This text contains the OT for Ash Wednesday. One year during the reading, I was struck by verse 17:
Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep
and say, “Spare your people, O LORD,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”
The neglect of the Church by our society has never been good, and it has increased by staggering proportions in my time as a pastor. At both congregations the Prayer of the Church includes the lost, wandering, and erring - and I have seen those prayers answered in the lives of some, and there is great joy over them. Yet still there are the other members who were gone before I got here, or have abandoned us since my arrival, and my heart weeps. Perhaps that is why this verse connected to my heart so deeply. That year I made it a discipline to pray each day this verse as my OT counterparts in the priesthood did - for certainly Christians in our day are becoming a reproach, even among fellow Christians, a byword, an afterthought. And for many reasons we deserve it.
Yet the Lord has had mercy. He has spared us many disasters. He who relented of overthrowing Ninevah in the day of Jonah has relented again and again of overthrowing His people (fascinating connecting between TDP and the 3 year lectionary yesterday, eh?). He promises that the gates of Hell will not overcome the Church. And so the Gospel is like a passing rain shower, as our Lutheran fathers said, here to nourish today and then gone. Yet it does not leave here without arriving elsewhere. Still, for the sake of the lost of our land, I pray that it is not time for it to leave America yet.
Consider this year taking up the discipline of praying Joel 2:17 daily during Lent. At the very least, by the end you will have learned by heart a verse of God's Word.