Joel was a prophet, or a preacher as we would probably call him today. It is uncertain but scholarly opinion is that he lived about 2800 years ago in Jerusalem.
The city and surrounding area have been devastated by plagues of locus which had destroyed the crops for several harvests resulting in near starvation for the people. During that time the Jewish people had turned from worshipping God to worshipping the gods of the peoples in nearby countries. Those so called gods were represented by little clay idols that the Jewish people kept in their houses and worshipped. With Joel’s encouragement all the people have destroyed the idols and returned to worshipping God. This is the first year since they made the change and the locusts do not return. As a result they have a brilliant harvest. The reading we just heard is part of their thanksgiving to God.
As far as I can make out our harvest this year has been reasonably good although some dryers have been working more than might be desired. Our harvests have been very variable in the last few years with the weather being very fickle. Maybe that is in part because of global warming. If it is maybe that is a result of us also worshipping idols. Our idols are not idols small clay statues but the idols of over consumption that I fear we all worship – at least at times. Still I don’t want to get too controversial so instead let’s continue with the service and shortly listen to what Jesus has to say about our needs although maybe not our wants and how to satisfy them.
I think the first message we pick up from our second reading is how happy Jesus is and actually that is true for most of his recorded life. He grew up in and had most of his ministry in the Galilean hills in the north of Israel. They are a place of natural beauty and fruitfulness. It was a great place to be and it still is.
He would have seen the birds flying free not apparently having to work hard yet on the whole surviving. The beauty of the wild flowers would have surrounded him. The word “lily” in that reading is actually a generic term for wild flowers generally. They were and are gorgeous, rather like our few remaining wild flower meadows, and yet one sweep of the scythe and they were gone forever. Jesus must have seen where that beauty came from. Clearly the flowers did not spend hours shopping for lovely clothes or ages in front of the mirror shaving or making up.
Jesus knew that their beauty was God given.
If God gives great beauty to such transient objects as the flowers of the field which as far as we know do not worry about their future flowering, then Jesus tells us that we, the pinnacle of God’s creation, should not worry about tomorrow. Of course we have to plan for tomorrow but Jesus is also encouraging us to enjoy the present; to be happy celebrating the goodness of God’s creation in the here and now. I guess that is something like mindfulness that is so popular today which encourages us to live in the present being aware of our own feelings including the joys in our lives.
Jesus is telling us not to worry about food, drink or clothes. He does not say that they don’t matter; indeed they do and did for him. Throughout the gospel stories we see Jesus enjoying food and drink with friends and sometimes even with opponents. We don’t know what clothes Jesus wore, but we do know that the tunic he was wearing on Good Friday was so good that the soldiers threw dice for it whole rather than tearing up into equal portions as would be more usual. Clearly Jesus was a man who enjoyed the good things in life that his Father, our creator God has given us.
Of course it can be hard at times not to worry about tomorrow. I am pretty sure that all our farmers have worried about tomorrow and what the harvest this year would be like. But I think that even when faced with the difficulties of never knowing whether or not their hard work would pay off Jesus would say to our farmers and to all of us, do the best you can do today – in our work today and in our planning for the future, then try not to worry because you have done all you can so try to enjoy today.
The second message Jesus gives us in this passage is about priorities. Jesus is telling us to put God first in our lives. To have God’s will as our primary concern is what Jesus means when he says “strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness”.
The kingdom of God is that state of affairs that will occur when everything done on this planet is done in accordance with God’s will. In other words when we all acknowledge Christ as King, obeying his will to make this world the perfect place God wants for it. When that happens everything will be right. As Christians it is something we aim for hopefully every day.
Having put God first, then the way we go about our daily tasks will be in line with what is right. It is obviously essential that we plant and we reap and we weave, or whatever is our modern day equivalent means for putting food & drink on our tables and clothes on our backs.
Jesus’ message is about how we go about that. If in everything we do, we consider how we are caring for the environment that God has given us and how we are ensuring that that world’s resources are shared fairly around the world then we will have our priorities right. Going about daily life like that will result in the sort of happiness that Jesus displays and that he wants for each and everyone of us.