Saturday, September 27, 2008

We mustn't forget...a harvest sermon for Church in the Valley.

Yesterday afternooon a group of some thirty assorted children and their parents were having a wonderful time in here celebrating Messy Harvest. They arranged flowers, they made leaf prints and sunflowers…They put together the frontal we’re using this morning and they even constructed the amazing Harvest loaf which we’ll break and share at Communion. The whole church was full of joy and excitement as they charged from pillar to post, anxious to try everything…but we did manage to spend a few moments sitting down together trying to remember what Harvest Festival is all about. Together we told the story of our loaf, from the seed sown in the ground, through the work of the farmer, the miller and the bakers to the bread we can admire this morning, and we agreed that at each stage of the chain there are people whom we need to thank. Then we thought a bit wider, and realised that at every moment of every day there are literally dozens of things to say thank you for. And that, of course, is why we are here celebrating Harvest Festival. It’s time for us to pause and say, “Thank you! Thank you for all those good things that have come our way this year.” To pause and think; to pause and thank. Now, thankfulness is an attitude central to Christian belief. Even the name of this service, the Eucharist, means “Thanskgiving” We really should, always and everywhere, give thanks. Unfortunately, generally we don’t. We look at the world, at all that we have to enjoy, and we take it as our right. We no longer see God in it.. And it’s hard to see God in a tin of chopped tomatoes, a loaf of bread or a pizza. But God is there. If we open our eyes, wherever we look in creation, we see signs pointing the way to the creator. Creation is so much more than a gigantic supermarket, a mine from which we extract what we want, using or discarding to suit ourselves as if nothing has any value. Creation is, rather, part of the love song of our God who delights in creating…our God who looked at all that was made and declared that it was good.

But we do forget, don’t we? We’ve come along way from the garden of Eden and we rarely look back over our shoulders. It’s a situation foreseen by Moses in our Old Testament reading. He, like me, was preaching at a Harvest Festival….at a time when the children of Israel were invited to give thanks for God’s generosity –the gift of land which produces food abundantly, a land “flowing with milk and honey”. Moses urged the people to be thankful – and he recognised the danger that lurks embedded within any successful and affluent culture…the risk that success might encourage us to believe that we are sufficient unto ourselves. Maybe this past week has diminished that danger a little for us…All across the world, people are that bit less sure of themselves…that much more aware of the fragility of the systems we’ve come to rely on. And maybe that’s not a wholly bad thing. I’m not suggesting that we should in any way rejoice at the economic hardships that seem certain to confront many who thought themselves secure…just that perhaps there might be some encouragement to remember the true security, the true source of all good gifts. .

The great medieval mystic, Meister Eckhardt, once said,
"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough." I’m not sure, though, if I quite agree. Saying thank-you is important, certainly. It’s a great thing to recognise one’s blessings and say so from the heart. But on another level I would say, SAYING thank you is only a small part of the full meaning of what thanksgiving is all about. Thanksgiving is both an attitude and a response, it’s both faith and works. We need, in other words, to DO our thank yous too. That’s where our second reading comes in… Paul reminds us that we are the recipients of God’s ceaseless, overwhelming generosity – and that this should be our own model in giving. Think for a moment about how wildly profligate God is in creation. Thousands of thousands of seeds, each with the potential to create a whole new life. Myriad creatures so small they can only be glimpsed through a microscope. Endless demonstrations of overwhelming creative genius…with one end in view
“So that having all sufficiency at all times, you may abound in every good work”
The measure for our giving should be our receiving…God’s goodness is without limit, and so it follows that our response should overflow…that the more we receive, the more we can open our hands to pass on the gift.

It seems to me that my own besetting sin is the fear that there might not be enough. I want to give, I want to be generous…but at the back of my mind a little voice says “Have you made sure you’re saving enough for old age…Did you remember that you’ll have 3 children at university any minute now….” Instead of trusting that with God there is always enough and to spare, I wonder and worry and lapse into protective meanness. Let’s face it: we do not need everything we have to live abundantly. Indeed perhaps the more we have the more cluttered our spirits become. That’s a general truth but perhaps we are also at a juncture in human history where we will be forced to face certain realities- that our economies cannot and should not grow forever, and that we may have to be content with what we have, or less “Tis a gift to be simple…” says the old Shaker song…but it’s a gift that we are strangely reluctant to grasp even if we remember the second line “Tis a gift to be free” We seem determined to shore up our fragile selves with all sorts of material props…we focus not on thanksgiving but on thanksgetting…like a child who asks his friend on Boxing Day, not “what did you give?” but “what did you get for Christmas?”

But at harvest festival we have a chance for a rethink.
We come together to celebrate all that we have received, and we express that celebration by giving of our best, our first fruits, just as people have through many centuries. Harvest festival sounds cosy, reassuring, a link with the golden days when churches were full and summers were hot. But I’d like us to use our harvest festival as a challenge this year. If you and I can remember that we are celebrating thanks-giving, and not thanks-getting, if we can live lives that reflect the boundless generosity of God, then we can honestly say with Meister Eckhardt that a simple prayer of "thank you" expressed in word and in deed, will be enough. In fact, it will be more than enough, abundant and overflowing with grace and love made manifest. And so let’s thank God, for life, thank God for food, family and friends, thank God for the opportunities of living in a rich land flowing with milk and honey, and thank God for being able to express our gratitude in acts of love, sharing and giving. Amen.


RevDrKate said...

This is absolutely beautiful in every way. And I do so love that I can "hear" you preach it in my head. Miss you.

Mary said...

Yes indeed. And thank you so much for the Meister Eckhardt quotation, which provided the missing idea for my own sermon.