Harvest Thanksgiving, Sunday 20th September 2020
May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
Today is a day that I often feel we Christians simply have to tick the box for in order to tell ourselves that we have done it for another year. We have to have a Harvest Thanksgiving, we have to put into the diary, a service which celebrates that ‘all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love’ as the classic harvest hymn reminds us. We tick the box, and move on to the rest of the liturgical year.
It is a bit like being at a meal and we pray at the beginning, giving thanks to God for the food, but wishing that the person who is leading the prayer gets on with it, so we can tuck into the delicious meal that is sat in front of us.
This rather pessimistic approach to Harvest though does not ring true when we stop for a moment and look at each of our readings set for today. Four specific points come to the fore from each of them. They are remembering, blessing, sharing what we have and thanking God for his provision to us his children.
Our Old Testament lesson from Deuteronomy is a reminder to Israel that they will go into a new land where food will be in abundance, a land of ‘wheat and barley, of vine and fig trees, a land of olive trees and honey’. Compare that to where they have come from, a land of slavery and imprisonment, it must have filled them with excitement and hope for the future as they gain their freedom in a land where their needs are provided for. However, there is a caveat to this, they must remember not to forget the Lord their God, for he is the one who has blessed them and carried them from slavery to freedom, from hunger to plenty.
When I was in Africa on mission, we were sent to different church families each Sunday for lunch. On those occasions, we were given so much food that we could barely walk home afterwards. Dish after dish would be presented to us, from fish and meat, rice and potatoes, vegetables and then fruit. The families who hosted these meals, we soon learned, had saved up for months in preparation for our visit so that they could provide us with the best food available to them. We ate it all and were thankful for the blessing that they gave us as visitors to their homes and as missionaries in their school.
I tell you this story because many of us today, living here in England, see food as consumption that we can enjoy and that is readily available to us by popping to the local supermarket and buying whatever we want, when we want, with little care or thought to it.
And it is not simply confined to food but to so many different commodities that are available for us.The closest we came to understanding what it is like to live without was at the start of the pandemic when certain foods were in short supply, but this didn’t last long and though we certainly complained about it.
Our Old Testament reading reminds us that we too, like the people of Israel, should remember that our daily provision of food and other commodities, does essentially come from God and we should be grateful and thankful to Him for all our needs.
Secondly, we should share what we have regardless of how small it may appear.
‘For the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly’ we are told in our New Testament lesson.
Often, we fail to recongise the many blessings that we have received and we live in a society which tells us that we need the latest things; clothes, cars, houses in order to make our lives complete and whole. We live in a society where keeping up with the jones’, is no longer a saying but is in fact the inbred right of all British people.
Do we need these things or do we simply want them in the vain hope that they may give some meaning to our lives which we think is missing something?
Joan Chittister wrote a great book with Rowan Williams where she states:
“When what you buy doesn’t fill the empty spot inside you, where do you go to deal with the shock that such an awareness brings?”
We remember where we have come from, we recognise our blessings from God, we share what we have and we thank God for his continued provision for us. We do this by constant thanks in our prayer lives.And we stand back and reflect on our lives and all we have and we kneel before God and thank him.
Christians who think they are entitled to anything have failed to recognise the grace given to us in Jesus Christ. We deserve death because of our sins, but God has forgiven us and through Christ, we have eternal life. Part of our Christian faith requires us to acknowledge the blessings we have received, to share those blessings with others and be thankful.
It is literally being like the leper who, on receiving healing and forgiveness, turns to God and thanks him.
Chittister goes onto say that for many of us we believe that wealth gives us security. What it should rather do is give us, and I quote, a ‘reckless generosity, the kind that sings of the lavish love of God, the kind that rekindles hope on the dark days, the kind that reminds us that God is with us always. It creates in the holy heart a freedom of spirit that takes a person light-footed through the world, scattering possibility as it goes.”
May God bless each of us this harvest time and help us always to remember to share this blessing with other people as we thank God. Amen