Nov. 20, 2011 All Good Gifts
Dt. 8:7-18 Psalm 65 2 Cor. 9:6-15 Luke 17:11-19
We plow the fields and scatter, the good seed o’re the land,
But it is fed and watered, by God’s almighty hand.
You send the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The seed time and the harvest, and soft refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us, are sent from heaven above,
So thank the Lord, oh, thank the Lord, for all his love. Godspell
In the beginning, God created the earth and it was good, very good. Even more than that God delighted in God’s creation. God created humans in God’s image and likeness. In giving us this world to inhabit, God was inviting us into this delight. Yet somewhere along the line we have lost that delight. Blame it on the fall, on Adam or Eve if you must. I recently spent an afternoon with a 5 year old, 3 year old, 2 year old and a nine month old baby. I was struck by the happiness, even delight, they showed at some of the simplest things, kicking a ball, playing in leaves, or just responding back to a smile. It won’t be long before the 5 year old loses this innocence, already on the way. Sometime around the “age of reason” some say seven, children lose this natural ability. All part of growing up, and so we all grow up and that is good too. Still we long for that innocence, the delight that was ours in the garden. But why do we lose this sense of delight and are there ways to get it back?
Psalm 65, beautiful psalm of praise and thanksgiving traditionally used for reading at Thanksgiving. Appears to be two separate units brought together, vs. 1-8 follow the same poetic pattern with a regular meter whereas vs. 9-13 follow an irregular pattern. Leads one to believe these verses were added later for liturgical reasons, perhaps in celebration of the harvest. Also the content is different, vs. 1-8 penitential in nature, 9-13, verses of thanksgiving.
Psalm starts with praise for God who hears our prayers and forgives our sins – it is awareness of sinfulness that brings people to God. Context is a situation of sinfulness and chastisement for sin through a time of drought. God’s displeasure attributed to failure of nature to bless the land – God’s displeasure and pleasure in Old Testament times often shown through nature. In response to the prayers of the people, God blessed them with rain. The bounteous yield is a sign of God restored favor and forgiveness.
The psalm goes on in verses 5-8 to talk about God’s great deeds, might and power, who by strength created the mountains, stills the roaring seas, leading all people to awe before God as creator and shouts of joy.
Then psalm shifts from praise of God’s cosmic power to God’s involvement in the harvest, blessing the fields and flocks with abundance in a beautiful poetic vision. Spring and spring rains, vs. 9-10 followed by a rich harvest, vs. 11-12, the pastures are covered with flocks of sheep like clothing, the valleys are clothed in rich greens and golds as the harvest grows and matures and all nature sings for joy. 3 parts – praise of God in Zion who forgives sin, power of universal God/creator, praise of God who delivers bounty. We, as God’s people, are invited to join in delight at the wonder of God in nature.
Deuteronomy passage – people are being warned, when they arrive in the promised land and are finally able to stop their wandering, when they have plants in abundance from the labor of their hands rather than depending on manna for food, do not forget God. The concern is that during prosperous times, temptation is to forget God, think that all we have is based on our own work and merit, rather than gifts from God. In times of trouble, we remember God, ask God for help, easy to forget during good times.
Luke – story of healing of ten lepers. All ten cured, yet only one returns to thank Jesus. In their suffering, normal social and religious boundaries are ignored as Jews and the Samaritan are united in their misery, as lepers. All ten were ostracized, feared and despised. Situation of lepers, not just sick, but social outcasts, unclean, even sinners for sickness and misfortune at that time often equated with sinfulness. In order to be welcomed back into community, needed to be pronounced healed by the priest – health is in membership, not isolation. As Norman Wirzba states in his book Living the Sabbath, “The ministry of Christ, however, shows us that our memberships go far and wide to include those who are not like us—people of other cultures and races (the leper who thanked Jesus was a Samaritan), the unclean, the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised—those who do not count according to our scales of importance. It even extends to nonhuman life, for we are embodied and cannot possibly live well if the nutrients that feed us—animals, plants, water, soil, and air—are sickly or in decline. We need to remember the principle that was well-known in ancient or traditional cultures: bodily health includes the health of the many bodies, human and nonhuman, we necessarily live with. We are members of creation, and our well-being depends on the health of the whole creation. We are foolish if we think that we can be whole at the expense or in violation of the broader creation. Wholeness is a precondition for health, which is a precondition for delight and celebration.” (p. 47)
Only one leper returns to give thanks to Jesus. Jesus wonders where the others are. “Jesus is clearly dismayed by their blindness and their unwillingness to acknowledge and act upon the fact that our health, indeed the means of all our living, is finally a gift . . .every time we eat, drink, and breathe, we experience and participate in the grace of health. . . All wholeness, in the end, is a reflection of a gracious God who cares for us all by showering us with the gifts of bodies, food, and community. To be healthy in any way whatsoever is, whether we appreciate it or not, to bear witness to God’s continuing involvement in the maintenance and wholeness of creation. If we are attentive, our whole lives should be one long act of thanksgiving and praise.” (Wirzba, p. 47)
In 2 Corinthians, Paul encourages the people of Corinth to share their goods with others for in doing so we participate in the generosity of God. As we sow, so shall we reap. We give to others, not in anticipation of getting more, but because it is the right thing to do. In giving, we receive grace, we are blessed.
To go back to our question about delight – why do we lose this and can we get it back – see a number of answers in our readings. When things go well, during prosperous times, we can forget about God as we are warned in Deuteronomy. When we forget God, we no longer participate in God’s delight. In our psalm we see the need to seek forgiveness. Out of the experience of being forgiven, one naturally turns to praise and thanksgiving. It can be hard to experience God’s delight if you are sick or isolated from community, as we see in the case of the lepers in Luke. Jesus restores the lepers to health and to community so that they can participate in this delight. And Paul lets us know that there is a joy that can be found in giving, recognizing that all we have is gift, and giving back freely to others we participate in God’s generosity and God’s delight.
To this list, I would like to add that our society doesn’t promote delight. We have many artificial means of entertainment that leave one feeling empty rather than uplifted. We work far too many hours, despite our many labor-saving devices, and our work often leaves us feeling used like a commodity rather than appreciated as a person.
In establishing the Sabbath as a day of rest and giving this law to a people newly released from slavery, God was acknowledging that we need to be rested and have time in order to experience delight. Slaves who work non-stop, seven days a week, who are overly tired, have no time to stand in awe before God in creation, no energy for play or delight. There is a rabbinic tradition that says that if we learn to celebrate Sabbath fully even once, the Messiah would come. To celebrate Sabbath isn’t just a matter of taking one day of a week to rest – it is a whole way of life that allows us to participate in God’s delight.
God’s delight is grounded in the love of God. In that we turn our whole lives over to God, seeking forgiveness where needed, giving forgiveness, living lives of generosity, we will experience this delight which automatically leads to praise and thanksgiving. All good gifts truly do come from God. So, this Thanksgiving, I pray for our world and for all people, that all may be more open to the delight that comes from knowing and loving God.
Robertson, copyright November 2011