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Bible readings: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=231

 


 

Harvest Festival Year B (September 27, 2015)             St James', Peace River

 

I think it's tempting, in our day and age, to treat harvest festival as one more time to celebrate how God is on our side looking after us. “So thank the Lord, then thank the Lord, for awwwwll his love.” We are indeed in a rich land, surrounded with so many blessings that we can hardly help but take most of them for granted. So perhaps it's not a bad thing to remember, at the very least, that every year, every moment, every day, God is providing us with the means to live and to thrive and to serve others. But that can only be the starting point for us to discover more of what it means to live truly thankful lives.


Our ancestors would have had a different starting point. For them, there was no guarantee that you would get to the end of harvest season and feel thankful – there still isn't, for the people who actually grow the food we eat and depend on the weather so much more than the rest of us can imagine. But in earlier times, that was just about everyone. Harvest festival wasn't a time of jubilation every year. Sometimes it was less about being thankful for abundance than about being thankful for survival; and sometimes not even that. We get a hint of that in the Old Testament reading today, from Joel, which remembers some bad years even as it is looking forward to a good one: “I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God.”

 

What I find especially interesting about that passage is the way it makes sense of the bad along with the good. If it is God's job to make the earth bring forth a good harvest, then what about the years when that doesn't happen? In the very oldest of times, you might have blamed competing evil spirits, and worked a little harder to provide your own god with the offerings he needed to be strong. In modern times we have completely different explanations which leave God out of the picture altogether. But the Bible looks at things in its own way. If a good harvest and rich blessings are a sign of God's favour to us, then the bad years are a sign of fault lines in our relationship with God. The people of the Old Testament understood that God wasn't always happy with them; that they couldn't take for granted God's showering them with wealth more than they needed; that they failed God often enough to deserve a wake-up call; and that when they didn't recognize or own up to their own failures, God sometimes used the physical world to get their attention.

 

This isn't an entirely satisfactory version of how the world works either. From the Old Testament into the New, we can read about how the people of the Bible wrestled with the idea that you could deserve or not deserve God's blessing. What about bad people who seemed to get away with it? What about good people who lost everything? The physical world felt like a blunt instrument to communicate God's relationship with people, because after all, when it rained it rained for everyone, just and unjust – and in the same way, catastrophes didn't distinguish between the faithful and the unfaithful.

 

In the end, though, nothing can shake the conviction that this is God's world that we live in, created by God and operating by God's design – minus, of course, the sometimes substantial ways in which human greed and carelessness has messed it up. But it is still the fundamental way through which we experience our relationship with the Creator: through the creation. And one significant way that the biblical tradition addresses the problem of injustice and arbitrariness is by exposing one major element of the character of our creator. In the Bible, God does not appear merely on the first page, setting the world in motion and then standing back to watch us deal with it. God is in every part of the story. Sometimes in solidarity with his people, sometimes confronting them, but always experiencing the world along with them.

 

God is strong with the strong, grieving with the bereaved, takes the hit along with his people when they suffer, even goes into exile with them; and finally, wonderfully, comes to live with us, to walk the earth with us, to live in creation as literally and physically as we do. So, while we can wonder why there are  bad harvests and good, lucky people and unlucky, deserving and undeserving, poor and rich, the one thing we can't wonder is who God thinks he is sitting up in heaven playing that game – because he has always been right here with us, taking the rough with the smooth, feasting with us at our harvest suppers and staying awake nights with us when we're wondering if we'll have to sell the farm.

 

When we look at God and God's world like that, what we're left with is the realization that all we can do is put everything in God's hands. Everything: our hopes for good, our fears for trouble, our blessings and our despairs. God asks to share all those things, so the very least we can do is to open them up to God. The New Testament readings today show us two ways to do that. One is to pray for everyone – and that is based on the certainty that God's care is for everyone. God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”, says I Timothy, and we know that because of the way Jesus “gave himself a ransom for all”. So we are invited to entrust our whole world to God in prayer – everyone we care about, everyone who makes our lives difficult, everyone we don't even know – because we can only trust God. And we also thank God for it all, because God gives us everything we experience in this world and everyone we share it with, and also comes to share it all with us.


But most important, I think, is Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount which we heard as the last Gospel reading. Don't worry. A colleague of mine suggested that we should play Bobby McFerrin as people came into church today: “Don't Worry, Be Happy”! And when Jesus says it, it's not about being naïve or blind or pretending that the world isn't a difficult place to live sometimes. It's about knowing that God knows where we live, and trusting God with it all because there is no one else whose trust won't ultimately fail us. God knows what you need. Whether you've had a good year or a bad year, a harvest of frustration or a cornucopia of blessings – God is with you. And when you put it all in God's hands, the worry goes away, not because you know tomorrow will be better but because today is filled with God's presence and God's purpose, so much so that tomorrow fades into irrelevance.

 

That's what Jesus' final word on the subject means to me. “Strive first for God's kingdom and God's righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” God's kingdom is built in this world where some are needy and others have the means to meet their needs. God's righteousness is revealed in God's choice to be here with us in this world, in solidarity with us in good times and bad, being known to us in the face of the strangers we help and also the ones we ignore. But if you stake your life on trusting that God to know what you need and to be with you through everything – then no matter how much you have or how much you need, what God is giving you will always be enough.

 

Thanks be to God!