Readings: Joel 2:21-27 Psalm 126 1 Timothy 2:107 Matthew 6:25-33
This coming Thursday is a special day. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will entertain. The Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys will face each other on the field. The smell of baking turkey or ham will fill the air. Pumpkin pies will cool on the kitchen counter. Most of us will gather for a festive dinner with family or friends.
Over in Wyatt Hall, many of you will have worked hard to prepare and serve a Thanksgiving feast. You will feed hundreds of people—from parishioners to homeless folks to the working poor to shut-ins. For just a little while, we will all give thanks. For just a little while, we will push aside the nagging fears or concerns that fill our lives. We worry about the health of those we love—and what their illness means, either now or in the long run. Christmas commercials already pressure us to buy more stuff than we really need or can afford. We lie awake at night, worrying about the bills piled up now and the ones that will arrive in January. We are worried about a situation at work—where we don’t see eye to eye with our boss or a co-worker. We may fear that we’re going to lose a job.
It is not difficult to live in the darkness of worry, concern or fear. Yet this morning, the prophet Joel, the psalmist and Jesus of Nazareth emind us of a world free of worry, concern and fear. Earlier in the second chapter of Joel, the prophet writes “the day of the Lord is coming, it is near.” When this much-anticipated day of the Lord arrives, all of God’s creation will enjoy a different kind of life—a life of abundance, fullness, joy and no worry. In fact, the prophet says “Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green. . .O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God. . .You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God.”
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus looks around at the people who have gathered to hear his teaching. They are ordinary folks, just like us who work hard to put food on the table. They worry about how they will pay their taxes so that they won’t lose their property. They look up into the sky and fret about how long it has been since rain watered their crops. They worry about how they’re going to get along with relatives who have had to move in with them. Life is hard—full of responsibility and with it, fear and worry. Yet Jesus says “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Jesus reminds his listeners that they—and we—are to “strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.”
The prophet Joel and Jesus do not use the same words. Joel speaks about a mysterious “day of the Lord.” Jesus speaks of “the kingdom of God.” Yet both refer to the same thing. The day of the Lord is a perfect day, envisioned by most of us. On that day, peace will fill the air. No one’s children will be maimed or killed by an Improvised Explosive Device. On that day, nobody’s water will be tainted by toxins. On that day, the vegetables and fruits served at the table will be fat, colorful and unaffected by pesticides. On that day, there will be no drought nor hurricanes nor derechos. The rain forests will be thick and verdant. The glaciers will not be melting, but will, once again, be home to creatures who need that habitat. In other words, as one writer has noted, the world will be “this world, the one we know—but rescued, transformed, and renewed.” All of God’s children will sit down to the table together—rich, poor and middle-class; black, brown, white and all shades in between; young and old, able-bodied and those who are physically or mentally challenged. Somehow, some way, every one of us will be what God meant for us to be—all of our selves, whole, joyful and fully aware of God’s bounty and grace. That sounds like heaven, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is.
Last Sunday, we began a book study on Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. Bell argues that the age to come is now. From the Garden of Eden to our own back yards, God wants us “to participate, to partner with God in taking the world somewhere.” In other words, heaven (or hell) is not some distant geographical location where we mentally put either ourselves or someone we don’t like. Instead, what happens in the Day of the Lord, in the Kingdom of God, is going on right now. Every week, we pray the Lord’s Prayer. “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As it is in heaven. Like now. Today.
I do not believe that God wants you and me just to sit down and dream of pie in the sky by and by. God wants you and me to get up and do something for God now. God has intended for the world to live right now in its fullness of peace, justice and abundance. Yet we—Christians included—spend time and energy and money destroying this world and God’s Kingdom. Human beings are the ones who use too much gasoline traveling to and fro on countless errands. Human beings are the ones who fill our homes with too much stuff because we fear the emptiness inside our souls. Human beings are the ones who do not invite others to share our meals because of our fear, hatred and divisions into “us” and “them.”
You and I have much for which to be thankful. We have shelter, a bed in which to sleep at night, heat, clean water, food to eat and some way to get from place to place. Not all of us have adequate medical care, yet compared to much of the world, we do pretty well.
Many years ago, I realized that there are some things that take a lot of energy. Fear takes a lot of energy. Worry takes a lot of energy. Hatred and jealousy take a lot of energy. In one particular situation in my life, I made a deliberate decision not to give energy or time to something that was slowly killing my soul. I decided that if I have X amount of energy every day, I was not going to use it on something or someone who drained me. The realization that I had the choice of how I used energy, time and money was one that changed my life. I think it helped me bring more of God’s Kingdom to reality because now, I could focus more on how I acted, rather than how I reacted. It gave me a place to which I could direct positive energy.
All of us can do something similar. For example, we may think “oh, those poor people who don’t have enough food.” Yet you and I can change that situation. We can fill grocery bags with food for some specific people. Imagine that you are a single parent with three children at Laurel Elementary and High Schools. You work two jobs just to pay the rent and put some food on the table. You have done a little layaway for the holidays. Yet your children will walk out of the school building on Friday, December 21st and return on January 2nd. How are you going to feed your three children over ten days when the school is not open to feed them breakfast or lunch? Would the prophet Joel say “do not fear”? Would Jesus of Nazareth say “do not worry about your life?” I doubt it.
Somehow I think Joel would assume that the community will take care of the ones who struggle. Somehow I think Jesus would look around at us and say “Hmmm. Somebody here needs peanut butter, tuna, rice, beans, maybe a turkey. Did any of you put a little extra in their grocery cart this week? Has anyone got something to share?” If you and I hear that call and respond, somehow the food multiplies in a miraculous way. This is the Kingdom of God. This is the Day of the Lord. A day for which you and I actively work to bring to reality.
As we prepare for abundance and bounty this Thursday, I invite you to ask, “What can I do to bring the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven?” Then, in your own practical way, do it. I promise you that God will bless your offering and multiply it beyond your wildest dreams. On that day of the Lord, the Kingdom of God will have come on earth as it is in heaven—a day full of abundance, joy and great thanksgiving. Amen.
© The Rev. Sheila N. McJilton
Picture taken by McJilton at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church