Rend your heart and not your garments. Returnto the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. – Joel 2: 13 (NIV) Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, leaving a wake of destruction in her path. Some have lost their lives; others have seen their homes destroyed completely. Millions without power, subways filled with water, and a part of the famed boardwalk in Atlantic City ripped into the ocean. It is a time for prayer and reflection upon the infinite mercy of Almighty God. Mercy you might wonder? Yes, mercy. I think it is so sad that when natural disasters such as Sandy occur, too many Christian leaders are swift to pronounce the judgment of God while neglecting the mercy of the King. God is not a tool of convenience for us to use to push our own agendas. If Hurricane Katrina was judgment against sinful New Orleans, how then do you explain Sandy? New Jersey? The truth is that sin exists in every state, even if some cities might display it more prominently. The calls to repentance are individual calls. Because the truth is that it is far easier to tell others they need to repent than it is to look in the mirror. It is far easier to say that New Orleans must be the problem, or San Francisco, or any other group of people that allow me to not have to look at myself. But that is what the key verse today is all about – looking at ourselves and remembering who God is. It all starts with rending our hearts and not our garments… The Jewish word Kriah means “tearing” and signifies a person’s grief or anger at the loss of a loved one. Job tore his clothes when he heard about his children dying. Jacob did so as well when he thought Joseph had been killed. But like so many of the things of God, we can abuse them and start to use them for our own ends. When Jesus is taken before the Sanhedrin for example: Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. – Matthew 26: 65 (NLT) The truth is that high priest was not horrified at what Jesus was saying – he was ecstatic because he was trying to find a reason to crucify Him. His grief and his anger were nothing more than a show. If we are not careful, that is how aspects of our walk can become as well. If we attend church long enough, we learn how to play the part oh so well. We know when to shout hallelujah and when to say “praise God.” We know when to rend our clothes to show our Christian outrage. God is not interested in our show beloved. He is interested in our hearts. What God is saying here in the key verses is for us to put aside our tendency toward showiness and get down to the heart issues that separate us from God. We hear Christians all the time use the defense of “God knows my heart – yes He does: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards,according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17: 9-10 (NLT) God understands the human heart all too well. The desire to be seen. The desire for others to think better of us than we really are. There is a reason why Jesus commands us to pray in private and not make a big show of it. There is a reason why Jesus taught us to fast privately and not make a big show of it. “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. – Matthew 6: 1-4 (NLT) In nearly every act of good, God wants it to be done because we know it is the right thing to do, not so we can receive the accolades of man. Rending our garments is easy beloved. That is only on the outside. It doesn’t signify anything. Rending our hearts however; that signifies a true desire to turn everything over to God. When we place our heart before Him, our desires, our weaknesses, our schemes – and tear them before Him so He can rebuild our hearts – that is what God wants. “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. – Ezekiel 36: 25-27 (NLT) What idols are we harboring in our hearts? What have we set up in our hearts that is more important than God? What do we need to rend before Him? For some it may be money or the pursuit of material wealth. For others it might be unforgiveness or jealousy. We need to break up that stony heart we have. That stubborn heart that thinks we can play the part on Sunday and secretly take out our idol on Wednesday and bow down to it instead. Because whether we realize it or not, it has moved us away from God. The key verse spells that out next! Return to the Lord your God! He is gracious and compassionate! Return to the Lord your God. He is slow to anger and abounding in love! Return to the Lord your God. He relents in sending calamity! Return to the Lord your God. When I see a Hurricane Sandy, I thank God for His mercy because I know how much worse it could have been. When you see the fury and power of God through His creation and are talking about it the next day, how can you conclude anything other than God relented? That is not to minimize the losses but to recognize who is sovereign in this universe. Let’s be honest, it is things like Sandy that force us to turn back to God and pray more fervently than maybe we had in awhile. Maybe we even cracked open that Bible and read some Psalms to ease our soul. We asked for prayer from others and acknowledged the Master of the Universe as being in control of everything. Then it passes however and we can go back to Farmville? No beloved. That undeniable recognition of God as being in complete control of our lives is the same condition as when we rend our hearts before Him. He does not want that sincerity only in times of grave mortal danger and strife. He wants it all the time. Don’t bother rending our garments if we are not willing to also rend our hearts. The garment is just for show but the heart is for real. Rev. Anthony.