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Harvest Festival

Posted By : June Osborne Sunday 4th October 2015

A Sermon by The Very Reverend June Osborne DL, Dean of Salisbury, on Sunday 4 October 2015

Joel 2 v 21-27; Matthew 6 v 25-33

“Jesus said ‘Do not worry about your life… can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Why do you worry?’”

Worrying is not a modern phenomenon. In his time Jesus saw worrying as one of the great enemies of the human spirit. But it’s true that worrying and rumination are now seen as major contributors to ill health, often manifested in depression and anxiety. Worrying is where we spend energy upset and discomforted about what might happen. Rumination is where we’re looking back on what has already happened.

It seems that enormous numbers of us in Western societies are worrying either about what has happened or what might happen. And it causes us such pain and wasted energy that many ask themselves the question - ‘what can we do about it?’

A very popular response to this is ‘mindfulness’. I’ll be surprised if you haven’t come across it because it is now being offered as a route to better mental health in places like schools, universities, in the work place and on the NHS. My daughter started a new job at the beginning of last month and one of the first e-mails she got was to invite her to a weekly ‘mindfulness’ course organised for any employees.

What that shows is how mainstream the ‘mindfulness’ solution to worry has become. There are books, Apps, Podcasts and courses and whilst it’s easy to be cynical what it highlights for us is how many people are interested in reducing their stress. People, especially the young, want to stop complaining. They don’t want to live constantly with a sense of life being burdensome. They don’t want to live at the pace demanded of them and they know that the amount they worry is disproportionate to the scale of the problems they face.  And yet worry we do. So some of us turn to breathing exercises and meditation hoping to relax and to create better habits of lifestyle and perspective.

Of course the Church has been practising one form of mindfulness for more than a century in the annual celebration of Harvest Thanksgiving. Created within the Victorian rural church it’s asked all of us to be annually mindful of the abundance of God’s blessings at the time when the harvest has been gathered in.  It’s had enduring appeal despite the fact that few of us in this country live lives controlled by the agricultural seasons, unless it’s getting stuck behind a tractor at certain times of the year. Harvest Festivals have provided us with an opportunity to recognise our praise deficit. How much do we give thanks? Does our praise of God make any impact on the quality of our life? Does it, for instance, reduce our capacity to worry? 

“Jesus said ‘Do not worry about your life… can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Why do you worry?’”

Today is the day when the Church also remembers St Francis of Assisi. Having the very first Pope who took the name of this beloved saint has raised our awareness of everything the Franciscans have stood for since the 13th century. Simplicity, reform and gratitude: together they give us some clues about our own programme to combat worry.

Simplicity

St Francis who came from wealth and social status found liberty in taking a vow of poverty. That’s a particular vocation and few of us will be asked to forego our wealth as he did. But if you honestly think you complain too much and wish to worry less then how about looking at whether your life could be more simple? Do we make life more worrisome for ourselves by the clutter and complications we tolerate?

Reform

St Francis is often associated with a kind of romantic idealism but he lived a pretty gritty life both before he turned his attention to the Church, and in what followed. In founding the Franciscan Order or following the Crusades there were plenty of occasions when he faced life through realism or failure. His youth had been full of the kind of frivolous and carefree things which teenage boys from privileged backgrounds might pursue. He went off to war to seek adventure and found it to be traumatising and violent. He came back ill, and could find in himself little appetite for becoming the successful merchant his father hoped of him. And then he heard a very specific call on his life from God who asked him to build up his Church because ‘it is in ruins’.

Whilst we in this country were writing letters to Pope Innocent III about Magna Carta he was authorizing Francis and 11 roving preachers to take the message of reform far and wide, challenging all Christians but especially the clergy to follow Christ in single-mindedness and lowliness.

And in our own day we have our own Francis who promotes that same message. When the electors chose the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires as our current Pope doubtless they would have thought that he might bring some of the spiritual vigour of the Church in the South, from the poor world to the papacy. In his choice of the name Francis they immediately knew that the agenda was also one of reform and renewal.  And now, as he travels in his Fiat 500, he who is called Francis is diminishing the power of vested interests and recovering a vision for his church which connects with the lowly.

So also for us. If we want to regain purpose and live a more relaxed and stress free life then the call is for us to change that which doesn’t bring us joy. Only you will know what that might mean but if you can’t think of what to change that would help you to worry less, living close to those who have very little always helps. The Trussell Trust and Alabare are always looking for volunteers to help with combating hunger and homelessness.

Gratitude

It isn’t only Francis of Assisi who tells us that praise of God and gratitude for his blessings will do us good. Social research tells us that those who are habitually grateful are happier than those who aren’t. ‘Look at the birds of the air, consider the lilies of the field…’ Jesus wants us to substitute gratitude for our tendency to worry. Some people do it by keeping a ‘gratitude diary’ in which every week they note what they have been grateful for and why. Maybe it’s worth trying and while you consider it let me leave you with an extract from one of St Francis’ expression of gratitude, written when life was tough and he had much to worry about.

Most High, all powerful, good Lord, 
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honour, 
and all blessing.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, 
especially through my lord Brother Sun, 
who brings the day; and you give light through him. 

Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon 
and the stars, in heaven you formed them 
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, 
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful 
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth, 
who sustains us and governs us and who produces 
varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord, 
through those who give pardon for Your love, 
and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Praise and bless my Lord, 
and give Him thanks 
and serve Him with great humility.

AMEN