Sermon: 12th Sunday after Trinity 2019
Harvest Festival, thankfulness and living
Readings: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11; Philippians 4: 4-9, St John 6: 25-35
Preached at 0800 Communion service on Sunday 8 September 2019
Paul Ramsey, Reader
Today here we celebrate this year’s harvest. This festival time. What does this mean to us? Our memories may go back to earlier times when I remember as a child bringing apples into a Church at Harvest, from gardens and allotments, and the whole building had the sweet scent of these. We now are asked to bring gifts of dried or tinned goods, as indeed we do today for Cheshire Without Abuse, a charity which gives support (including rehousing) to families who suffer domestic abuse. Tins don’t perhaps have quite the same impact, but practical and appreciated they undoubtedly are.
The readings this morning reflect the theme of rejoicing and thankfulness, but come with some challenges and pointers too.
In our Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy, we hear that the land is the gift from God to the people of Israel, but remaining ultimately under divine ownership. The tithe of the land’s produce is given to God and is a kind of rent, a way of acknowledging his ownership. The people bring the first fruits of the soil in thanksgiving to God. We, like them, too can rejoice in all the good things that God has given to us and our household.
In our reading from the St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, we then come to his final command before he concludes. And what an incredible command it is: ‘Rejoice in God always’. Some recent commentators translate it ‘Celebrate in the Lord’. Perhaps we think of this meaning something that happens inside each of us, of joy welling up and making us happy within. In St Paul’s world it would have meant public celebration. And so it can be at this Festival, just as much as at the Town Food Festival last weekend. As a Church we need to be a gentle and gracious community, as clear evidence of our faith. St Paul also encourages us to have the foundation of prayer in what we do. In thanksgiving and petition, by presenting our requests to God we can become joyful in prayer which can overcome anxiety; and so we shall be able to absorb the peace of God by being within the guarding and love of Jesus.
In our Epistle, we then come to what can only be described as a way of life. I know it is one of the ways in which a certain headmaster said farewell to his sixth form pupils as they were finishing their school career. They are the patterns of thought which celebrate God’s goodness through creation. Think about these things – whatever is true, is noble, is right, is pure, is lovely, is admirable – is excellent or praiseworthy. What a difference we can make if we have our lives based on these thoughts as we live within this community, in our country at the present time and within our world in this era of climate change.
So to the Gospel. St John is writing just after the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus’ walking on the water. Jesus speaks of people not working for the food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life which he will give. Jesus speaks of his Father giving the true bread from heaven, and then extraordinarily ‘the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’. Jesus declares precisely this: ‘I am the bread of life’. Spiritually, with Jesus we can never go hungry and never be thirsty either. Our faith embodies these truths. Whenever we say the Lord’s Prayer, we include ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. At Harvest time we have the opportunity to give thanks for gifts spiritual and physical.
So although we may not be bringing the first fruits of the soil, we do bring, in thankfulness to God at harvest, our gifts which we are privileged each to have. With a foundation of prayer, we each can be part of a gentle and gracious Christian community. Prayer can help us to overcome anxiety, whether privately or in congregations. As we set out each week may we not only think but live with the words of St Paul to the people at Philippi. Running counter to much of what we hear and read about and see today. May ours be a way of life that is one of truth, being noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable; that is excellent or praiseworthy. And may this be not only at Harvest time, but throughout our lives.
And how can we live out all this? On Thursday evening, Lynne and I joined other Readers in our Deanery to hear Lyn Weston, our Diocesan Missioner. Starting from the Church Initiative ‘Setting God’s People Free’, now some 2½ years ago, Lyn Weston outlined what is already happening in the Church nationwide; reminding us that 98% of us are not ordained, and that 95% of our lives are spent in society, and what a huge resource we all are for spreading our faith to all around us.
I think I can’t do better than to quote from ‘The Message’ translation of the letter of St Paul to the Romans, as much a challenge to them then as to us now: He writes: ‘So here is what I want you to do, God helping you: take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, your eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering.’ At Harvest time in particular when we give thanks for all God’s goodness, does this not inspire us to spread our faith wherever we are and whoever we are with? Amen.