Introduction and Call to Worship
Let us rejoice today in the good news that God is with us and blesses us with many gifts in creation that we may raise a rich harvest – both in terms of food to eat but God’s love to sustain us.
First Reading Deuteronomy 26.1–11
Moses encourages the Israelites in his concluding plea – blessing comes through obedience to God’s Word. God remains faithful.
Second Reading Philippians 4.4–9
Rejoice! Paul, in prison and facing a death sentence, can still proclaim rejoice because his faith is strong. In everything he reminds us to give thanks to God and to model our Christian identity on Jesus, our Lord.
Gospel John 6.25–35
The crowd tracks Jesus down in search of more signs, miracles and free food! But Jesus teaches that life is more than physical sustenance, as he comes to provide the living bread – faith, for he is the giver of the gift and the very gift himself. To model our lives on his example and to live by faith means we will be the outstanding example he is calling us to be, fit for his Kingdom.
Homily “…it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of
God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6: 32, 33).
It’s harvest time and a priest is driving through his parish when he sees a local farmer standing in the middle of his huge field – looking a bit like a scarecrow. The vicar pulls the car over. It’s an odd sight, the farmer is just doing nothing, looking at nothing. Out of concern for the man the priest decides to investigate. He walks across the field to the farmer and asks, "What are you doing?" The farmer replies, "I'm trying to win a Nobel Prize." "A Nobel prize?” asks the priest a little confused? “Do they give Nobel prizes for harvesting?" “Oh no” replies the Famer. “I’m not harvesting, I’m just thinking. You see I’ve heard they give the Nobel Prize . . . to people who are out standing in their field."
Just around the corner from our seaside cottage is a traditional greengrocers. Like the farm shop in Lyne, it is stocked with an assortment of produce, much of it locally grown including various root and leaf vegetables, a selection of fruits and a few more exotic imported items like melons, pineapple and even coconut. When in season, the Sussex and Kent cherries were gorgeous. This year I have expanded my attempt at growing some vegetables in the Vicarage garden, with variable success. In times gone by, the contents of the greengrocer’s store would more closely mirror that which one could grown in the garden or on an allotment; because everything had its season and one could look forward with eager anticipation to the first strawberries of summer, or the arrival of the cauliflower, cucumber or tomatoes and, in my case, the joy of yummy satsumas in October! This seasonality in the food that we consumed meant that each season held its own assortment of culinary treats.
Things have somewhat changed. If we want blackberries in March or cucumbers in December that is now possible but at what cost? The seasons of the year, with their rich tapestry of colour and diversity, speak of God’s creation in its fullest sense. We mirror that diversity in our liturgical seasons in church, with various themes for different times of the year and coloured hangings to help us recognise the shift in mood. Traditionally we would eat lamb at Easter; just one example of how the seasons and the faith are intertwined. Harvest Festival is another example of the fusion of the seasonal activity of people and the change from summer to autumn as communities throughout the ages have given thanks for the maturing of crops; essential for their well-being and sustenance over the dark months of winter. In the Middle Ages the first corn of the harvest in late summer was made into the Lammas Bread. When the harvest had been gathered "Harvest Home" would be celebrated in a farmer’s house.
Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel today remind us that our needs are not just met by a constant supply of vegetables or the work of human hands. Our Lord has a way of taking the ordinary things of life and bringing out of them a tremendous truth. He is the living bread! Just for a moment, imagine you were in that crowd, watching Jesus, desperate for him to demonstrate his power, perhaps by working a miracle; food for the hungry, healing to many and so much more besides. Would you let Jesus just walk away? Probably not! Surely you would want Him to stay a little longer and you could even find yourself asking, “Why doesn’t he want people to know about these great miracles?” Perhaps you would want to tell your account of Him on Twitter or Facebook? You may question why he seems to hide his amazing light under a basket? You may even go further and think he is wrong, even sinful, not to stay and help more people or feed the hungry in their moment of need?
When the Crowd asked Jesus, “Teacher, how long have you been here?” it wasn’t a question about time; they were judging him, saying “Explain yourself to us!” They couldn’t believe he had such God-given talents and had not remained with them to use them for their benefit. After all, they were hungry. Our Lord of life and love knows the truth. Jesus can read their heart intentions and therefore he responds, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” As we celebrate this harvest 2019, are we truly thankful? Or are we just a little complacent with our supermarkets and food on tap – delivered to our door, prepared and ready to go at the touch of a button on an app? After all, the reality of Harvest and the sheer hard work involved is now so far from our experience.
We have it good in the UK don’t we – even with Brexit hanging over us and the Pound at such a low level. Most of us have nice homes, a good meal every day and lots to be thankful for. Yet as we give thanks for the gifts of the Harvest this year we may find, if we are honest enough to look at our own intentions, that our lives are marked by that same temptation the crowd faced in Jesus’ day. We can often find ourselves asking God, “What’s in it for me?” For we want a God who does it for us, makes it better for us, changes things for our benefit and feeds our desires and wants. Then, when our lives don’t work out as we had planned, or we don’t have the things we want or think we need, or we don’t get our way, those times when the Harvest of our lives seems to have failed, we are tempted to shout at God crying, “Explain yourself!” Moses cautioned the Israelites to avoid such a mind-set as blessing comes through obedience.
Today’s readings should remind us that our faith relationship with God, through Jesus, is not a case of “What’s in it for me?” Instead, our Lord invites us to be a part of something much more fulfilling, holy, special and blessed. We are invited to share the many and varied gifts we already have with God and with each other – the harvest of our lives! We are called to participate in God’s abundance and rejoice. Our Lord sustains our faith with the bread that is himself, his very body, his presence with us, his love, his death and life everlasting. Yes, this Harvest Festival we rejoice and give thanks for so much that is good – for the wonderful food we enjoy and the resources that sustain us - but may we also recognise our need for Jesus who offers us the true bread from heaven; his very body and a faith that will sustain us to eternity and the harvest of our Souls. Amen.
1. Jesus challenges the crowd to strive for the food that will last.
2. He gave us communion as an example of his life-giving presence to feed and sustain us.
3. At Harvest we rejoice with thanksgiving for all God’s gifts of food. We also remember that true sustenance comes from Jesus who meets us when we gather in his name.