Sunday, October 04, 2015

Cathedral Harvest

One way and another, this is not a great week to be celebrating Harvest.
Hospitals bombed and students shot on their college campus.
Teenage jihadists and the continuing pain of refugees across the world
And now, so close to home, Saturday evening shoppers caught up in pain, terror and tragedy.
Truly, there's little to give us hope when we look at the News.

And yet - and yet - we are called to give thanks.
And somehow we have to believe that those words we've just heard about God's care for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field mean something in a world that often seems harsh, unpredictable, downright hostile. That the truth of God's presence throughout creation - in the beauty and in the pain - is as fundamental and sustaining today in Coventry as it was 2000 years ago in the gentler landscapes of Galilee.
We come together this morning with so many different things on our hearts - carrying all sorts of grief and pain - and we are called to give thanks.
And I know that's not easy. 
Not easy at all.

But nonetheless
We mustn't forget to say a great big thank you”.
So ran the favourite harvest hymn of the schools on my last patch - – so let me begin by voicing some of my own particular thankfulness.
I love being here as your Canon Pastor...
I really really do.
I love being part of an amazing group of people who give time, energy and buckets of love to the Cathedral day by day, way beyond any call of duty...
I love the place that the Cathedral and its story of brokenness and healing holds in the hearts of friends and visitors from around the world.
And of course I love that I get to participate in worship which includes such fantastic music week after week after week.
It's a delight, a privilege and something I need to pause, notice and enjoy from time to time.

But it's fair to say that at Harvest, I rather miss engagement with all those playgroups, schools and nurseries that were part of life before...
Harvest, after all, is just made to be a messy celebration – a time for leaf prints and grain collages...for sticky fingers kneading dough to make the harvest loaf...A time to help children remember the thankyous that are due to a whole string of different people- and at the very end of the chain, the One we might forget to thank...the One who is the source of everything.

Because, actually, that's the point of celebrating.
An annual opportunity 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.

Of course, thankfulness is an attitude central to Christian belief.
It's part of the name of this service. The Cathedral Eucharist is nothing more than the Cathedral Thanksgiving.
But we're in trouble if we limit thankfulness to this time and this place....Our worship times here should be simply the tip of the iceberg – of our Christian community, of course, - but of our thankfulness too.
We should be a people defined by our gratitude as much as by our love.

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. Instead we attribute the blessings we enjoy to human ingenuity...
And yes, it can be hard to glimpse God in a tin of chopped tomatoes, a loaf of a pizza or an Indian takeaway.
But God is there.
God is HERE.
If we open our eyes, wherever we look we see signs pointing the way to the creator.
Despite the way we treat it, the world is so much more than a gigantic supermarket, or 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...whose artistic genius gives us the wild flowers of the field,whose care provides for the needs of countless flocks of song birds on the wing.

Have you noticed God at work today?

Last week, as a small group of us kept vigil for peace on the Queen's steps, a long line of people made their way into the Cathedral for a “Mindfulness” event. Mindfulness is, of course, very fashionable right now – and bookshops are full of titles encouraging you to become more aware of yourself and of the world around you, with the claim that this will bring health and happiness. I have to confess to more than a pang that the queues last week were not for our vigil – but on reflection, those practising mindfulness are surely responding to the invitation Jesus gives us in this morning's gospel
Consider the lilies. Look at the birds...”
Wonder at creation.
Savour its beauty.

What's that if it isnt mindfulness?

A conscious focus on the gifts that surround us – and a constant attitude of thankfulness too.

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 be mindful of one’s blessings and say so from the heart.
But on another level, SAYING thank you is only a small part of the full meaning of gratitude.
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.

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.
Intricate webs of life held in balance.
Gift upon gift upon gift.
Simply amazing.
This year we've been overwhelmed by the harvest from our single apple tree in the Canonry garden...
One tree
Five huge boxes of apples.
Wonderful abundance – but I caught myself grumbling...thinking “What a nuisance! What on earth am I going to do with so many apples?” (part of the answer is that there is a box beside the community table...please do help yourselves)
Really. How dare I? How dare I??
Harvest reminds us of God's unlimited generosity...and yes, that can be overwhelming, more than our hands can hold...but that generosity should call forth a response that overflows as well...
The more we receive, the more we must 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. Perhaps you're the same.
Time and again, though I want to give, I want to be generous, I hear a little voice at the back of my mind:
Have you made sure you’re saving enough for old age…
Did you remember that all your children have student loans to pay off? Take care of the pennies. What shall I eat? What shall I drink? What shall I wear?..”
So instead of practising thanksgiving in all that I do, I fret, mither and worry, lapsing into self-protective meanness.

And – guess what – Jesus was right!
Worrying doesn't improve anything. It only casts a shadow over a beautiful world, where all, ALL is gift.
Let’s face it: we do not need everything we may want in order to live abundantly.
Indeed perhaps the more we have the more cluttered our spirits become.
It's possible that we stand now at a juncture in human history where we will be forced to face certain realities- that we cannot continue to plunder the earth's resources for our own ends, that our economies, both personal and political, cannot and should not grow forever, and that we may have to be content with what we have, or even a little 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, a moment of mindfulness.
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.
And, make no mistake, we all have something to offer. 
It may be that God – and God's people – don't particularly want a box of windfalls brought in to the Cathedral....but there are many other gifts, skills, talents, that we can bring as an expression of our gratitude. 
What will you bring? 
What will you bring?

Harvest festival sounds cosy, reassuring, a link with the golden days when churches were full and summers were hot.
But we know that the world is a rather different place, where pain and confusion, loss and fear are all too present.
So - I would like to issue a challenge - because, you see, every single one of us is part of God's harvest - and when we count our blessings, we need, too, to become a blessing for others.
So we can live out our thanksgiving by becoming people for whom the world is thankful.
People committed to ways of peace and hope.
People who comfort the broken and champion the weak, as we recognise God at work in the whole human family - not simply those whom we identify as "people like us".

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, in the way that we use our time, our talents, ALL we have been given, then we can honestly say with Meister Eckhardt that a "thank you" expressed in word and in deed, will be enough.

So let us indeed be mindful...and let's ask for grace to recognise God at work in all God's children. 
Let's ask to see God at work in every corner of the world, from farmland to city street, from refugee camp to community college.
Let's ask for grace to recognise God, too, in all the times and seasons of our lives, - to discover the surprising gifts that are ours even when the way seems dark and full of pain and confusion.If we can manage that, then we will not have to worry about tomorrow – for we'll know that God will be with us then, as God is today.

And strengthened by that grace – our thankfulness can flow as never before. So let’s thank God, for life, thank God for food, family and friends, thank God for the means of grace and the hope of glory, and thank God for being able to express our gratitude in acts of love, sharing and giving. Amen.