The time when we gather as family and, as it says in Joel… eat in plenty and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord your God. Or as my family interprets it…eat till you drop. It is also one of the only days my wider family has always said grace at meal. I would suspect that is because of the name of that holiday is actually ‘Thanksgiving’ and by it’s very name we are blatantly reminded to give thanks. Reminded that we ought to be grateful for the food on our tables, and for those who labored so hard to provide it for us. Too often however, it seems that when Thanksgiving passes, so too do our prayers of Thanksgiving.
Yet, as people of faith we ought to be a people who recognize the blessings we have and not only give thanks as occasion calls, but cultivate a spirit of thankfulness, a spirit of gratitude. In our reading from Joel we hear the promise of God to a people who are in the midst of devastation.
As we prepare our thanksgiving feasts, the people in Joel’s time were reeling from the results of a plague of locust which had devoured all their grains. The barns were empty and the oil and wine presses dry. Yet in the midst of this tragedy Joel calls the people of Israel to shift their perspective. Joes moves from a lament and an anger at the difficult place the people find themselves in to a spirit of thankfulness in anticipation of all God can do with and through his people. ’rejoice and be glad’ says Joel ‘for the Lord has done great things!’
Joel is speaking to the people of Israel about the blessings of being a covenantal people, the blessings of being in right relationship with God. Joel reminds the people of Israel of all that they have to give thanks for because of their relationship with God. Even in the midst of famine, God promises blessings on those who return to him. We read ‘you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord your God who has dealt wondrously with you’ and, most importantly, God says through the prophet Joel, ‘you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel and that I the lord am your God.’
God and Israel are bound together in the covenant that was established between Abraham and God…’that you will be my people and I will be your God’. A relationship for which we should be eternally grateful because it is a relationship that we too are a part of. I say we because, of course, through Christ we have become inheritors of the covenant of Abraham. We have become so close in relationship with God that we have been named joint heirs with Christ. We are truly blessed and should be truly grateful.
So today, our focus is to have a Sunday of Thanksgiving. Joel’s reading may be focused on thanksgiving for soil, sun and rain…for food and harvest, but the crux of the matter is thanksgiving for the blessings of abundance. We, as a people of faith, are called to live into God’s covenant. To live life abundantly, generously, gratefully. Abraham wasn’t told he would have a son, he was told he would be the father of nations…of a number greater than the stars in the sky.
Joel doesn’t speak God’s words and say the people of Israel will be okay, he says that their threshing floors shall be full of grain and their vats shall overflow with wine and oil. Jesus when he feeds the 5000 doesn’t hand out a piece of fish and a slice of bread each, Jesus provides enough for all to eat their fill then have leftovers to spare.
It isn’t about food …it is about abundance about the overwhelming blessings that we have received. Jesus says “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or wear…is life not more than food and the body more than clothing?” What Jesus is asking is: What is it that we live for? What brings richness and wholeness into our lives? What brings abundance?
God clothes the lilies of the field in radiance, feeds the birds through the winters…cares for each of us and numbers the hairs on our heads. We are all blessed. Yet, we tend to neglect giving thanks for the abundant blessings God provides. Blessings that don’t disappear in drought or come in only in season… like flowers on the spring, rather as priest and poet John Donne put it…God provides blessings and mercies without season.
God made Sun and Moon to distinguish seasons, and day, and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons: But God has made no decree to distinguish the seasons of his mercies; In paradise, the fruits were ripe the first minute, and in heaven it is always Harvest, his mercies are ever fruitful. We ask for our daily bread, and God never says you should have come yesterday, he never says you must try again tomorrow, but today if you will hear his voice, today he will hear you. … He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; he can bring you Summer out of Winter, even if you have no Spring; though in the waves of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, you have been cursed until now, wintred and frozen, clouded and eclypsed, damped and benummed, smothered and stupified till now, now God comes to you, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the Sun at noon to chase away all shadows, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all poverty. All occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons. (occasional mercies, John Donne. Paraphrased)
All occasions are filled with God’s abundant blessings and all times are God’s own time of thanksgiving. We ought to respond in kind. Not restricting our own thanksgiving to a yearly remembrance, but rejoicing in the abundance that God so freely gives each and every day. Blessings that we too often take for granted. Even as many here feel the chills and the aches of fall and we begin to anticipate that terrible four letter word that blankets us for the whole long winter. There is a beauty and a symmetry to the passage of the seasons that I missed when I lived abroad.
The simple passage of time provides abundant blessings when we allow ourselves to see them. So much to be thankful for… it’s just a matter of cultivating a spirit of gratitude. The people of Joel’s time could have wallowed in their misery at all the devastation around them, but they looked ahead to God’s blessing instead. Joel spoke words of gratitude and thanksgiving, anticipation and joy. The people of Israel chose to cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving. As we gather to give thanks this weekend, as we rejoice in the tables spread before us, as we give say grace …I invite you to look around carefully and note…not just all that you have to be thankful for today, but the many things that will still be there tomorrow…abundant and continual blessings. Blessings we can be grateful for today, tomorrow and always. amen