Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
October 7, 2018
Thanksgiving Weekend and Worldwide Communion Sunday
Scripture Reading: Joel 2:21-27
The reading from the Old Testament that we heard this morning, comes from one of the prophets that we don’t get to hear from very much – Joel. I have to confess that this is one of the books of the bible that I can’t flip to very easily – it’s one that I always have to look up in the table of contents in order to find it.
If you follow the Revised Common Lectionary, our 3-year cycle of readings that are used across many denominations around the world, the only times we get to hear from Joel are on Ash Wednesday each year; Thanksgiving weekend once every 3 years, and in the middle of September once every 3 years. We tend to be much more familiar with some of the other prophets like Isaiah or Jeremiah.
My Old Testament professor, Dr. Susan Slater, likes to say that “Prophets are on the side of noticing.” Prophets are people who are able to see the world, to really see the world, and to see where the world is not running according to God’s plan for the world. Prophets then point people back to God; they point us back to living the way that God wants us to live.
Now we don’t know much about the prophet Joel – we don’t even know for sure what century he was living in. But from the writings that we have, we can assume that in the place and time where he was living, there had been a long drought, and a plague of locusts – insects that had destroyed any crops that had been able to grow during the drought.
And so here we have Joel, seeing the world as God sees it, telling us not to be afraid, telling us to be glad and rejoice. The soil is not to fear for God is sending rain; the animals are not to fear because the pastures will be green again; and God’s children are not to fear because the harvest will be abundant and the store rooms will be full.
But then we come to the verse that troubles me. Joel tells us that all of this abundant harvest is God’s way of repaying the people for the locusts that God sent like an army against the people. “Here – I sent you a plague of insects that destroyed your crops, but don’t worry, I will send you a better harvest next year.”
And this troubles me. How could a God who is love choose to destroy the crops that will feed animals of the field and humans? How could a God who is love choose to destroy God’s own creation?
But then I remember that Joel has just lived through a drought and a famine along with all of his neighbours. He has just coming through a traumatic time. And when we face difficult times and trauma in our lives, isn’t it a very human thing to do to blame God?
The common belief in the world seems to be that when bad things happen, either God has left the room, or that God is some sort of cruel sadist who chooses to inflict suffering. But none of this fits with my understanding of a God who is, by God’s very nature, love.
But we humans are very good at messing things up. Our fossil fuel dependency contributes to climate change that leads to floods and droughts and famines around the world. Our fear of not having enough leads us to hoard resources, keeping them away from those who truly need them. Our self-sufficiency leads us to trust in human-made systems rather than trusting in God’s promises of peace, and when these human-made systems fail, we then blame God.
There is a meme that I have seen on Facebook a couple of times – a person is sitting on a bench with Jesus, and the person asks, “Why do you allow suffering, poverty, hunger, wars to exist?” and Jesus replies, “Funny, I was just about to ask you the same question.”
And so when things go wrong, we tend to want to blame God. And that is natural – we can see Joel doing just that in our reading today. But then I think that it is important to move beyond this blame and to remember God’s promises. In our reading from Joel, we hear God promising that those who are hungry will eat and be satisfied; we hear God promising that people who have been put down, abused, humiliated in this world will never more be put to shame; we hear God promising to be present with God’s people.
God hears our cries and our laments for all of the pain in the world; and God reminds us that the world won’t have the final say. God has a vision for the world where the hungry are fed, and there is no more pain and suffering, and asks us to trust this vision, and to work for this vision.
And so on this Thanksgiving weekend, I invite you to join with the prophets and notice the world with God’s eyes. Look for all of the love and goodness in the world – love and goodness that comes from God. Join with God’s people all around the world in giving thanks for everything that God has given to us.
And this year, Worldwide Communion Sunday happens to fall on the same weekend as Thanksgiving. In a few minutes, we will be gathering at this table, invited by Christ, our host. We know that we gather with our siblings in Christ from congregations and denominations around the world. And as we gather here, at Two Rivers, in the middle of the abundance of the harvest season, we are also called to remember everyone who does not have this abundance, everyone who is living through times of drought and famine like Joel was; and we are called to work for a world that anticipates God’s plan for the world.
And as we gather at this table, I invite you to eat the bread and drink the juice together with our siblings around the world as a sign, as a symbol of our hope, of our trust, of our confidence that God’s vision for a world of peace, a world of love, a world of justice, is going to come.
May it be so.