Friday, January 18, 2019
A growing church filled with God's love in Jesus Christ for everyone

Ash Wednesday

Alarm Fatigue    
  Joel 2: 1-2; 12-15
Homily given by Rev. Dr. Everett Parker on Ash Wednesday 2/18/15
 Hospitals are not places I want to be, but in my calling, they are places I need to be.
  Walk into your neighborhood hospital and the first thing you’ll realize is that the place is full of beds, but no one in those beds actually gets any rest. 
 Patients in recovery from illness or surgery are constantly poked and jostled by nurses at all hours of the day and night.
  If that’s not enough, family members hover at the bedside, the food tray comes in and sometimes even the pastor shows up to visit, usually at the exact moment the patient has finally drifted off into something resembling sleep!
  Perhaps even more obnoxious than all these distractions, however, is the constant beeping, booping, wailing and chirping of a gaggle of monitoring devices to which the patient is attached. 
 The IV stand beeps when it’s empty. The blood pressure alarm screams when the patient shifts in bed. 
  The ventilator bongs whenever the patient coughs, and the heart rate monitor gives its telltale flat-line whine when one of the stick-on pads comes loose. It’s enough to make a person sick.
  Thing is, though, most of these alarms are of the false variety that don’t require the nurse to come rushing in with a crash cart. 
 They’re just irritating, harmless anomalies that become a form of annoying white noise after a while. 
  One estimate revealed that such alarms go off on an average of every 66 seconds, which can cause something called “alarm fatigue” in health care professionals. 
  Think of it sort of like that “Check Engine” light on your car dashboard that fades into the background after you’ve ignored it for several months. If you don’t get that checked out, the consequences could be dire.
  The upshot of all of this is that alarms are there for a reason, and we ignore them at our own risk and at the risk of others, whether it’s in the hospital, in the car, at work when the fire alarm goes off or any other place where beeping and bonging is a sign of trouble. 
  In our text for Ash Wednesday this year, the call is clear: “Sound the alarm ...” Ignoring the alarms that God has turned on for the people of God can be hazardous to our spiritual health.
 Ash Wednesday is the day in the Christian year that’s most intentionally designed to make us check our spiritual alarms. 
  It’s the day we’re reminded that we’re all terminally ill with the disease of sin and mortality as we get marked by an ashen cross on our foreheads and hear the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” 
  In a few short weeks we’ll be reminded that God has provided us a cure for this disease made possible by Jesus the Great Physician.
  But if we want to access the full healing benefit of that future hope of resurrection, we need to pay close attention to the alarms that are going off in our sin-diseased lives right now.
  The Ash Wednesday reading from the prophet Joel is full of such alarms, which makes the beeping and chirping of the hospital room sound tranquil by comparison. 
  Joel is writing to the people of Judah in the wake of a devastating plague of locusts that has overrun the land, which, for the prophet, is a microcosm of the final judgment of God: the “day of the Lord” (v. 1). 
 The warning alarms to get ready for that coming day are shrill and require immediate attention. We might hear them like this: 
 The Heart Alarm: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain!” says Joel, speaking for God. 
  That’s an alarm that’s hard to ignore! The inhabitants of the land will “tremble” with fear when the Lord returns in an earth-shaking, world-changing way (vv. 1-2). 
 The sound of the “trumpet” is thus an alarm that tests the heart condition of people in the face of God’s righteous judgment. 
  It’s a warning for people to check and see whether or not their spiritual hearts are healthy and right with God now in anticipation of his coming.
 “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart ... rend your hearts and not your clothing” (vv. 12-13). 
 We know that a strong heart is the result of exercise, good diet and lower stress. The same is true of our spiritual lives. 
 Lent calls us to exercise our hearts through acts of prayer, study and devotion that bring us closer to God. 
  Lent calls us to embrace a healthy diet of the daily “bread of life” in our lives and in our churches through worship and Communion (John 6:35). 
  And we lower our stress when we remember that, ultimately, God’s the one who rules the world and is coming back not to take us away, but to take over. 
  When our hearts are anxious and fearful, it’s a warning alarm that we’re not living with God’s future for us in mind. Lent calls us to focus on spiritual heart health!
  When there’s the “Repositioning” Alarm. In the hospital, an alarm often sounds when the patient rolls over or gets up, which can change the position of sensors. 
  Those alarms are usually the ones that get ignored the most, but in spiritual health, paying attention to those alarms is actually a sign of health. 
  “Return to the Lord your God,” says Joel, “for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love ...” (v. 13). 
 The indicator here is all about repentance, which means to turn from the way you were and to the way God wants you to be.
  The first step toward repentance is confession. We confess our sins before God, which is the result of recognizing the deep warning alarms that go off in our lives when we know we’re doing something wrong. 
  Unfortunately, we often shut off that alarm and instead listen to the enticing siren song of the world that pulls us away from being the people God created us to be. 
 Our response to the internal alarm must be confession, that is, admitting that things with us aren’t right. 
 This will then lead to repentance and the repositioning of our lives in God’s will and God’s way.
 Lent is a call to confession and repentance. What alarms of sin are going off in you that require a repentant repositioning? 
 Ash Wednesday is an opportunity to bring those humbly before the Lord, who abounds in steadfast love for us.
 And the “Code Blue” Alarm. The one hospital alarm that always brings people running is the “Code Blue” announcement. 
    “Code Blue” means that someone is in immediate, life-threatening danger, and a community of doctors and nurses quickly gathers to help.
 Joel announces a “Code Blue” for God’s people, signified again by the sounding of a trumpet.
  “Sanctify a fast,” says Joel, “call a solemn assembly; gather the people ...” (vv. 15-16). Everyone is to come running: the aged, the children, the infants; even those who might be getting ready for a wedding are to respond to the alarm and come to the Lord because the situation is dire. 
 The difference, however, is that the “Code Blue” patient isn’t someone else, it’s the gathering people of God themselves. 
  “Spare your people, O Lord,” blares the Code, “and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations ...” (v. 17).
  Ash Wednesday similarly calls the people of God to gather in the midst of a world in need of a crash cart because it’s near the end. 
  We gather to ask God to spare us from the ravages of sin, to plead for God to “turn and relent” and leave us a blessing instead of brokenness (v. 14). 
 We gather because we know that healing isn’t simply up to the individual. 
  Instead, it takes all of us, the community of God, to gather together and work on healing together through mutual support, encouragement, accountability and love.
 It’s interesting that Ash Wednesday is usually one of the lowest-attended services of the year. 
 It’s a sign that a lot of people, even a lot of God’s people, want to turn off the alarm. 
 But the truth is that we need each other if we’re going to get well. 
  God has given us the church for the purpose of promoting healing from sin-sickness in each other, so that we can, in turn, help a sin-sick world.
  Some hospitals are now issuing “no-pass” policies when it comes to beeping alarms. That means that no hospital employee -- be it a doctor, nurse, janitor or housekeeper -- should pass by a room if they hear an alarm. 
 They need to make sure the patient is breathing and call for help immediately if necessary.
  Lent is a “no-pass” edict for the church as well. May we not ever ignore the warning alarms but, instead, let’s make sure that we’re all getting well through God’s grace and love!