Happy Thanksgiving!

What are we saying “thank you” for? When we went to sleep last night hormones about which I know absolutely nothing put us to sleep and allowed us to rest, and this morning there were other hormones that woke us up refreshed and ready to go. And most of us know nothing about them. This morning it was raining and we get to drink the rain drops—whether out of the tap or as coffee or tea or something stronger we use to flavour it, but we are drinking those rain drops. And outside our house there are trees that have been breathing oxygen out of their leaves and we breathe in that oxygen. And here at the altar is a display of overwhelming fecundity as fruit and vegetables of all kinds surge off the platform, and the largest pumpkin I’ve ever seen, placed there by the ever-capable and imaginative altar guild. And tonight or tomorrow night there’ll be turkey dinner. With gravy. And pumpkin pie. And, yes, whipped cream. That’s a sign of God’s delicious bounty being showered on us. Thankful? We are indeed.

In 1936 physicists, then as now, were wondering what everything is made of. What they’d figured out was that everything is made of electrons, protons, and neutrons. They were pleased, they’d figured out what everything was made of. But then they discovered another piece that was sort of like a backwards electron, but two hundred times heavier. What on earth was that for? Everything worked fine without it, so what was it doing? One Nobel Laureate physicist declared on hearing about it, “Who ordered that?” It turns out eighty years later that the muon might just be what holds the universe together.

Just as scientists have enormous microscopes to see down into what everything was made of—when Covid’s over, I hope you get a free tour at UBC of their TRIUMPH cyclotron—well worth seeing, in the same way the Bible can do the same thing for us. It’s a kind of microscope through which we can see what we are made of. And we can be surprised by
what we find.

There’s a “Who ordered that?” moment in Joel this morning. Our passage started with Joel saying, “Dirt! Rejoice! You’re going to be fruitful! Trees and animals and plants, rejoice, you’re going to be fruitful! People, rejoice you’re going to be fruitful!” And then, out of nowhere, two verses about God sending an army of insects to destroy crops and make people starve to death. That’s the “Who ordered that?” moment. Who ordered a passage from Joel, a short book but full of warnings about disaster, on Thanksgiving? Who ordered that? Or who ordered a sermon that would bring that up?

I was speaking with a psychologist at UBC yesterday. She was saying that we are in a pandemic of depression. Especially in young students. I didn’t get a chance to ask her why, but my guess is that depression can happen when we are overwhelmed with problems that we can’t fix. Isn’t that the truth. Covid—turns out that even with vaccinations we still don’t understand why it comes and goes. Climate collapse—all our vaunted technology looks like it’s only going to destroy us. Residential schools—we thought Christianity was the apex of love and responsibility and our own dear church turns out to have been involved in horrors we can hardly believe. And there’s more. Let’s get back to the turkey, that’s a much nicer topic.
You get the drift. The more enormous problems there are, which have a real and devastating impact on us, and the less we can do about them because they are all too big, the more we feel helpless and powerless and we retreat into depression or escape.

But Joel won’t let us escape. He could have simply omitted those verses about devastation, but he deliberately brings them into the middle of this passage about rejoicing. Those physicists didn’t ignore the weird muon when they found it and it may change the world. We would be wise not to ignore Joel’s “Who ordered that?” moment about looking at disaster.

What Joel is forcing us to do is to look straight into the darkness that so threatens us. Embrace that darkness, Joel is saying, and you’ll find out what humans are made of and it’ll make sense of the universe that is you.

So what happens when we look at those overwhelming threats of our time? One response is to withdraw and give up. That’s the depression response. The other is what Joel is pressing us towards. You can describe it in one word. “NO!” You might say that word during your daily prayers. You think about Covid, about the abuse of the planet, about the way in which money
and power moves to people who already have lots and away from those who are suffering extreme poverty, and you say “NO!” in your prayer. Or maybe you say it to a friend in conversation, or standing on a sidewalk while others carry placards, or maybe by carrying a placard, or you say “NO!” by blocking an intersection or, as some students and others do, even getting arrested. That’s an enormous “NO!”. And the moment you say, that, even if just whispered to yourself, suddenly you feel so much power. Those terrors of our time no longer overwhelm you. And that’s the antidote to depression. You act and you have power. And that’s a kind of resurrection.

So, who ordered Joel this morning? Jesus did. Jesus wants us to have the very best Thanksgiving ever. Wants us to be completely alive, unafraid, powerful. And he’s the one who walked deliberately towards the greatest disaster—his execution. Not because he was superman and strong and brave and it didn’t bother him. He was terrified. But when he challenged the normal way things are on the cross that became his power and his life and that life lives resurrected in us. All we do is say “NO!” to those abusive processes of our time, and we are already participating in Christ’s
resurrection. Which is exactly God’s dream for us.

Joel makes that clear. In the remainder of the passage, Joel describes the new life and joy that’s being offered to us as we confront the powers of darkness of our day. He says our children will prophesy. And indeed they do—it’s the little kids who are motivated by nothing buy the joy of being alive, young people are at the forefront of demanding we change our way
of life to avoid climate catastrophe. Joel says old people will dream dreams and young people have visions and the very poorest are being filled with the Spirit. Imagine everyone of the downtown east side filled with the Spirit of God! Magnificent! What a vision! An entire country motivated by God’s sacrificial love, able to give up the endless desire for more, inspired in art, in action, rejecting the constant call to get every whim fulfilled, able to really care. Suddenly, we’re risen with Christ. And indeed we do care and God’s wonderful kingdom is breaking in, because we’ve said that “NO!” to all levels of abuse in our world, and that “NO!” turns out to be a great shout of “YES!” to God’s new life and new kingdom.

So, who ordered Joel? Christ did! And we sing alleluia! And we are drenched with that new life that finally makes sense, and we are fed by Christ who has laid out that path for us in his own personal body. That’s thanksgiving, that’s the joy of this Thanksgiving day. So, now to the thanksgiving supper—we don’t have to wait until tonight or tomorrow night, we
are going to have our Thanksgiving dinner right here, this morning, in church. We call it eucharist. The very name means “thank you”.

I’m going to suggest a kind of experiment to see what the eucharist is made of, and what we are made of. Perhaps you might call it a spiritual experiment. When you come to communion, walk slowly to the altar, and imagine you are leaving behind all that discourages and draws us from full thanksgiving, imagine yourself leaving behind the helplessness and sense of being drowned in the fears of our time. When you reach the front, take the bread of life, the bread that strengthens us to live fully, and return slowly to your place where you were overwhelmed by the fears and dark powers. Then thoughtfully take the life of Christ into your self. Allow his body to be united with your body. Start dreaming dreams and having visions and being filled with the spirit. Then Joel will have done his job and we will be the ones who proclaim the victory of Christ. In that little piece of bread we find out what we are made of. We are made of the power and victory and new life in Christ. What more could we want?

That’s why were are celebrating Thanksgiving. That’s why the delicious food. That’s why even in our times we are filled with joy. That’s exactly what God wants for us and the entire world. And we get it by facing the darkness, saying “NO!” out loud, and standing for God’s glorious kingdom. That’s who we are.

Thanksgiving be to God.