A sermon preached by Canon Anna Macham, Precentor
Sunday 3 October 2021, 10:30, Harvest Festival, The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
Joel 2:21-27 and Matthew 6:25-33
Somehow, in 17 years of ordained ministry, I’ve never had to preach on the passage we’ve just heard as our Gospel reading this morning. To be honest, that’s something I’ve always been secretly relieved about- because worrying is something that I am extremely good at. There are some things that it’s only natural to worry about. Indeed, it would be strange not to worry about them. This year, like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve had my share of family issues and other stressful situations to contend with. But there are also all the things that we worry about day to day when we probably don’t really need to- things that keep us awake in the middle of the night, but that actually in reality don’t turn out to be anything like as bad as we’d feared. I like to think that I’ve got better at not worrying over the years- but, as I’m sure my partner will tell you!- I often struggle to switch off from all the things that are worrying me at a given moment.
This week, there would seem to be plenty to worry about in our wider concerns and conversations too. Many of us, myself included, have been totally shocked by the details of the Sarah Everard case which have emerged with the publicity around the court case surrounding her brutal rape and murder by a police officer who had already had serious concerns raised about him. Reading the comments of friends on Facebook who are mothers about their concerns for their daughters’ safety walking home, and about other friends’ personal experiences, of being followed, for example, has been very worrying. The lack of a government strategy to address male violence in society, or the sexist culture in the police, is a worry palpably felt by women- and men- everywhere, and this feeling of concern and anger is something that’s been very evident particularly over the last few days.
And there are, of course, many other examples of extremely worrying situations in the world that we could cite, the dangers of rising unemployment following the end of the furlough scheme this week, and the economic difficulties we face, nationally and globally, in the recovery from Covid-19.
When Jesus says “Do not worry,” this doesn’t mean we should just block out our worries, or try and pretend they’re not there. As I said at the beginning, it’s natural to worry, if someone close to us is ill or in any other kind of worrying situation, personal or otherwise. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. It would be easy not to worry about things if we didn’t care about them. But later in this Gospel, Jesus commands us to love our neighbour, and that has to include being concerned for our neighbour’s good. Worry, when looked at in this way, is a manifestation of love.
And if the injunction not to worry isn’t about trying to blank out or forget about worrying people or situations, cultivating apathy about them, neither is it about denying responsibility. Considering the lilies of the field isn’t about passively sitting around waiting for God to act. This ignores the active character of the call to follow Christ. To be a disciple is a call to take part in the redeeming work of God, who is reconciling all things to himself. Or, as Jesus puts it here, to seek first the kingdom.
Harvest is a time when we rejoice in God’s good gifts, in the abundance of food and plenty that we sing about in our hymns today and see reflected in the gorgeous colour and textures of the magnificent flower arrangements that fill the Cathedral around us. These things remind us of the beauty of Autumn and the changing seasons. They fill us with a sense of God’s faithfulness and the fullness of God’s promises faithfully realised each year in the Harvest. But these things also motivate us, not just to passively enjoy these gifts that we have been given, but to actively share, out of all that we have received. It’s very good that we have the opportunity once again to donate items today to local charities, Alabare, Salisbury Trust for the Homeless and Trussell Trust, and that from today this collection will once again be a regular weekly offering for these charities- please continue to give as generously as you can.
Harvest reminds us to see things as a gift. In the passage immediately before our Gospel reading this morning, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has just spoken about wealth: “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…no one can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and wealth.” Instead of hoarding up our riches for ourselves, Harvest reminds us to see all that we have received as not our own. Seeking first the kingdom of God is about recognising that all things come from God- and being generous as a result. This isn’t a way of life that will make us rich and successful. It certainly won’t free us from worry and need. But allowing God’s abundance and the fullness of God’s promises to shape our lives should mean that our attitude becomes one of gratitude and trust. Living out of gratitude, and holding lightly what we have, frees us to be generous, and to work in partnership with God and with each other, and with the whole of creation- just as, in our reading from the book of Joel, in the great outpouring of God’s energy Joel describes, it’s not just humans who receive this divine abundance but the whole of creation, the soil, the animals and the fields.
To see everything as a gift is to understand that God has given everything to us. Our call, as disciples of Jesus, is to join together in returning everything to him, not just the fruits not just the fruits of the harvest that we offer today, but even our worry. This is because to live from the perspective of the kingdom- and to seek that first- transforms our worry. It invites an attitude of trust and peace, of mutuality and gratitude, calling forth love in response to the love that has been so abundantly given to us.
Of course, it’s easy to say that. One of the things that helps me to worry less is to realise my limitations, and to know that the situation I’m worrying about usually isn’t something I have to face on my own. Somehow reaching the end of my own abilities- at least sometimes- helps me to trust more that, whatever happens, God is present, and everything will ultimately be ok, even if it isn’t now.
And, as I’ve discovered this week, seeking first the kingdom of God means turning our worry for the disturbing things in our society and world that deeply trouble us into concern. Our worry is an incentive to press for change, and to work together, men and women, girls and boys, to make our churches and our families, our communities and our streets, places of safety and of trust. And, at a time of economic hardship, our worry should make us respond to those who have no money to buy food by being generous with what we have, just as Harvest is about sharing the abundance of what we have with those who need it.
“Do not worry about your life,” says Jesus. This is not the impossible ideal it initially seems, but an invitation. And so as we offer to God the fruits of the harvest, let us also try giving our worries to him and see how his kingdom can start to become real.