Readings: Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 126; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Matthew 6:25-33
Don’t you love it when someone says, “Don’t worry! Everything will be fine!”
“It’s easy for you to say,” you think. “This is my life. It isn’t happening to you. It’s happening to me. Your job isn’t on the line. Your child isn’t having trouble at school. Your marriage isn’t on the rocks. I have so much to be worried about,” you are thinking. And worry seems to be a part of our existence. We worry about everything. We are preoccupied about our health and dying a premature death. We are concerned with our aches and pains. And then there are the worries about whether or not we have enough money. Even in Canada, a country flowing with milk and honey, we worry about food, whether we will have enough to eat. We worry about what to wear, not so much about whether we have the basic necessities of clothing to keep us warm, but about whether or not we are in style. It matters so much to us about how we appear to other people.
I wonder what the disciples said to Jesus when he told them not to worry. I can hear them thinking, “Don’t tell us not to worry. We’ve given up everything to follow you. We haven’t been home in months. Most of the time we don’t know where our next meal is coming from. Not that we’re complaining!”
"Your citizenship is in the kingdom of God,” he tells them. "You can afford to lose your possessions. You can even afford to lose your lives. You are children of God. God will never fail or forsake you." Jesus is not saying, “Give up your work.” He is saying, “Examine your priorities. What are you going to put first in your life? What is important to you?”
We all know that our primary concern in life should not simply be with material things. The meaning of life is not to be found in things. It is not to be found in jobs, income, pension plans, food, clothes, reputation, status.
But hold on. That isn’t a very practical form of discipleship. It makes too many demands of people. It calls for real commitment to the will of God. It demands that we put God first. While that is a good message for us to contemplate as we celebrate the harvest, the wealth that God has provided for us, it is not an easy message. Even in our own country where we live in the midst of plenty these are not the easiest of times. We don’t worry just about death and taxes. We worry about job security. We worry about raising our children. We worry about health care issues. We worry about growing old. How are we to follow Jesus' admonition not to worry?
The Old Testament passage from Joel is God's response to the people of Israel. They suffered a terrible locust plague. Rather than moaning about their fate, they responded by appealing to God. They remembered their past experience with God. In their remembering, they gave thanks that the God of history, the God they have worshipped in the past, the God that has sustained them through many difficulties and trials, that God is with them still.
And God responded to their needs. "You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame." It isn’t perhaps the message that we want to hear. It is not a promise of great wealth. They haven’t won the lottery. It is not a promise that nothing will ever go wrong again. This is real life. It is part of our human condition to suffer. But God is promising to continue to journey with the.
The passage from the letter to Timothy urges the people to pray, to intercede, to give thanks, for everyone. He calls for them to understand the importance of prayer. God knows the needs. But they are the vehicles through which God can meet those needs with that loving grace which is so freely given. That kind of prayer calls for thankfulness. It calls for remembering what God has done for them and continuing to praise God with all their hearts.
For whatever reason, as a people who are certainly blessed with more than our share of the world's wealth, we don’t always seem grateful for what God has provided. We want more than simply a good harvest. Produce has to be perfect or people will not buy it. We import food from all over the world so that we can have variety in our lives. And yet we still find it very difficult to thank God for all the great gifts of creation. We have a long list of things that we need, but a short list of things for which we are grateful.
Why is it that we find that so difficult? What do we expect? What is central for us? What are our priorities? What do we put first in our lives? Isn’t that the point of the readings? We need to learn to live a more balanced life. We need to set our priorities. Most of all we need to understand what it means to lift thankful hearts and voices to praise God.
Celtic spirituality, which is at the root of our British heritage, had a wonderful way of living that out. They had a deep connection to God in their daily lives, a strong sense of God’s presence with them. It began with their thankfulness to God. A woman began her day by lighting the fire. "I will kindle my fire this morning in the presence of the holy angels of heaven," she prayed. She washed her face. "The palmful of the God of life, the palmful of the Christ of love, the palmful of the Spirit of peace." As she made her bed she prayed, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In the name of the night we were conceived, in the name of the night that we were born, in the name of the day we were baptized, in the name of each night, each day, each angel that is in the heavens." As she began her day, so she moved through her whole day, praising God for all of the simple things of life. Every aspect of life was sacred. All of life was part of God's creative work in the world. Life was lived under the shadow of God's protective arms. Awe and dread of God was balanced by trust in God's love and mercy. For her, this was God's world, a world to be claimed, affirmed, and honoured.
Our Aboriginal people have no particular time to give thanks. Every aspect of life is an opportunity to give thanks to the creator. We have somehow lost that sense of God’s graciousness in providing for our needs. We think that it has something to do with how hard we work or how lucky we are. Harvest Festival reminds us that we are to cast aside our worries and celebrate the things that God has provided.
William Temple, a great theologian of the church, once said that the most effective thing that Christians could do in the world is to lift up their voices in thanksgiving to God. Do we really believe that prayer has anything to do with what happens in the world? Do we pray for the leaders of our country really expecting that something powerful can happen? Do we see the signs around us of God's presence in our lives? Do we care for this world in a way that expresses our gratitude?
We read and experience climatic change. In all probability Canada will face more floods, droughts and tornadoes with the increasing levels of ozone in the atmosphere. Yet we continue to use up far more than our share of the world’s goods. We are avid consumers. We think that by re-cycling some of our garbage we will somehow make up for the damage that we are doing. We worry far more about the financial stresses that result from climatic change than the good of the world. Change will come about because each one of us begins to take seriously our obligation to God and to this wonderful creation. It will come about through our thankful hearts.
There is an episode of Frasier that always brings it home to me. He and his brother Niles are in the coffee shop as usual. Niles said to him, “Are you happy!”
Frasier turns the question back to Niles, “Why do you ask?”
Niles responds, “It’s just that I saw an orphan receive a pair of cheap shoes. And there was such an expression of gratitude on his face. He was so happy. Why was he so happy? Here I am wearing a pair of $400.00 shoes. I look at them and wonder if I even really like them. Do you like them? They have tassels. I don’t really like tassels. What do you think?”
And Frasier spends the rest of the show trying to decide what it is that makes him happy or if he is happy at all.
Think of a desert place. It may seem to us to be nothing but sand. How can anything survive in such a climate,” we ponder. Yet if we look beneath the surface of that desert, excavate the sand, we will see a vast ecosystem at work. It is cool underground; the plants harbour moisture; all the needs of those desert dwellers are there.
Like Niles we wonder sometimes how people who lack the luxurious lifestyle that we take for granted can be happy. How can children living in misery in Afghanistan or India or The Sudan ever laugh? How can they play and sing when we can’t with all that we have? How can they play and sing and hold hands, and fall down on the ground and rejoice? But they can. And they know enough to thank God for it.
On this Harvest festival, can we reflect that what we have may be a hindrance not only to God, but to one another? Can we lift thankful hearts to a loving God who cares for each of us, and provides for our needs? Can we learn to share our bounty, and in that sharing find the happiness that God would have us know?