Introduction and Call to Worship
Let us rejoice and give thanks! For God has blessed us with an abundance and is with us and blesses us with many gifts in creation that we may raise a rich harvest.
First Reading Joel 2: 21-27
God promises to restore in profusion all that has been destroyed (by locusts in Chapter 1 and early chapter 2) and God will rid the land of all enemies.
Second Reading 1 Timothy 6: 6-10
Some see Christianity as a road to riches; indeed, Christians are spiritually rich, not necessarily in monetary terms. Money must always be put to good and generous use. But a craving for wealth leads to evil. To be a man of God we must crave a Christian character.
Gospel Matthew 6: 25-33
We can choose what to set our hearts on. Money and material things or the values of God’s Kingdom and love of others; but not both! Each must decide their priority.
Homily “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
This Autumn quarter in Thorpe Together, I wrote about the tradition of the Harvest Lammas Loaf, a thanksgiving bread made locally and offered to mark the annual wheat harvest or as we know it today in its wider form, Harvest Festival. On this day it was customary to bring to church a loaf made from the new crop. We have our own version of the Lammas Loaf on display atop the High Altar. Traditionally, for hundreds of years this offering was blessed and shared. Even before the Christian faith as we know it, there was a long-standing tradition of giving thanks for the harvest, its origins back with the Hebrew people, thanking the Lord for all his gifts in a special way, not least in bread. Today, as Christians many of us give thanks for our food before a family meal, remembering that others, their skills, hard work and care have enabled our food to come to our table. We also remember those who are not as blessed as we are, and those who will be hungry.
But giving thanks for all we are and have does not always come easily. Some of you have allotments or large gardens that have been stocked with all sorts of yummy produce but now the harvest has happened these spaces need tidying and setting aside for the winter – and there is so much work involved in growing food. It is easy to see that thanklessness can soon be followed by weariness!
In the bible, giving thanks to God for our food and for the hard work of others who enable that food to come to our table, is not just about being nice or demonstrating good manners (although manners are important). Thankfulness is a way of life for a disciple or pupil of Jesus, and this time of celebrating Harvest fits within a wider period of reflection on creation and its beauty and diversity and all that is so good about the world in which we live. Furthermore, thankfulness is a way of life that keeps the whole church together in peace and unity. And we have so much to be thankful for. Jesus is recoded by Matthew in his Gospel account as challenging his hearers to keep everything in perspective, and to be thankful:
“Therefore, do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed, your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
Jesus seems to be suggesting that our ‘worrying’ is a lack of thankfulness for all that we have already received. And this is because he is concerned not just about the here and now, our daily bread and toil, but the kingdom to come, a glimpse of which church communities like St Mary’s down the years have been striving to realise. But for many, having enough daily bread to eat is a matter of great anxiety, and worry can overtake us for all sorts of reasons and concerns for our future and the well-being of our family and friends – even our Church. I know some of you are worried about the financial challenges that face us with such a significant increase in our Parish Share contribution, of which the first big increase will hit in just a few months’ time. Yet worry often comes from doubting that the Lord really does have our life, future and well-being in His hands and at the centre of His heart. Even if we don’t feel it, we are a very blessed community. We have plenty.
We only need to look at the wider world and those who are without today, those searching through the debris of shattered communities in Indonesia following the recent earthquake and tsunami, to see what real worry is like – what survival looks like. As the Psalmist reminds us today, we can still have hope even in the face of such destruction, for “those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Psalm 126:6) God’s creation, our planet – our home – was created to flourish with humanity, not despite us. We are the Body of Christ, called to work together for a world where everyone can live a full life, free from poverty, and we are blessed with a share of the gifts God’s abundant world offers – a share – not too much.
We are so blessed here in so many ways. We live in a land of plenty and riches and so it is right that we bring offerings still at Harvest – this year to support White Lodge and their lunch club with pasta, tomatoes and so much more. Friends, Jesus turns our worry and fear, which lead to idolatry and doubt, into faith, peace and hope. Jesus transforms the worries we all have, if we allow Him, if we trust everything to Him, and if we are willing to give thanks. As the prophet Joel reminds us, “… be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God…” (Joel 2: 23). For there is a real joy to be found in thankfulness, and people who praise God and give thanks are effective disciples, called to mission – aiding the work of our Lord in drawing all people to himself.
Just as the Lammas Loaf speaks of thanksgiving, so our whole worship should echo the call to give thanks to God for all the blessings of the harvest. Friends in faith, give generously of what you have received, and be thankful to the Lord for He is good and His kindness endures – it is new every morning and God’s faithfulness to us is immense and it is trustworthy and we have seen and heard it in the living, dying and rising of Jesus – who calls us to be thankful for all the blessings we have already received as we strive to build His kingdom to come. Amen.