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.

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