In this Benefice of Cherbury with Gainfield we are in the middle of giving thanks for harvest. The readings this week include one from the prophet Joel, writing during a period of agricultural devastation. A plague of locusts had consumed crops and the grazing on which livestock and humans depended; it seems also that drought had led to wildfire and to water sources drying up. (Joel chapter 1)
Joel’s account seems terribly apposite today as we read reports of forest fires around the world, extreme weather conditions wiping out communities, and the ongoing plague of locusts which has been infesting Eastern Africa, the Arabian peninsula and India for the last three years.
But Joel was not writing an account of despair but of hope. In the passage for this Sunday (Joel 2:21-27) he prophesied ‘do not fear’ to the earth and to the animals and to the people because God would provide abundantly and that those who had lost everything would eat in plenty and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord. And so we read this message of encouragement at our Harvest Festivals as a reminder of our dependency on God as we give thanks for how we have been blessed this year.
Some might say, Joel’s prophecy sounds wonderful but what comfort is that to families starving in Somalia or Yemen right now? Where is God as another child dies of malnutrition? This is a painful reality in our world affected by climate change, by conflict and by politics of demand and deb. I believe God is present in the promise of future restoration and also present in suffering alongside every starving family, and at every damage inflicted on creation. And I think God is present alongside us as we celebrate our good fortune, challenging us to ponder not only how we may use that fortune to help others, but perhaps even whether some of that good fortune is only possible because of the poverty of others. Are we perhaps guilty of being locusts in the world today? Joel’s third chapter is a disturbing call to arms, but I propose that we could read it instead as a call to war against the obvious and the hidden injustices around us.
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