallelujah” 3-6-22
[prayer] “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to You, O’Lord my rock and redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
Over Christmas a song kept popping up on my wife’s Pandora station. Karen really likes the acapella group Pentatonix and they do a cover of the song “Hallelujah” by Peter Cohen. By a show of hands how many of you are familiar with the Leonard Cohen song, “Hallelujah”? For those of you who do not know the song the third verse goes a little bit like this.
“Well baby, I've been here before
I've seen this room and I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I've seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
It would be fair to say this song has been swimming around in the back of my brain for a while now. I knew it was going to end up in a sermon at some point. After the message last week and our new mission to reach out to children and families in our community it occurred to me that some of you might be experiencing a broken hallelujah. I have since felt God speaking into my heart with words of comfort and compassion to urge and encourage all of us to hold on to hope even in the midst of a painful departure. Please hear again these words from the Prophet Joel.
Read Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
In Scripture the day of the Lord can mean two things, and we should be very careful what we ask for. On the Day of the Lord God is coming to destroy God’s enemies and set things back to the way they are supposed to be. Sometimes that means God is going to destroy the enemies of God’s chosen people. Sometimes that means God is going to chastise and correct God’s chosen people. We should be careful we do not stand there like Sally from a Charlie Brown Christmas demanding we get what we have coming to us. We should be careful asking God for our fair share. My sisters and brothers we are all sinners in need of grace. Amen? Amen. Hear the good news. God sent God’s only Son to die for us while we were yet sinners. That proves God’s love toward us. Amen?! Amen! Amen?!! Amen!! That does not let us off the hook from taking a serious look at our lives; the ministry we provide, and asking the question, “Are we really doing all we can to serve God?” “Are we doing all we can to make God’s love known in our community?” Are we truly loving God with all of our heart, with all of our soul and with all of our strength (Deut 6:5)?
During this season of Lent we are in fact preparing for the Day of the Lord. Only instead of coming to thump God’s enemies, Jesus will pay the price for all of our sins by dying on an ugly, old,wooden cross. When Jesus went to the cross he died so we could be free from the chains of sin and death. Jesus died so we could have our own exodus. As the author of Hebrews says, we must, “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). If we are going to do that. If we are going to lay aside every weight then it means we are also going to have to make our own exodus. We will have to leave behind the old methods we used to use to reach the same ends. The goal is to follow the Great Commission, to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). Given the way things are today that will mean finding new ways to go therefore and make disciples. With that comes a time of grieving. We have to go through the mourning so can do the work God has laid out before us.
I am sure there are those in this room and out on Facebook who dearly love the way we “used to do things.” I am sure there are many who have heard the news that those who were nominal Christians now find the Church to be “not relevant,” and instead of identifying as Christians, they fill in the box, “none.” That is sad. That is something we should all grieve. Truly it breaks my heart that people would rather identify themselves as having no religion than have a discussion about why they don’t go to church. What I think has happened is we made the mistake of getting comfortable. Some of us are very comfortable with the way things were always done, and we don’t want to be uncomfortable. We are so afraid of being uncomfortable we fight change and lift our own broken Hallelujah. Into this fear and reluctance let me offer these words from the prophet Joel.
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;” (Joel 2:12-13).
When we become more focused on our comfort than the upward call of God in Jesus Christ we fall back into sin (Philippians 3:14). The sin we fall into is a focus on us; what we want; and what makes us comfortable. We don’t want to jeopardize that. Being uncomfortable is hard… And yet we are in this holy season of Lent. During Lent we are supposed to be uncomfortable so we can better discern what in our lives is trash and what in our lives truly gives life, and happiness, and joy. God did not create us simply to exist. God created us with purpose. I have a job to do. We all have a job to do. On the day we were baptized we became ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have a responsibility to step out those doors and to minister to people about why the Gospel is good news. However, we face an intimidating question. How? How do we share the Gospel today? With whom do we share the Gospel today? If we are serious about our mission to reach out to families and children for the Gospel then how do we do it? If we have to depart from the way we have always done it, then what are the new ways God is calling us to be His hands and feet today?
When Leonard Cohen wrote the song Hallelujah in 1994 he said it was not a religious hallelujah but a secular one. In the verse I quoted this morning that hallelujah is a broken hallelujah. Too often we become competitive with love and the way we share the Gospel. We have to have a victory. We have to win; but the truth is God’s love is not about a victory. Sharing the Gospel has to be about more than simply filling pews and filling up an offering plate. Sharing the Gospel has to be about facing our demons. Sharing the Gospel has to be about fighting the fight within ourselves. Through the power of Jesus Christ we must lay aside our need for personal victory so that we can better take up the cross of Jesus Christ. It means we have to let God mend our broken hallelujahs.
I am not a big fan of the band Hillsong United, but I do like the song, “I Raise a Hallelujah.” The first two verses go like this.
Up from the ashes, hope will arise
Death is defeated, the King is alive!
My sisters and brothers it is important to grieve for the way we used to do things because only by going through grief can we find the strength to move forward. God is calling us to move forward. Through the prophet Joel God is calling us to, “Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber” (Joel 2:15-16). If we let Him - if we will get out of God’s way and allow God to work through us victory will come. However, like the day of the Lord will not be our victory, it will be God’s victory. The victory will belong to Christ and the victory will come through the Gospel. Only then can all of the broken hallelujah’s be made whole and righteous again through the blood of Jesus Christ. God will speak through our brokenness and use the faith God has given us to startle our enemies when they think they have won. We won’t fight with punches, or gossip, or talking behind people’s backs, or scheming. God will win when people see us lay all of that aside and begin to live out the Gospel in our lives. People will marvel when they see the peace God has given you through the storms of life. Oh how will they marvel when they hear our praises to God in the midst of the hard times and in the midst of the tragedies. We will praise God because we trust and believe that in the day of the Lord God will win. We know we cannot win on our own. Praise be to God for victory in Christ!
Let there be victory in Christ. Hallelujah!