Sermon – Epiphany 3

Sermon for Epiphany 3 – 23rd January 2022 by Christopher Miles

The Spirit’ Equipment for service

I Corinthians 12 vv 12 -31A   The Spirit-inspired body of Christ Luke 4 vv 14 – 21  – Jesus is fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah 61

Theme:  The Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and in Society

Introduction.         We are living in a comma, no not a coma [I hope] but in a comma! Jesus in reading from Isaiah 61 verses 1 and 2, does not complete the sentence, when he reads from the scroll of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, he has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,” comma.  The rest of the sentence in Isaiah 61 goes on, “The day of the vengeance of our God”.   That is yet to come.   We are, thankfully, living in the year of the Lord’s favour. Are we, like Jesus, being inspired, equipped and emboldened by the Spirit of the Lord?   Our epistle reading from I Corinthians gives us an insight into how the Spirit should be working in the life of the church, in a church which was misusing the gifts of the Spirit.  Let us learn something from these two readings about how the Spirit should be working in the life of the church today and in the life of individual Christians in their involvement in society.

The problem.   The city of Corinth in the 1st century A.D. was a sexually licentious society and this was the environment from which many of the church members were drawn.   Some were on an ego trip, and this influenced their new gift of the Spirit, especially in the matter of the of the gift of tongues.  Earlier in the epistle, the apostle Paul has to rebuke them on matters of immorality and their inconsiderate conduct in their worship, especially their overuse of the gift of tongues.

The solution.  Paul uses the illustration of a body, with its senses, its limbs and its internal organs, all coordinated by the brain, working as an integrated whole, in harmony.   He tells them that there are many more important ways and roles in the life of the church than speaking in tongues.  He lists, firstly, in order, apostles, prophets, teachers and then, not explicitly in order, workers of miracles, gifts of healing, helpers, gifts of administration and deliberately last, speaking in different kinds of tongues.  Perhaps today we would interpret the list as bishops, archdeacons, area deans, ordinary clergy, lay ministers, teachers, administrators, helpers.  The church is the body of Christ, says Paul. When I read the Church Times, I’m thankful that we are part of a harmonious diocese, we are each part of a loving and faithful church here in Hadlow, with good relations with other churches in our Deanery, and locally, in other denominations, especially Tonbridge Methodist and Roman Catholic churches. We were yesterday with about 40 church members present, under the leadership of our Area Dean, Andrew Axon considering the parish profile.   AA had come to our aid.   What sort of church are we?  What sort of leadership are we looking for? What can we celebrate?  What are the challenges?   One these that came out clearly, is the need to reach out more fully to younger adults and to children.  A helpful start to an important process.  It would be out of place for me to comment in any more detail on that.

Society.   Let us consider something of the work of the Spirit in our witness in society.  Jesus was concerned with society as a whole, including the Gentiles, as well as the Jews. In his reading from Isaiah, he refers to release of prisoners, good news for the poor in society, and healing of the sick.  I can understand why John the Baptist questioned whether Jesus really was the Messiah. Why did he not get John out of prison?  A question to be considered at some other time.  What about our witness, maybe in daily work, and family, in social groups and generally in the people we meet?  We need, I suggest:

Sensitivity and Boldness,

Alertness to opportunity,

Yet knowing when to remain silent.

These features can be enhanced through prayer and the work of the Spirit in our lives.    

Paul in writing to the Corinthian Church, includes administrators in his list of gifted people. I believe good administration is rooted in love of our neighbours, trying to see the situation of the other person. When I write a report on the lightning protection of a church, I have to include a fair amount of technical detail. but I ask myself, ‘How will the recipient understand this?’  Can I make it easier to understand, without compromising the requirements? 

I find that at times I need to be bold.  Following the Grenfell tower block fire, I saw a danger that the focus would be so much on the types of metal cladding required, without regard to its integration into the lightning protection.  I accordingly to the Chairman of the Grenfell Tower Advisory Panel, at the Department for Communities and Local Government.   Some months later I had a phone call from a member of the Commission.  In effect he said, “We had not thought about lightning being a source of fire!

As a Church we do well in our involvement in taking on responsibility in local councils – County, Borough and Parish.  I gather though that there are several vacancies in our Parish Council. You may not feel that you could take on the role of a Parish Councillor yourself, but could you prayerfully think about someone to whom you could say, “How about volunteering to fill one of these vacancies?”  Or it might be serving on the committee of a village society.  Sensitivity and boldness are required.

Conclusion.     In conclusion, let us be prayerfully open to the Spirit in our lives, to guide and strengthen us in our witness and service to those in need. to the betterment of society, to the work of the kingdom of God, whilst we continue to live within the comma of God’s grace and before the sentence is completed in “The day of the vengeance of our God”.  Let us pray that God will guide our Church Council, Area Dean and Archdeacon to the person of his choosing to come here as our next incumbent.

Sermon – Epiphany 1

The Baptism of ChristSunday 9 January 2022

by Reverend Sheila Perkins

Readings: Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22;  Acts 8: 14-17

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.   Acts 8: 14-17.

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.    Luke 3: 15-17.

When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Luke 3: 21-22.

(Takes Beach Ball and pump)

I’ve borrowed a beach ball from my friend – game of catch anyone?

Fun? Something missing? (puts a bit of air in) Any better?

Needs to be full of air! (puts a bit more air in) Better? Much! But if it went back in the cupboard like this, what’ll happen? Yes, we think there’ll still be some air in it when we get it out – but it will need to be pumped up again … and again.

John said of Jesus: ‘I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’

It’s easy enough to relate the breath or air we have put into the ball with the Holy Spirit – a wind as the Holy Spirit fell on the 120 disciples at Pentecost – before that Jesus breathed on his disciples John 20: 20.

Even before that Jesus had equipped his disciples with his Holy Spirit as he sent them out in pairs to heal the sick, cast out demons and share the good news – He’d given them power and authority – power of the Holy Spirit – his power (Luke 9 & 10)

The Bible tells us clearly that the disciples were given the power of the Holy Spirit at least four times in two years. Paul was also filled with the Holy Spirit multiple times – with the vision outside Damascus, at his Baptism, every time he had hands laid on him to be equipped as he was sent out on the missionary journeys.

These people didn’t ever see being filled with the Holy Spirit as a one-off.

Philip had been preaching, healing and casting out demons in Samaria – the people were amazed and listened to his teaching – they came forward for baptism and were baptised in the name of Jesus Christ.

John and Peter came to welcome the new believers — but were clearly surprised to find they hadn’t received the Holy Spirit – I wonder how they knew? Well, if you turn to the end of chapter 10 – at Cornelius’ house the Holy Spirit came on the new Roman believers without Baptism and they were speaking in tongues and praising God… and so they were baptised.

Those aren’t the only signs – not everyone will speak in tongues – no-one will receive all the gifts, but a church will receive all the gifts if all the believers ask to be filled. If everyone is FULL of the Holy Spirit there will be disciples to fill all the roles needed and everyone will be serving God in the way in which he has equipped them.

Looking at Jesus’ baptism – the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove – visually. The Holy Spirit descended on the disciples as tongues of fire, for others it was one or two disciples laying hands on other disciples, just as the Bishop laid hands on you if you’ve been confirmed.

But are you sure you are full of the Holy Spirit now? Not for me to work out, but for you to talk to God about. To ask yourselves: do we at St Mary’s have all the gifts we need? It’s the start of a new year – a great time to be filled with the power and gifts you need to serve God in the year ahead.

  1. In every church there are those who are relying on the promises parents made for them at baptism but haven’t actually made the commitment to follow Christ for themselves
  2. In every church there are those who have made that decision – once – possibly at confirmation and were equipped by the Spirit for what they were doing then
  3. In every church there are some who went to a conference once and were prayed for …
  4. And there are those serving who are fully equipped with all the Spirit has to offer.

I can tell you of times when I have carried on without being fully equipped by the Holy spirit

  • Preaching – once
  • Praying for people
  • A funeral that wasn’t my best

I now know I need to be prayed for and filled with the Holy Spirit again and again – and I’m grateful to people who pray for me.

Let’s turn to prayer now ….

Silence while each of us asks God what he is asking us to do for him in the year ahead.

And then we pray for:

Hadlow village; School; for people to return to church after Christmas services; for families, children and youth work to grow again;

For a new incumbent – for the vision of St Mary’s in creating its parish profile, for those on the selection panel, and for the Holy Spirit to enable St Mary’s to find the right match

For the sick and bereaved; for those who use and serve in the food bank

Amen

Sermon – Remembrance Service 2021

  Sermon at St Mary’s Church Hadlow –

Remembrance Service– 14th November 2021

Reading:  John 15: 9 – 17 Supreme love

Text:   Timothy 1 7  “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

  1. Introductory questions.

Q1. to Beavers, “Today is Remembrance Sunday.  What are we remembering?”

A:  Those who died in the fighting of two world wars.  Also, other wars

Q2. to Cub Scouts.  Can you tell me any other wars in the 20th century and this Century, in which British forces fought?

A:

  • The Boer War 1901
  • The Korean War 1950-53
  • The Falklands War 1980
  • The Kuwait War 1990
  • The Iraq War
  • Belize
  • Afghanistan

Q3. to Scouts What starts a war?

A3.  One country invading another country, e. g.   Germany invading Poland in 1939; North Korea invading South Korea; Russia about to invade Belarus

  • Introduction.         We have just had a reading from St John’s Gospel, often read on Remembrance Sunday.   The reading is about true love.   It contains these words of Jesus, familiar to many people, “Love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no-one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  This morning I want to link those familiar words with some words of the Apostle Paul to his Assistant, Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1 v 7).
  • Fear.     Wars are times of uncertainty.  People are getting shot and wounded or maybe, killed.  Homes are getting bombed.  Food is short and rationed.   Food rationing in this country went on after the Second World War for a longer period that the War itself, for 9 years until 1954.   Uncertainty breeds fear.   We are going now through a time of uncertainty with the Covid pandemic, this can breed fear.   God though has shown us a better way.   As the Apostle Paul says to Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear.”   Paul could write that despite having gone through very difficult events, like being stoned almost to death, being shipwrecked more than once, being imprisoned.   It is natural to be apprehensive in the face of difficulty and challenging circumstances but there is a way to avoid that becoming an obsessive fear, which can be destructive to our whole approach to life, and even lead to mental illness.  
  • Power and love.   Jesus spoke about loving one another when he knew that shortly he would die but he also believed that he would rise from the dead.    As the Apostle John writes, “Perfect love casts out fear”.  God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love.   Power without love, without regard for another’s wellbeing is what leads to bullying, to aggression, to war.  Misuse of power in the family can lead to breakdown of family relations.   Misuse of power in industry, commerce or any work place in the long run can be counter-productive.   But power to overcome fear, trusting in our risen Lord Jesus Christ, giving us the true hope of resurrection can be liberating and energising.
  • Sound mind.    Paul’s third quality is a little more difficult to understand.  I read it as ‘a sound mind’.  It can equally well be translated as ‘self-discipline’.   If one thinks about it, these two are not far removed from one another.   There are natural urges in us which if we are wise, we will restrain.  To seek revenge on someone who has harmed one, can so easily lead to a vicious cycle of continuing revenge.  Jesus told us to love our enemies.   In its basic meaning this applies on a one-to-one basis of personal relationships.   But it also applies on the wider basis, of reconciliation with those who were our enemies in war.   Thank God that although British servicemen and women have been in action in many parts of the world since the end of the Second World War, we have enjoyed peace in this country, and in most of Europe.
  • Conclusion.  In conclusion let us on this Remembrance Sunday think of all from many countries around the world, both our allies and our enemies and also those caught up in other conflicts, who have died.  Let us particularly remember those from and associated with this village who went into action, often facing the very real possibility of death, to counter forces of aggression.    Let us build on the freedom they won for us, knowing that “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Christopher Miles

                                                                  

Sermon – 2nd Sunday before Advent

Readings: Daniel 12: 1-3  Michael the Great Prince will arise at the end time. Mark 13: 1 – 8    Signs of the end of the age. 

1.       Introduction.         On the second Sunday before Advent, we look forward in a personal sense to the coming of the Kingdom of God in all its fullness.   Our life here on earth should be seen as a preparation for the fullness of that Kingdom, whether we be here or on earth or in the glory of heaven.  We have lived through the greater part of two years now in the hope of COVID-19 being defeated in all its variants and of a return to a fuller life as we emerge from lockdown restrictions.  As Christians we know that our hope is in more than defeating a virus.  It is defeating the whole realm of evil that causes so much suffering in our world.     We are now more aware that suffering may be mental as well as physical, (albeit they can be linked).   Sometimes harm arises out of mental health problems.  Sometimes mental illness arises from physical constraints and accidents.   As Christians we look beyond the immediately visible horizons.  Some people have found in lockdown that it has been an opportunity of deepening of spiritual life, for example having more time for prayer and a renewal of hope through reading and studying the Bible.

2.       Daniel.  Let’s briefly consider our first reading.  Daniel had been forcibly deported in the early 6th Century BC, from Israel, to serve king Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.    He didn’t collapse in a heap of despair but put his mind to a 3-year learning course and eventually became a very high civil servant in his country of captivity.   Some many years later an angel comes with messages from God to reveal to Daniel, and so through his written account, to us, that a time of great suffering is going to happen but passing beyond that, there will be an end time of a wonderful reception by God of those who have looked to Him.

3.       Jesus.   Our Gospel reading today is the beginning Jesus’ great teaching about the events leading to the end time.  He starts from the immediate point of view of his disciples’ comment on the magnificence of the great stones of the temple.  Although the temple was destroyed in 70 A. D. at end of the 4 years of Roman siege, one can still see in the remains of the Western Wall some of the huge stones to which his disciples pointed to.   But although the siege of great city of Jerusalem and destruction of the Judean towns and cities was a time of suffering, both in seeing their beloved temple destroyed but also in destruction of their houses and death of many in their families, Jesus, like Daniel speaks of a more distant and greater suffering, of wars and reports of wars around the world.  Later in the chapter we have the record of his account at the end time, of his returning to earth, in the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God.

4.       Our situation.    Some of us here, lived through the Second World War.  A time of suffering, uncertainty and Yes!   Hope realised, of Victory.    We have been fortunate not to have lived since then with the fear and uncertainty of war directly involving our own country. We are though, well aware that in so many countries there is civil unrest and war.  In every country of the world, we have and to some extent, still are, living with uncertainty of the serious Covid 19 virus pandemic.  Let us though, like Daniel and all the prophets of old, like Jesus and his immediate disciples, see life here and now, with all its challenges, as a preparation for the life to come in the glory of the Kingdom of God.

Rev. Christopher Miles

Sermon – Trinity 20

Servanthood – Rev’d Christopher Miles

 Sermon at St Mary’s Church Hadlow – 17th October 2021

Isaiah 53 vv 4 – end    The suffering servant

Mark 10 vv 35 – 45    Challenge to Christlike service

  1. Introduction.         A senior government official was being driven home from an important visit to a foreign country.  Passing through an area of many square miles of desert, he was surprised to see a lone man by the side of the road.  He ordered his driver to stop.  He offered the man a lift, which the man readily accepted.   The man, named Philip, recognised the book that the Official was reading and asked him if he understood what he was reading.   The Official responded, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?”   The book was that of the prophet Isaiah.   The passage, our first reading this morning.   Philip explained that ‘The Servant’ is Jesus of Nazareth, who had recently been executed in Jerusalem, either shortly before or during the Official’s visit to Jerusalem, that this was all part of God’s plan of salvation. The Official gave orders for the chariot to stop at an oasis and Philip baptises him (Acts 8 vv 26 – 39).   The Book of Isaiah contains four servant passages or ‘songs’, perhaps more appropriately poetic verses, of which today’s reading is the major part of the fourth climactic servant passage.   Thus, we have the clear authority of the New Testament for seeing Jesus as the one who fulfilled the poetic prophesy of Isaiah.   Let’s then relate today’s Old Testament reading to our gospel reading today.

In Isaiah we see the contrast between ourselves, the straying sheep and Jesus as the suffering servant who achieves sublime salvation for the straying sheep.   The whole concept runs counter to that of other religions and philosophies.

  1. Straying Sheep.     Soon after my parents obtained the tenancy of a small farm in 1943, they bought a flock of about 50 sheep.   Petrol was rationed, it was difficult to get a transporter so we drove them the 3 miles, from the farm of purchase to our farm.  We had no sheepdog.  The sheep were exploring new territory.  Frequently one would try to get through a hedge into a field beside the road.  On my bicycle I, aged 8, acted as a sheepdog to keep a stray sheep on track along the road.   Sheep have been domesticated and farmed over several thousand years and are common to many countries of the world.   It is easier in the fenced fields of much of England to keep sheep from straying, albeit not so easy on the Yorkshire moors or the Lake District Fells.  It is not only sheep that stray but human beings who stray from God’s plan for humanity, as revealed fully in the Christian Scriptures and not so completely in other religions.   As Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each has turned to his own way” (53 v 6).   The theme of this phrase is taken up in the Book of Common Prayer, General Confession at Morning and Evening Prayer in the opening words, “Almighty and most merciful Father; we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.”   In our Gospel today, we find James and John seeking power and glory in the soon-to-be re-established Kingdom of God.  Probably James, the elder brother, wanted to be Deputy Prime Minister and John, Chancellor of the Exchequer.   One only has to read a national daily newspaper, watch a news programme on TV or listen on the radio to be aware of the straying of humanity, the sin in the world.  Any theology, ideology, system of government and criminal justice must reckon with sin, at least in its effect on other people.    How do we counter it?   By more laws, more police, more education or what?   Sin though is more than an offence against one’s neighbour.  It is an offence against God, breaking our fellowship with God.  Just as the poor and marginalised need help to achieve better standard of living so we all need the help of God, rather than judgement and condemnation, in the salvation of our souls.  How do we bring people into harmony with God’s plan?

The Suffering Servant.   The suffering servant is introduced initially outside the context of our sin.   He is described as having ‘no beauty or majesty to attract us to him’, ‘as being despised and rejected by others’, and ‘a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity’ (53 vv 2, 3).   Isaiah goes on to say, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed’ (53 v 5).   James and John, the sons of Zebedee, seem not to have taken in a few weeks before, Jesus talk to the twelve about the fact and the manner of his own death in Jerusalem, that he must undergo great suffering (Mk 8 vv 31 – 33).   Nor had they taken in, following their presence with Peter, at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Mk 9 vv 2 – 8), when he discussed with Moses and Elijah, the import of the manner of his departure from this life (Lk 9 v 31).

Sublime salvation.    Isaiah goes on to link his description of the Suffering Servant with our sin in the well-known verse, ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (53 v 6).   Sublime salvation!   Let’s use a simple illustration.  Let this book represent my sin, my left hand, represent me, and my right hand, represent Jesus.  My sin is a barrier between me and God.   God has taken my sin and placed it on Jesus.  Now there is no barrier between me and God.   This of course is not the whole story, for if my sin has marred my relationship with my neighbour, with any person, there needs to be reconciliation there, in the form of an apology and as far as possible a full re-establishment of a good relationship.   Often public apologies take the form of, “If my words have caused any offence, then I apologise.”  Usually, the apology has been made because clearly what the person said did cause offence.  The inclusion of the word, ‘if’ is not only redundant but it tends to carry with it that the person’s statement was, in his or her eyes, right and true and therefore that the person offended is actually being oversensitive.   There are times when something needs to be said which will almost inevitably cause offence.  Jesus never said to the religious leaders of his day, anything like “If what I said caused you offence then I apologise.” 

Christian salvation is fundamentally different to that of other religions.  In other religions the path to Paradise, Nirvana or Heaven is achieved by a person’s own efforts.  Christian salvation is through acceptance of what Christ has done for us.  Our good works follow, out of love for Christ, our love for God, rather than love for ourselves in our own spiritual progress.

  1. Service.       Jesus makes clear not only to James and John but to the other 10 of his immediate disciples and more widely, all his followers, including ourselves, that the outcome of this sublime salvation.  The conclusion of James and John’s request is, in the words of Jesus, “Whoever wishes to be first among you, must be the slave of all.  For the Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10 v 45).   We call those who hold senior positions in government or those who exercise leadership in the Church, ‘ministers’, to convey the concept of service that should be embedded in such posts and positions.   The suffering servant offers to the straying sheep, sublime salvation.  This sermon explores but one main theme of the passion of Christ, theologically known as ‘substitutionary atonement’.  I conclude with the collect from Common Worship Morning Prayer for Friday as encompassing a wider view of Jesus’ passion.

Gracious Father, you gave up your Son,

out of love for the world:

lead us, so to ponder the mysteries of his passion,

that we may know eternal peace

through the shedding of the blood of our Saviour,

Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Sermon – Harvest Festival

Readings: Joel 2:21-27, Matthew 6:25-33

May I speak this morning in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Harvest can be a beautiful and joyful time of year.

In Hadlow we are blessed to be surrounded by many orchards.   If you wander through them in the few weeks before they are picked, then it can be a bucolic and idyllic experience – when the golden Autumn sun shining on trees laden with dewy apples all looks and feels right with the world.  

Those who follow me on Facebook will be bored with pictures of green-leaved trees weighed down with shiny red apples and, just the other night, a rather nice glowing sunset over a field of sheep.  

When the harvest is safely gathered in there is a time of plenty for all, the excess produce is laid up for the long winter months ahead and we bring in an offering to say ‘Thank you’ and a box of goodies is then taken to old Mrs Miggins, which keeps her going until Christmas, and we all get home in time for tea and crumpets.

I may have gone too far there.

Whilst we should always appreciate the natural beauty which surrounds us and whilst it is good to keep in contact with the cycles of growth and harvest there is a fine line between celebrating all that is good at this time of year and pretending that we are living in the 19th century.  

In fact, let’s be honest: even in the 19th century the rural life was far from the idyll that we like to imagine.

Today our food supply has very little to do with the harvest which happens around us and I don’t think that I am exaggerating when I say that there is a significant amount of anxiety about what this Autumn and Winter will bring for many people.

Despite living in what was one of the most prosperous trading nations in the world we have all seen significant gaps on supermarket shelves, experienced hunting for and queuing for petrol, worried about gas prices going up.

At the same time many people are also experiencing a reduction of their universal credit payment which will result in choices being made about whether to eat or be warm this winter, young working families will soon see an increase in national insurance payments which will ensure that those who have benefited most from the economic good times of the last 50 years will not have to pay for their social care and the inflationary pressures on the cost of living generally will mean that many more children will be forced into food poverty, including here in Hadlow.  

Let me tell you a quick story.  A few weeks ago a lady came to the Wednesday morning communion service.  She was local but has lived in Paris for the past 20 years and was back in England for a visit.   Because it was a Wednesday, I was opening up the food bank.  She was puzzled by its existence as such things had been unknown in England 20 years ago.  I told her that virtually every town and village now had something similar and that there wasn’t a town or village where you couldn’t find people in genuine food need.  She seemed shocked to hear that and we parted.  But she came back the following week and, when she did, she was in genuine shock because she had been doing her own research and discovered that what I told her was true.  The country she had known 20 years ago had changed utterly, and not for the better.

We are living in a time of anxiety for many and gone are the times when a box of goodies to old Mrs Miggins would keep the wolf of need from the door of our neighbours.

So, Harvest does not just mean plaited loaves and corn dollies and feeling well-fed and comfortable and perhaps a little nostalgic for a romantic vision of an agricultural past.  

But, Harvest does mean, I think, 3 things:

  1. Giving thanks for all the blessings we do have.  It may sound cliched, it may sound child-like (but that is no bad thing if you cast your mind back to last week and Jesus saying that we should come to him with the innocent faith of children) but learning to be a thankful person is a good first step to stopping being an anxious person.  Our anxieties always focus on our lack of something, but thankfulness focusses us on our possession of something.  

No matter our problems and our burdens or our anxieties each one of us is blessed in some way – you may be a multi-millionaire or you may be gifted in prayer or in making tea and giving encouragement and comfort.  

Think about your blessings, name them and give thanks for them – offer them to God with thanksgiving as if you were bringing in a freshly cut sheaf of wheat or bushel of apples. 

2. .When you have named and given thanks for your blessings ask God how you can share those blessings in a meaningful way with our neighbours in need.   We are not called to store up our blessings and keep them locked away from others, any more than we are to hide our light from the world.

If you are a multi-millionaire, bless you, you could change the lives of whole families here in Hadlow without noticing it.  If you are gifted in prayer, pray for those in need, if you are gifted in making tea and giving comfort then think about joining Jenny on the Anna Chaplaincy team. And, whatever your circumstances, do keep supporting the food bank.  It makes me so cross that we need it but, whilst we need it, please keep it going because there are people in this village who will go hungry without it.

3. Having spoken about the anxiety rife in the world now the third and final point of Harvest may surprise you.  We are told today, in no uncertain terms, to stop worrying.

In the first reading from Joel even the soil and the animals are told not to be anxious:

“21 Do not fear, O soil;
         be glad and rejoice,
         for the Lord has done great things!
22 Do not fear, you animals of the field,
    for the pastures of the wilderness are green.”

It is obviously intended to be a poetic use of language but it is clear that such calamities had fallen the land that the soil itself and the animals could be thought to be quivering in fear but the words of God are the same as those used by Angels when they encounter humanity – ‘Do not be afraid.’

Too often the news and social media and advertisers wish us to live in fear, because fear sells papers and drives conflict on the internet which pays dividends to those who wish to put their products before millions of users.  But the bible and the messengers of God tell us over and over, not to be afraid.

A people who are not afraid are a powerful people.

And Jesus himself takes that message of radical letting go of fear in today’s Gospel in which he says:

Do not worry about your life.

Do not worry about your body.

Do not worry about your clothes.

Worrying will not add an hour to your life.  On the contrary we know now that worrying will probably shorten our lives.

Do not set your heart on what you will eat and drink; do not worry about it.

The pagans run after such things.  We are not to worry about them.

Why not? Because God already knows what you need.

That does not mean that Christians cannot eat or be clothed or be healthy.  But, Jesus says, our priority is the kingdom of God and when we seek that first then these things will be given.  

In a world of acquisition be thankful for what you have.

In a world of inequality practice some levelling up by sharing with those around you.

And in a world driven by anxiety do not fear and do not worry, God has got this.  God has got you and God has got the future.

Amen.