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Be Thankful

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Theme: Be thankful

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, we gather in various ways, on this day, to give thanks: those who have much share with family and friends, while those with very little receive from those who have more; but today is about much more than food, today is a special day to give you thanks for all you give us, and most of all, we give thanks for your son who brought us forgiveness of sins and life everlasting, and it is through Jesus we pray. Amen.

Joel talks about God sending a great plague of locusts on the people of Judah. God calls for repentance. At the time Joel wrote, people, including the Jews, believed that all natural events were caused by God (or, if they were not Jews, by the gods). They didn’t have the discoveries that we have in knowing about the natural world. So divine intervention, both for good and ill, was an easy explanation about what was then unknowable. But we know God is a God of love and God wants what’s best for us.

Then just before our part of Joel for today begins, God has pity on God’s people and desires the land to be healed. It is difficult to date Joel as he wasn’t as famous as other prophets. (And by date, I mean when Joel was written.)

Careful reading of the book describes a Jerusalem some time around the fourth or fifth centuries BC. During this time, Judah was a province of the Persian Empire. They were not particularly wealthy. They had no means of self-protection and were dependant on the Persian army.

Since their crops were wiped out by a plague of locusts this created starvation for the people and of the temple sacrificial system. In other words, God would not have regular sacrifices and there would be a resulting disconnect from God and God’s people.

So now, God, through Joel, offers words of hope. Joel first addresses the soil. “Fear not. Be glad and rejoice! God has done great things.” The animals are to no longer fear, because the grasses are turning green, the trees are producing fruit, and the vines are producing grapes (very important).

The drought is ended and the rains have returned. The gift of rain is an act of righteousness by God for the people. The Hebrew is not translatable into English here. So different Bibles treat the translation of verse 23 differently. God is doing right by the people, because there is a relationship. It could also imply a teacher of righteousness or that the rain comes at a perfect time.

Then Joel paints a picture of abundance. There will be no bare spots on the threshing floor – for it will all be covered with grain. The containers of oil and wine will be so full that they will be overflowing.

God will make up for the devastating losses the people of Judah incurred from the locust invasion. Judah will be restored to the way it was before the invasion and provide even more than they had before.

The people will eat their fill. They will praise God for the wonderful things that God has done. And God will never again bring another devastation like the invasion of the locusts ever again. The shame of hunger and of want will never again happen. They will know that God is ever with them. They will never be shamed again. And God reminds them, in case they forgot, that there is only one God.

Van Harn notes that the day of Thanksgiving for Judah and by extension us, “will have three aspects. First, it is a day when people will eat in plenty. It is easy for Western people to take food for granted and to see it as not very spiritual, but the Old Testament knew that food could not be taken for granted and that God was very concerned with it, as part of God’s concern with the body. The body and food are spiritual realities.

“Second, it is by means of these that people will know that God is in their midst. They will know once more that Yahweh is indeed God. Often prophets see God’s acts in history as the proof that Yahweh is God. Joel promises that events in nature will do that. In each case the evidence is not merely that an event takes place, whether a political one or a natural one. It is that this event takes place in fulfillment of God’s word. It is the ability to say what you are going to do and then do it that shows that Yahweh is God. This day will demonstrate that this is so, and thus make the day a day of worship.

“Third, it is a day of glory. The calamity that the people have experienced has made the past year a time of shame. Like a political defeat such as the fall of Jerusalem, the locust plague indicates that either they are experiencing God’s judgment or have been committed to an incompetent God. Either way, they look stupid. God’s abundant blessing will prove that neither of these ideas is true . . . . The promise reminds us of God’s promise after the flood, when God swore, “Never again.”

Contrast Joel with Bob Reccord’s story. He writes, “As I write this book, I’m having (sic) to exercise the faith of dealing with the prison of pain. Unexpectedly, I suffered a severe cervical spinal injury. The pain was so excruciating, the hospital staff couldn’t even get me into the MRI until they had significantly sedated me. The MRI showed significant damage at three major points in the cervical area. The orthopedic surgeon’s assistant later told me, “Bob, your neck is a wreck.” He said there was hardly any way I could avoid surgery.

“Because of the swelling of injured nerve bundles, the only way I could relieve the pain was to use a strong, prescribed narcotic and to lie on bags of ice. Sleep, what little there was, came only by sitting in a reclining chair.

“Approximately 48 hours from the onset of the injury, doctors estimated that I lost about 80 percent of the strength in my left arm. Three fingers on my left hand totally lost feeling. Even the slightest movements would send pain waves hurtling down my left side and shoulder. To add insult to injury, physicians said I had to step away completely from my work (which I love), and begin to wear a neck brace…24 hours a day for five weeks.

“About halfway through that experience, I found myself sitting on the screened-in porch behind our home. The day was cold and blustery, but I was committed to being outside, just for a change of scenery. Suddenly a bird landed on the railing and began to sing. On that cold, rainy day, I couldn't believe any creature had a reason to sing. I wanted to shoot that bird! But he continued to warble, and I had no choice but to listen.

“The next day found me on the porch again, but this time the atmosphere was bright, sunny, and warm. As I sat, being tempted to feel sorry for myself, suddenly the bird (at least it looked like the same one) returned. And he was singing again! Where was that shotgun?

“Then an amazing truth hit me head on: the bird sang in the cold rain as well as the sunny warmth. His song was not altered by outward circumstances, but it was held constant by an internal condition. It was as though God quietly said to me, ‘You’ve got the same choice, Bob. You will either let external circumstances mold your attitude, or your attitude will rise above the external circumstances. You choose!’”

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of gratitude, through which we may give you thanks unceasing: this day, especially, and every day of our lives and one day when we meet face to face giving you praise and thanks and to your son, through whom we pray. Amen.

Text: Joel 2:21-27 (NRSV)

21 Do not fear, O soil;

be glad and rejoice,

for the LORD has done great things!

22 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.

23 O children of Zion, be glad

and rejoice in the LORD your God;

for he has given the early rainc for your vindication,

he has poured down for you abundant rain,

the early and the later rain, as before.

24 The threshing floors shall be full of grain,

the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

25 I will repay you for the years

that the swarming locust has eaten,

the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,

my great army, which I sent against you.

26 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.

27 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.

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