St Matthew's School Harvest festival on Friday was a joyous affair. It was the first time that the new Reception class had joined the school for collective worship...so there was much squealing and wriggling along the way. We were also bidding farewell to a wonderful Chair of Governors, retiring after 28 years of service to the school – so we were very
conscious of the need to say thank you....and, of course, we sang the much loved primary school song “Autumn days....” with its insistent refrain
“We mustn't forget – no we mustn't forget – to say a great big THANK YOU – we mustn't forget”
Together we realised as we looked round the church that at any and every moment of each 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. It's enshrined in the name of this service, the Eucharist, for that too means “Thanksgiving”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.
But God is there.
If we open our eyes, wherever we look in creation, we see signs pointing the way to the creator, tokens of his love at every turn….There are the obvious signs of course – the view from Selsley Common on a perfect autumn day, the night sky reminding us of our insignificance, the joyous giggle of a child paddling…But our creator God is no less present in the tinned tomatoes and processed cheese than in the wonderful displays of Harvest produce … and today at least we can take the trouble to pause and recognise this.
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 not an objective “thing” to be used or abused as human kind sees fit.
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.
We do forget, don’t we?
We’ve come along way from the garden of Eden and we rarely look back over our shoulders to touch base with the Creator as we ride rough shod over his creation.
It’s not a new problem.
Again and again through the Bible, God’s people are urged to be thankful – and we need that reminder more than ever today for we are prone to that 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, that the world is OURS and all that is within it.
Maybe recent years have 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 are confronting many who thought themselves secure…just that a shock to our economic stability might offer some encouragement to remember our true source of security, the true source of all good gifts.
.Centuries ago, Meister Eckhardt a dreamer and man of prayer proclaimed,
"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 to say so from the heart.
But on another level I would suggest, SAYING thank you is only a small part of the full meaning of thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is both an attitude and a response, it is both faith and works.
We need, in other words, not just to say but to DO our thank yous too.
We are the recipients of God’s ceaseless, overwhelming
generosity – and this should be our own model in giving.
God’s goodness is without limit, and so it follows that our response too should overflow…
Clenched fists hold on in miserly determination If we open our hands to give, they will be open, too, to receive...
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 the children can't find jobs – it's not easy for graduates...”Instead of trusting that with God there is always enough and to spare, I wonder and worry and lapse into protective meanness.
Instead of rejoicing in the Lord always I am all too prone to being anxious...
Instead of living by Kingdom values every day, I hang on nervously to what I have and seek for more…
Communities have this same struggle. If as a church family we are serious about modelling God’s love for the world,then we should be known not just for the beauty of our buildings and our worship but for the unconditional generosity we share. Our hallmark should be the way we give without counting the cost, the way we respond to the needs of others before we turn to gratify our own.
We CAN trust God to take care of the essentials – and maybe, just maybe, those other things aren’t quite as important as we imagined after all.
Think about it for a moment.
I may not find it easy to admit, but I do not need everything that I have in order to live abundantly…and I’d guess things may be the same for you.
Indeed it seems that the more we have, the more cluttered our spirits become. We so surround ourselves with goodies of all kinds that we struggle to lift our eyes above our treasure. We begin to believe that what we HAVE is what we are WORTH
That’s a general truth but perhaps we are now at a juncture in human history where we will be forced to face certain realities- that our economies cannot and should not grow forever, that we may have to be content with what we have, or less…
Now might be the moment to reconsider priorities
The time of growth is over. Now, perhaps, we can pause and be grateful.
“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 and we become dependent on them, fettered by them…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 today 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 not our left-overs, 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, 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 shining through every action. 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 without counting the cost.