When I was drafting this sermon this past weekend, the wind was howling, the rain was coming down sideways, and the leaves were swirling in the air, hitting the windows and blanketing the neighbourhood’s sidewalks and driveways. What a weekend it was! A sharp contrast to Thanksgiving weekend when Dennis and I were in Whitehorse, touring and walking in the glorious Yukon sunshine by day and taking in the Northern Lights viewed in clear skies at night with a sliver of a moon. I had always wanted to see the Northern Lights and the Yukon Territory and this trip was a dream come true. It’s difficult to fully describe to you the awesome beauty we witnessed: from the tiniest of frost crystals that sparkled like diamonds on early morning sun-lit grasses and low-lying bushes; to breath-taking glacier-fed streams, rivers and lakes just beginning to freeze over; to endless gorgeous forests of spruce and pine; to majestic mountain ranges with sometimes smooth, sometimes jagged and sometimes peaked tops covered in new snow; to the occasional wildlife grazing by the roadways; and finally to that indescribable beauty of the blue-green haze of the aurora borealis dancing in skies awash with stars. How many of you have been there and know what I’m talking about? I know a part of our hearts was left there for sure. A long time Yukoner was asked, “What’s one thing about the Yukon that more of us should take advantage of?” and he replied, “The land, silence, and space to be totally alone. Let its grandeur soak in.” Truly, the grandeur soaked in for us and the spirituality of that experience could not be denied.
The grandeur of God’s creation was all around us on this journey and God was in our midst. We were humbled and awed by the vast splendour of God’s handiwork. I couldn’t help but reflect on this as I prepared for this sermon especially in the passage from Joel and Psalm 65, the psalm appointed for today. Yes, the book of Joel begins with a natural catastrophe, a widespread and destructive locust plague, but the disaster is not the end. When the people were called to repent, God restored the land to its former prosperity. The imagery is beautiful: pouring down abundant rains, overflowing vats with wine and oil and threshing floors full with grain. And God promises the people “I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.” To me, it’s almost the voice of a jealous God, a God who wants only to protect us and to covet with us in a loving relationship that knows no end. God’s spirit is then poured out on all flesh, young and old, male and female, slave and free. The promise is that salvation and loving mercy are available to all and God is in our midst, there is no other! Looking at mountains, streams and valleys can evoke the love of God that knows no bounds, but also looking into the eyes of a beloved one or into the heart of one who weeps can also evoke that merciful and boundless Love.
Then Psalm 65 sings of the people’s response in thanksgiving for all that God has provided and all that God has promised. It can be our own love song back to God for all that God has done for us! We, along with all creation, offer this song of thanksgiving in words that evoke the imagery of a world unshackled by sin and sadness and restored to full abundance for all: Listen to these words of the Psalm:
You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; you provide grain; the year is crowned with bounty; wagon tracks overflow with richness; pastures overflow; hills gird themselves with joy; meadows clothe themselves with flocks; valleys deck themselves with grain; they shout and sing together for joy.
Yet, we sin and turn away from God through our actions and words. One need only look sadly to the south to see the affects of painfully disgraceful rhetoric. Yet we can all expose that “Pharisee-side” of ourselves when we find ourselves uttering, like the Pharisee in the Gospel, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people”. How easy it is to become self-righteous. But God always has a plan and if we are open to God’s plan of forgiving ourselves and others as God forgives us, then mercy is shown. God knows that striving for humility in this life is not easy but it is linked to pure joy. And we are not alone as Paul says in his letter to Timothy, “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength”. God saves us, stands by us and gives us strength so that when we turn back to the One who jealously desires us we can shout with joy, “Thank you God for loving me, thank you God for forgiving me, thank you God for being my constant companion”.
So for this upcoming week, I encourage you to think outside the box. Think about doing something you may not ordinarily do to show your appreciation of God’s love for you. You come to church, you donate, you give time and money but think about what you could do that you would not normally do to thank God for God’s presence in your life. Then it’s God’s turn to shout for joy, “Thank you for loving me, thank you for accepting my forgiveness, thank you for knowing I am always with you. You finally get it…YOU FINALLY GET IT”! AMEN.