Friends at Christ Church, welcomed Rev. Bill White back to Oxford Centre. Rev. Bill blessed us with this sermon…
Harvest Home. It feels a lot like coming back to a home we once enjoyed. It’s wonderful to see old friends again, and sad that a few are missing . . . . and how on earth can I be part of a service without Elizabeth to show me where to sit and where to stand! Derek, how on earth do the candles get lit these days?
My sincere thanks to the wardens and congregation for inviting me to preach today, and particularly to Father Derek for his hospitality in welcoming me back to his parish. Derek and I didn’t know one-another before he was announced as my successor, but in the meantime, I dare say we’ve become good friends. Take care of him!
So . . . Harvest Home in a rural community. It’s been decades since the idea of talking to your plants became ‘a thing’ but how many farmers actually sing to their dirt? The prophet Joel did. “Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice for the Lord has done great things!” Joel 2:21 I guess if you’re out in a tractor with one of those cabs and a good stereo or at least earbuds, it would be no surprise if you broke into song, but actually singing to your dirt? Nah. That’s a whole different kind of thing.
But Joel was actually singing praises to God. He also sang to the animals, and gave thanks for the trees and vines, telling the people to “…rejoice in the Lord [their] God; for he given the early rain for [their] vindication.” 23
Years ago when I was a classroom teacher, one of the science lessons we taught was that everything comes from the ground. Everything. The kids would say, “Well, what about our desks then,” and we’d point out where the iron came from and the fuels that fed the furnaces to refine and shape it, where the wood came from to make the desktops, where the petroleum came from to make the nylon feet on the desks…. You know how it went. No, there aren’t any “desk trees”. It’s a little less direct than that, but it boils down to the same thing.
Even if we really stretch the point, ‘things’ like love come from people and other living creatures whose nourishment comes from the ground. Love comes from people, animals… and God. God is the only “thing” I can think of that somehow doesn’t somehow come from the soil. No — it comes from him!
A group of scientists looked at each other one day with their jaws hanging open in amazement at what they’d just discovered. They had shock in their eyes while they re-checked their numbers and their experiments to see if it was really true. And then with deep concern on their faces, and nodding at one-another to go ahead, one of them said, “Uhh, God?”
“Yes” came the answer from the invisible deep voice.
“Uhh, God, we . . . we don’t think we need you any more. We think we’ve discovered how to create life.”
“Ohh,” replied the deep voice. “Show me.”
So the scientists started gathering the soil into the shape of a human being, just as scripture tells us God did, Gen 2:7 when suddenly the deep voice interrupted them, saying, “Wait a minute — get your own dirt.”
If everything comes from the soil, then everything actually comes from God who created that. That’s why Joel sang out to the ground, “Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice for the Lord has done great things!” God created the soil itself. That’s a pretty great thing right there!
The psalmist had already written about that as we read together in today’s readings. “Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev.” Ps 126:3-6
That line, “The Lord has done great things…” It seems to be a theme here. God
has done great things, and you know, God will continue to do great
In Matthew’s Gospel, 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.” Matt 6:25 Well I confess, I have a problem with that the way it’s left by itself. You know the problem of quotes taken out of context. Politicians can be pretty good at that, and so can fundamentalist, literalists. After all, tell the people who still haven’t recovered from Hurricane Dorian not to worry — it’ll all be fine. Well maybe. But there’s a long road ahead and a lot of worry in between, and people sick, injured and dying to be cared for.
This community knows what the devastation of a powerful wind can be. It’s been forty years and one and a half months since the tornado that destroyed most of this community, including the church that was here before the one we gather in today. There are still people here who remember it well — too well. But if you’ve seen the pictures from the Bahamas, there’s hardly a building standing or a passable road. There are no food or water supplies. No medicines for the prescriptions people need filled to keep them well.
At least Oxford Centre had the world outside and around them to help in their recovery, and the bishop came and celebrated the mass here at the churchyard behind the few bits and pieces that were left of Christ Church.
I was delighted in the immediate aftermath of that hurricane to read that the cruise ship companies that have long benefitted from the beauty of the Bahamas were sending some of their biggest, newest ships, loaded with food, water, equipment, medicine and doctors to the islands to pay back to the communities that had been their cruise hosts. Well done! There was no other way to reach the people in need.
So, what about that statement from Jesus that folks shouldn’t worry about food, water, or clothing? There weren’t any cruise ships on their way to help the people who’d gathered on the mount to hear him preach that sermon, but let’s put it into context. “Context,” they say, “is everything.”
Today’s reading starts right after Jesus said “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve [both] God and wealth.” Matt 6:24 Jesus doesn’t seem to be saying that you don’t need to have any of that stuff. Of course we do. The cruise lines aren’t going to provide for our day to day needs — unless we pay the big bucks to be on board!
The real message here is that we shouldn’t be concerned about getting wealthy as much as doing what God demands of us. You don’t get a crop if you don’t till the ground and plant the seeds …and water them …and fertilize them …and tend them.
But even if you do all those things, just like the scientists who were using God’s dirt instead of their own (which of course they didn’t have) …even if we plant, water, fertilize, and tend our seed or seedlings, they wouldn’t grow without the spark of life that is in them, and that spark comes from God, not from scientists.
Oh, please don’t take me wrong. I’m not anti-science like some of the politicians and schools in the southern states. Science isn’t anti-God nor is God anti-science. It’s not just one or the other. Our Bible, our church, and our faith tell us what God has done. Our science tells us how it works and how God did it.
It’s interesting: according to research, scientists seem to be split about 50/50 on religion. Yes there are those (like our Governor General) who think it’s all superstition and nonsense, but there are also a great cohort of serious and highly respected scientists who say that the more they learn about how things work, the more they’re convinced of God’s existence and creation. All coincidences? Hardly. There are far too many of them. Einstein said “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.”
For those scientists who pooh-pooh the existence of the Divine, the second letter to Timothy attributed (with some dispute) to St. Paul says, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions…” I Tim 2:1 I guess we can add to that list, the very scientists who think they’re at the top of the heap and that there is no God. We need to pray for them too. Big time.
So: “Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice for the Lord has done great things!” God is the source of all creation. God is the source of life itself. Even when I’ve been in times of some personal doubts, I’ve always come back to one rock-solid belief: that God is both here and there, that God is real, and that it all comes from God.
Soil that can support plant life; plant life that support human and animal life; life itself… none of these are any coincidence, just an anonymous God. He didn’t bother to sign his work because he doesn’t have to.
“…be glad and rejoice for the Lord has done great things!” …and will keep on doing them somehow or another, no matter what we worry about, no matter what disasters arrive, no matter what mistakes we make — the Lord continues to do great things.
And for that, thanks be to God.
Cheers & Blessings,