Saturday, September 17, 2011

Harvest rethink - a sermon for Songs of Praise at All Saints, 2011

When I first read the hymns you'd chosen for today, I have to confess I was a tiny bit disappointed.
Not that your suggestions were lacking in any way-but simply because I had rather hoped we might get to sing another – that's been popular with children for most of the past 3 decades.
It celebrates a whole multitude of joyful things...autumn days, a sporting victory, the song the milkman sings...and each verse ends with the chorus
We mustn't forget to say a great big thank you.....”
And that's surely the message today.
We MUSTNT forget.

Unfortunately, we generally do.
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..
Yes, it CAN be 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 1st 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.
By the grace of God, we are given many gifts – and it's absolutely right and proper to rejoice in seeing them well exercised.
Yesterday's fete, a wonderful celebration of the life of our community, was a brilliant example of gifts used co-operatively to benefit others...

but we need, as Christians at least, to go a bit further.

.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.

We need to DO our thank yous too as Paul reminds us in the letter we heard as our third reading.
We are the recipients of God’s ceaseless, overwhelming generosity – so we should give with that same generosity.
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.
God's life and love overflowing, no limit to his goodness which floods creation with unconditional love...
so it follows that our response should overflow, unconditionally…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…
What if NONE of the children can find work when they graduate?
If the Church of England goes bankrupt tomorrow?
What then?”
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 don't 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 stage in history where we'll 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 maybe even 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.

1 comment:

Ecumenical Believer said...

Amazed I'm the first (and only!) commenter. Great post.

The key paragraphs (for me) are the one containing the lines from the Shaker song, and the preceding. Theoretically we think it might be nice to live simply and free of material accoutrements, and yet... When it comes to actually putting this into practice we don't quite trust that we can do it without relying on all of the things we've been taught since birth to rely on: money, savings, a pension, insurance policies. After all, they've worked for us up to this point!

The cultural necessity of all of these things we rely on is so strong that to think about doing the Christian counter-cultural thing feels like suicide. And yet our continuing participation in these systems which so control us gradually chips away at our fragile souls, leading to a slow death. I don't think we see that, though, and instead worry about the heavy bump of taking the plunge, cutting our ties, breaking our crutches, and getting off our beds and walking!

Escaping from the "suicide machine" (which actually feels like a nice, warm cocoon) is, for me, the offer of Salvation. It is an ongoing process of luring us out from underneath our hiding places to stand in the Light. I need a lot more of it: come LORD come!