“That all may be fed” – October 7
Sermon - Robin Wardlaw
Pentecost 19, Year B Thanksgiving/Worldwide Communion
Readings: Joel 2:21–27; Psalm 126; (1 Timothy 2:1–7); Matthew 6:25–33
Thanksgiving gives us a beautiful opportunity: to go deep within, to discover that for which you are truly grateful. We dress the church up at this time of year with signs of the harvest, a remnant of the time when most people farmed and lived on the land. In Newfoundland, people used to include salt cod, of course, and also a pitcher of fresh water to the display, so grateful were they for it in a salt water world. If we stop to think about it, abundant food at the farmers’ market and on store shelves–and fresh water to drink–are very good reasons to be deeply grateful. This is a chance to remind ourselves what a blessing this abundance is, and how many people in the world can only dream of what surrounds us.
Even in this rich place, not everyone has enough, as we know. Many still lack enough food, or healthy food. But let’s talk about other stuff first, then come back to food, and worry.
If you had to answer the question about the things that make you most thankful, what would they be? If you’ve had ill health, you might be grateful for medicine or skilled medical people. If you have, or used to have, work that was satisfying to some extent, you might be grateful for the chance to do something meaningful. If you like to read, or you enjoy music, movies, theatre, you might be thinking about how important art and artists are to you. Nature, pets, a certain time of day or year.
And many of us would say the name of someone, perhaps many people. A parent or some other relative, a teacher, a friend, a partner, a child. Life would be less somehow if it weren’t for someone’s example, or teaching, or patience, or forgiveness. These days, I’m reflecting a great deal about my mother and the many different ways I am grateful for her life, for instance. Take a moment to go inside and name for yourself something or someone for which or for whom you give thanks. Consider your thankfulness for a moment–the amount of it, the intensity. There’s likely no way you can explain it sufficiently to the rest of us. It’s your gratitude. It’s a gift, a joy, a motivator of your own, no one else’s. We may never fully get it, but that doesn’t matter.
What have you done with that gratitude? What are you doing? What will you do? Will you let it further shape you? Will you let it affect your actions, your tone of voice, the look on your face? Do you need to start something, stop something, change something to do justice to this influence in your life? Will others get some spillover from this deep, deep thanks that you are always giving?
The other half of worship is a kind of carefully phrased impatience, anger, rage, even, at the realization that not everyone has freedom, or dignity, or enough to eat. Impatience with our own apathy, our bad habits, the way we have come to terms with injustice. Anger of a creative kind about inequality, oppression, waste. We’ve been warned about carbon in the atmosphere for forty years, yet we’re still subsidizing big oil and big coal. We hear that there is enough food for everyone on earth, yet we still have food banks and emergency drives for places like the Sahel in Africa. The writer of our next hymn ends with the line, “that all may be fed.” This is our prayer, our commitment, a reason for being here.
The point of worship is not to leave furious or anxious or complacent. There are plenty of those things around without us adding to them. So let’s talk about food and worry now. We hear that anxiety is on the rise in society, but it is not exactly new. The gospels deal with extensively with worry. They have Jesus meeting a lot of anxious people as he moved from place to place. Does the worry date from his day, or those of the gospel writers, or both? It’s a bit hard to know from the stories we have exactly what Jesus was encountering. He responds with stories about flowers and birds and how God looks after them.
And he’s doing what we hope our worship will do: naming the things, such as fretting, that can get in the way of our deep gratitude, or our deep hunger for a different world. Worse, worry is infectious. My anxiety can make you anxious. Or a whole roomful of people, even a whole nation. It can lead to blaming and bad behaviour. Plus, we feel helpless. Not good.
You don’t like to worry. You would rather not. But it’s hard to find the off switch. Jesus is not saying, “There, there,” as if an encouraging word from the right person could somehow make it all better. He’s tapping into a long, strong theme in the bible. “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; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield.” (Joel 2:21) The prophet Joel begins by talking to dirt about anxiety, then animals. Working up to humans: “O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God,” for God has given you what you need. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.” (Joel 2:26) They are tied together, did you notice that? Abundance of food, giving praise to God, and the end of shame. We need to eat, of course, but the other needs are just as real and just as great: to give–give praise, give thanks, give assistance, give affection–and to be able to hold our heads up.
“Strive first for the realm of God and right actions, and all these things–food, clothes, the basics–will be given to you as well,” says the Teacher.