Join the Bountiful Praise!

This week is ideal for you to attend a bountiful service of
worship. The variety, quality, and freshness of the expressions of praise to
God are at their peak just now. And this worship service will be in a venue
probably very unlike your customary place of worship. You are not likely to
find rows of chairs or ordered pews – cushioned or not set for the
participants. If any stained glass is in view, it probably will be for sale
in a dealer’s booth. In most cases you will not find any air conditioning!
These tantalizing praise gatherings, though, will provide occasions for
recurring great joy, lift the spirits of those who are attentive to the
presence of God and are engaged in the activities of praise, and will
nourish the worshippers’ body and soul.

Where can you find one of these extraordinary worship
gatherings? Numerous sites are almost certainly available very near you.
Mobility limitations may consign some people to supermarket produce
sections. Many others will have easy access to one or more of the growing
number of farmers’ markets – or the dwindling number of roadside truck
farmer’s displays. A fortunate minority may stroll furrowed rows of their
own tilling, or participate directly in the joyous harvest at a producer’s
farm! By now you surely recognize that I am thinking of the praise to God
inherent in the current peak of the summer produce season. Plants and vines
and trees are yielding vibrant praise to the God of all creation, and all
who are recipients of God’s blessings should celebrate the delectable gifts
God has provided for us.

Sherron and I particularly enjoy the services at our local
farmers’ market. The splendor of God’s creation teems from every stand,
stall, and shelf. Sherron has a vast rainbow of colors to narrate: purple,
yellow, and white onions; new russet ones nestled beside bright orange sweet
potatoes; blushing pink and yellow peaches; bright yellow and cream-colored
kernels of corn; flashes of red from tomatoes everywhere, or from a
watermelon split for sampling; deep, dark black and blue richness of
blackberries and blueberries; green beans and purple hull peas. Every shade
of green abounds! Enticing aromas of peaches and melons and perhaps a
boiling pot of corn on the cob fill the air. Some bakers and canners join
their labors with God’s ambrosial creations to offer savory or sweet pies,
breads, relishes, pickles, and preserves. Each element is an opportunity to
recognize the intimate presence of God who initiated them all and
continuously reveals his goodness and grace by granting us such pleasurable
provisions. The whole earth can be seen as erupting in praise to God!

Is a farmers’ market worship experience biblical? I am convinced
that sensitizing ourselves to the presence of God in such settings can draw
us into the spontaneous praise of God that the Bible indicates is part of
our nature from the very dawn of creation. Growth and produce are noted as
indicators of God’s presence and care throughout the Bible. God’s own
goodness and the goodness God instills into all of creation is a constant
theme in the creation account in Genesis: “God spoke: “Earth, green up! Grow
all varieties of seed-bearing plants, Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.” And
there it was. Earth produced green seed-bearing plants, all varieties, And
fruit-bearing trees of all sorts. God saw that it was good. It was evening,
it was morning- Day Three.. 26-28 God spoke: “Let us make human beings in
our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for
the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth
itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” God created human
beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them
male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take
charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every
living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” 29-30 Then God said, “I’ve
given you every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth And every kind of
fruit-bearing tree, given them to you for food. To all animals and all
birds, everything that moves and breathes, I give whatever grows out of the
ground for food.” And there it was. 31 God looked over everything he had
made; it was so good, so very good!” (Genesis 1: 11-13, 26-31 MSG)
Everything in today’s farmers’ market – from the produce to the farmers and
the consumers themselves – God evaluated as very good. Anyone biting into a
peach only hours from hanging on the tree, dribbling sweet juice from the
corners of their mouth, knows the moment to be worthy of exuberant praise to
God! We need to recall more vividly the true source of our great joy.

The bounty of the earth exults in praise to God in the poetry of
Psalm 96. Think of your favorite taste or smell from the luscious produce
alluring your senses as you read about the crops bursting forth in joy
before the Lord: “Sing a new song to the LORD! Let the whole earth sing to
the LORD! {2} Sing to the LORD; bless his name. Each day proclaim the good
news that he saves.
{11} Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice! Let the sea and
everything in it shout his praise! {12} Let the fields and their crops burst
forth with joy! Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise {13} before
the LORD! For the LORD is coming! He is coming to judge the earth. He will
judge the world with righteousness and all the nations with his truth.”
(Psalm 96: 1-3, 11-13 NLT) Recognize the expression of praise to God
overflowing naturally from the delectable produce that is God’s gift to you
- and don’t forget to join in with your conscious praise and thanks to God.

The productive interchange between God, the goodness of God
imbedded in all of creation, and the lives of people of faith can be
glimpsed in Paul’s use of the metaphor to describe both the mindset and the
activity with which we engage the world. God’s design in creation and his
purpose in redemption is to love us and graciously to provide for us in
close, trusting relationship. When we respond appropriately to God’s grace,
we express praise and our commitment to God. It is designed to be like the
praise of God that is natural to all creation as expressed in Psalm 96. Paul
employs the growth image this way: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it,
but God made it grow. {7} So neither he who plants nor he who waters is
anything, but only God, who makes things grow. {8} The man who plants and
the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to
his own labor. {9} For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field.. (1
Corinthians 3: 6-9a NIV) God is at the center of all we are called to do,
and every act of planting, watering, harvesting, and enjoying a crop can
remind us that God invites us to share in his constant working for our good.
Yes, some of the work associated with produce is a challenge, but the
enjoyment at harvest is beyond words! The crop speaks for itself with a
torrent of praise. Our nature is to join the praise fest!

Don’t pass by the market this week! Go with a spirit of worship,
sensing God’s presence in all of the sights, tastes, and smells. Talk with
God’s co-laborers in the market. Hold the words of scripture in your
thoughts as you select your favorite produce to relish in your private
devotions at home! Take a luscious bite – and give praise to God!

- J. Edward Culpepper

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