2nd October 2021
A sermon preached by Canon Edward Probert, Chancellor
Sunday 3 October 2021, 16:30, Harvest Festival, The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
(Joshua 3.7-end; Matthew 10.1-22)
All my adult life I’ve spent a lot of my spare time outdoors, cultivating: cultivating our gardens and allotments for flowers, fruit and vegetables; and managing honeybees or chickens for their products. It’s one of the greatest pleasures of my life to work with the land and the seasons, with plants and creatures, and in due course to collect and consume or share their produce. There are also some salutary lessons which will be acknowledged by all gardeners of whatever standard, most obviously the humbling recognition that we are not in control! Things do and will go wrong, some pest or disease or unhelpful weather is bound to disrupt at least some of our plans. Which accentuates the relief and delight of actually bringing the stuff home. I really am thankful for my harvest, whatever it may be.
And there are things I really enjoy about harvest festivals: I love to see decorations such as surround us here now, putting before us fruits and flowers and leaves and produce, and emphasising the wonderful colours of autumn; and I’ve always had a soft spot for hymns like ‘We plough the fields and scatter’, which we sung this morning.
But the annual celebration of harvest festival also always makes me uncomfortable. Agriculture and husbandry form a small element in the economy in which we live; I and my family don’t depend for survival on the products of our own cultivation; hardly anyone in our society is self-sufficient; like so many human endeavours, aspects of our farming and eating practice are doing systemic damage to the world God has made; our society is incredibly wasteful with food. Harvest festivals can – like so much English religion – easily slip into a rather delusional sentimentality. Our forebears here in earlier centuries, and our contemporaries right now in poorer, more subsistence economies, would be thanking God rather differently at such points, knowing that a personal disaster can mean starvation.
So let’s be grateful to God for the extraordinary abundance and potential of his creation, as we and our kind work with it and benefit from it. Let’s take to heart that opening phrase of Parry’s anthem – and be GLAD.
But we can’t leave it there. As the hymn puts it, what God most desires is ‘our humble, thankful hearts.’ Thankfulness for the generosity of our maker, which we encounter – and easily ignore – in the daily stuff of the natural world and the things we consume; and thankfulness for the labours (possibly our own, but much more certainly those of countless others) through which we get to have these things. Harvest is a social thanksgiving, because it reminds us that we depend on other people as well as God. And to live thankfully is to live generously: God gives, God forgives – and in enjoying these incalculable blessings we can see the template God provides for our own way to live.
The pattern is simple and it’s this: that we give thanks; and that we seek to live in ways that are abundant for others, near and far – and not just for ourselves and our like.