Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!
The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten…
‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, …the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.
Today is Thanksgiving Sunday, the first part of our Covenant Renewal time. The Two Sundays are probably back to front. We perhaps should have had the Covenant renewal first and then had time to think about our response.
But it is what it is and maybe some of you will decide to make the to forms homes and think about them a little more and bring them back next week. Yet I want to reflect on why we give thanks. Let’s reflect on the hope we share as people of faith and the joy that undergirds our life.
During the week I had a conversation with members of the Church about hope. Some expressed the feeling of being overwhelmed by the news night after night. Is there anything other than bad news? Just the news in Australia for the past 15 months has been the ravaging from wild fires that destroy millions of hectares, lives, homes and livelihoods were lost. We caught breath only to descend into a lock down for the Covid Pandemic. Our first recession in decades and a multitude of lives lost to the virus. More recently more bush fires in WA and a mouse plague in NSW. And of course women still die in their homes at a hideous rate each year, youths still get an adrenaline rush out of steeling cars and causing havoc on the roads. It is not surprising people are not sure if they have any hope.
Now life was no better when Peter was writing in the first century.
Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence. 1 Peter 3:15
Peter knew a deep hope that did not come from everything being rosy but from faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. His faith expressed hope in the abundant life being made available to all. Peter’s hope is rooted in the conviction that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the germination of a seed that mysteriously grows in spite of us.
The prophet Joel knew nothing of Jesus but his faith in God gave him hope that the locust plague would end. The new rains will come, and wine vats will once again overflow. Joel like the Deuteronomist and generations of Israelite knew that somehow, drought, exile and plagues of locusts are connected to our sin, but God’s mercy is greater. Joel knew in his heart of hearts that God would cloth his people in a garland of joy to replace the ashes of mourning.
In our Newsletter Caroline placed a part of the old hymn, Count your blessings, name them one by one. May be this is one way to revitalise the hope with in us. We are blessed in Australia when fires ravage the land that volunteers move from state to state to help. The Government puts in place funds and resources to help people rebuild their lives, the military send people to work alongside firefighters and volunteers. In the Covid pandemic our Governments state and federal worked together with enough humility to listen science and health experts. Across the world scientists worked tirelessly to produce vaccines in less than a year. In our country our Covid health services are free, and the community spread is so low we can get on with needed operations and medical treatment without fear. The list of blessings is long. Yes, we still have lots of work on domestic violence and unruly youth, droughts, mice plagues and caring for the environment. Pay attention to the blessings and our deep hope in a loving God is revived, in a God who enters into the mess of our world embraces us in his death and resurrection.
A couple of days after the discussion on hope I received an email with a YouTube link, An Introduction to Joy, by Rob Bell. For more than an hour Bell uses humour to help us discover moments of joy in everyday life. For instance Bell shows a couple of photos, one of a man at the beach wearing stripped body hugging togs, black business socks and glow in the dark sandshoes and the other of a man in a mirror suit walking a long as if a mirror suit is normal. Bell says, doesn’t that make you want to do a dance for joy. He says, the rules for what you should wear mostly disappear, you can relax.
His main thesis is that Sinicism is easy, it is lazy, it doesn’t go far enough. Joy is the different to happiness. Joy can wrap its arms around the whole experience of life. Joy comes from noticing the silly, the wonderful, the ridiculous even when life isn’t wonderful making you feel happy. Christian joy is not based on the on again, off again happiness. Joy like hope is rooted in the faith that even death has been conquered.
Now if we have this deep hope and joy bubbling up within us then we have indeed received a wonderful gift. Faith, like the seeds planted in the ground, grows mysteriously producing the fruit including hope and joy. The question for us to ponder is how do we respond to this wonderful gift.
Recently I had one of those special birthdays that only pop up every ten years. Any plans of inviting family and friends to join me in NZ to go bush walking after a party fell into the Covid void. But my family gathered a couple of friends on the day of my birthday each with unexpected gifts. As one present was being handed over at the beginning my daughter said, no, no, you have to open that last, it is the pièce de resistance. After opening the other presents, I finally got to open the present from Gwenn. It was a stunning Icon, one of my heroes saint St Francis of Assisi. My daughter was right! It is an unusual rich red colour. Oddly I had chosen an almost identical image for a card to give to a Franciscan who was being ordained.
I love it so much I wondered what present can I get for Gwenn later in the year that would express similar love and thoughtfulness. The usual presents don’t cut it.
As we come to thanksgiving Sunday in our Covenant Renewal time, I wonder if we have the same dilemma. What gift if any expresses the same love and grace we receive from God? May be those generous gifts we normally give, our money, our time, our talents are lack-lustre compared to the gift of faith with its abundant life.
I wonder if we ever stop long enough to ponder and appreciate that grace, the gift God gives. I wonder if like so many blessings we don’t bother to notice, and count the blessings do we miss noticing how our Lord’s all embracing love and the hope it brings. I wonder if we look for moments of the ridiculous, or moments of awe, or feelings of grace. Do we allow ourselves a little dance for joy to celebrate the things we notice?
So as we renew our covenant relationship with God this year, yes I want to encourage all of us to give generously to the work of God here and in the wider mission. I am keen that we all use our talents and time to be a blessing to the wider community as well as to our parish Community. And yet even more I pray that we will set aside time to ponder the wonderful love expressed as our Lord. He came into our lives embracing us in his death and resurrection. I pray that deep hope, joy, and love will grow like seeds planted in each of us