The God of Untold Bounty

    Oct 27th  |  The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming |  Joel 2:23-32

    I was listening to “Here and Now” on NPR this past week. The
    guest was a food scientist – yes, there are such folk – who was
    talking about our love of pumpkin spice. She was telling the hosts
    that during this time of year, when pumpkin spice is everywhere,
    we might be interested to know that there is hardly ever any
    pumpkin involved. Take your venti pumpkin spice latte. You
    would hate that coffee drink if it contained any pumpkin. What you
    really want to taste is the cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, cardamom, and
    mace that trigger the idea of pumpkin in your mind. The
    combination of those spices is what your mind recognizes as
    But, then, something else happens. Those aromas and tastes
    triggers your memory. You remember the times when you’ve had
    pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheese cake, pumpkin bread. You go back
    to those times when the family gathered for the feast and pumpkin
    figured in the meal. You remember the warmth of the family
    bonds, the people who once were there and are now gone, the chill
    of Thanksgiving morning, the fire in the fireplace – whatever else
    made those memories uniquely yours. And it all happens very, very
    quickly – so quickly that we don’t even realize that it’s happening.
    And that is why we’ll shill out $5.00 for a cup of pumpkin spice

    When I was running a few errands yesterday, the unmistakable signs of the autumn season were all around. The fields were being harvested of the corn and soy beans that grew there since late spring. The leaves on the trees were taking on color. Road side stands were selling pumpkins and gourds. Apple cider seemed to be the drink of the day. This week’s frost has finished off the backyard gardens and we’re getting ready to put the yards to bed for the winter.
    The more we’ve become removed from the agricultural ways of the past, the more we may forget that the changing of the seasons brings with it significant change for the earth and its people. But, the lessons assigned to this day by the lectionary, remind us of that central truth and an even greater truth. It is to those lessons that we now turn.
    Not much is really known about the prophet Joel. He is one of the minor prophets – which simply means that his prophecy is one of the shorter prophecies in the collection. Joel appears to have lived in Judah sometime between the 9th and 5th centuries B.C. Historically, that’s about all we know about him.
    When you look at the structure of Joel’s prophecy, there are really three basic components. First, there is the description of destruction and disaster. Second, there is the promise of future blessings. And finally, there is the promise of God’s judgment of those who oppose Israel and Israel’s ultimate vindication.
    Our passage for the morning is the transition in the prophecy. The years of Israel’s hard times are past. “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.” (vs. 25)
    While we’re here, let’s say it plainly: the Bible doesn’t hide from us the sure and certain truth that there are tough times in life. Life is not always easy. Life does not always work out the way we had hoped it would. There are times when the crops are destroyed, when the floods wipe out all that was built, when the flames take away all that had been gathered.
    Joel takes on an apocalyptic tone. “I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” (vss. 30-31) If it sounds like the end of the earth, it’s supposed to. Joel sees God bringing history to an end in dramatic ways.
    And if we stopped right there, it would feel completely wrong. Why? There’s something missing – something we have come to expect of God – something without which we could not conceive of God’s involvement.
    That something is hope. God never leaves us hopeless. God never leaves us with only despair and despondency. God never leaves us uncertain about the future or our place in it.
    “O children of Zion, be glad
    and rejoice in the Lord your God;
    for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
    he has poured down for you abundant rain,
    the early and the later rain, as before.
    The threshing floors shall be full of grain,
    the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.” (vss.23-24)
    “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.
    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.” (vss. 26-27)
    Where once drought had decimated the land, now the rains have come to shower blessing and life. Where once there had been emptiness and barrenness, now the threshing floors are filled with grain. Where once the vats had stood unfilled and vacant, now overflow with wine and oil.
    These blessings come with a purpose beyond meeting immediate needs. These blessings come as a reminder: “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.” (vs. 27) The presence of abundance is to point to the God of untold bounty who has showered blessing upon blessing upon God’s people and who never leaves God’s own people to muddle through life alone.
    The principle way our family takes vacation is by driving to wherever we are going. While it takes considerably more time to get to where we are going, there are benefits to driving that flying would never offer. More than a few family stories have come from those rides.

    But one of the greatest benefits in driving all across the country is
    that you actually get to see things up-close. You miss this stuff from
    35,000 feet in the air. You can’t see cotton fields ready to be harvested
    when you’re way up there. You miss cattle grazing on hillsides, even
    when you mistake them for bears. You don’t see the furrows bringing
    forth corn and beans and sorghum and whatever else may be planted.
    You don’t have those “ah-hah” moments when you round a bend and
    what seems to be all the glory of creation pours itself out before you.
    You don’t have the sheer excitement of catching your first glimpse of
    the Rockies or seeing the first wave of the ocean.
    In those moments, I am always reminded of God’s presence and
    provision. No matter what has happened – no matter what has come
    before – here is the presence of the God of untold bounty. Here is the
    reminder of the God who holds it all together. Here is the reminder of
    blessings we cannot earn or deserve and yet are ours for reasons beyond
    our comprehension. After the locusts, and the hoppers, and the
    destroyers, and the cutters – after life has taken everything we have
    except life itself – here is still blessing upon blessing upon blessing.
    Look for it. You’ll see it too. Watch for it in your daily round of
    life. You’ll see the presence of God in ways that will surprise you.
    You’ll see the blessings of God in ways that will remind you that God
    is with us always, providing for us, watching over us, accompanying us.
    Look for it in the freshly emptied fields. Look for it in the roadside
    markets. Look for it on your plate this noon or this evening. Look for
    it in your bank balance. Look for it in the faces of those that fill your
    life with joy. Look for it in the quiet, starry night. Look for it in the
    crispness of the morning’s air.
    Look for it wherever life takes you. You’ll see that God is there –
    unfolding blessing upon blessing. God is there – really – for now and
    evermore. Amen.