Harvest Thanksgiving - Strive first for the Kingdom of God

A sermon preached at St George's by the Rev'd Ivo Morshead on 7 October 2012

But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Today and at every Harvest Festival we express our thanks for the goodness of God in providing so much for us in the beauty and wonder of creation and all that we have been given for our sustenance and enjoyment. Thank you all very much for the gifts that you have brought.

For Britain it has been a rather mixed position regarding whether it has been a bountiful or disastrous harvest. Success or failure seems to have depended on location or what was sown. One area has had drought, another flood, all have had a strange weather pattern that is confusing to farmer and gardener. Certainly in important growing areas in the United States and Russia the crops have been amongst the worst ever and we are promised  a rising cost of food in the near future due to the shortages forcing up prices. Sadly there is nothing new about a failing harvest, but, as  we heard this morning in the comforting words  of Joel to the people of his time whose crops had been devastated by locusts, the Lord in the end will provide, 'Be not afraid O Land, be glad and rejoice, be not afraid O wild animals for the open pastures are becoming green, the trees are bearing their fruit.. I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.'

We experienced this in a way this year when here in London a few months back we had a  hosepipe ban and were threatened with stand pipes in the streets due to lack of rain. Within a couple of months the whole country became awash with water and many towns and cities flooded. Many blame these variations on global warming and in spite of the plenty for many there are many millions who are starving. Much  land is given over not to produce crops for food but crops from which oil can be extracted to fuel our thirst for petrol. Thus this Harvest Thanksgiving Service with the familiar hymns and prayers whilst leading us to thanks must also challenge us as to where we stand with regard to the incredible assets which we have inherited from our forebears and find within and below the sea and the earth, be it stocks of fish, oil deposits and on earth the rainforests so jealously guarded by conservationists, and rightly. Yet was not our whole country at one time a dense forest? and how little is left. Even now there are incredible amounts of minerals and other wealth from which we manufacture what provides us with our modern way of life in terms of transportation, communication, entertainments, education and health care. Sadly too it provides even more terrible and effective weapons of war with which we threaten and kill each other. One may well ask, how long can this all go on without a global disaster?

Disaster comes in many forms. Last week we went to see 'Timon of Athens' at he National Theatre and the play was discussed at our recent church Theatre Group. Timon was a man with immense wealth. He hardly knew the extent of his lands and property. Everyone knew that he had a weakness in their eyes but perhaps a strength in his in that he was incredibly generous. If any-one brought a gift that he would accept, such as a poem or painting, he would give in exchange large amounts of gold. He endowed public buildings, held expensive soirees and banquets and was surrounded by supplicants and hangers-on who knew a good thing when they saw it. Over and over again his steward warned him that his wealth was draining away. 'Sell more land' he would tell them until, one day there was no more land to sell. Timon was ruined and from the extreme of wealth became the poorest itinerant beggar.  He never realised that what we have we must nurture and not squander, be it our personal wealth or our world climate and resources.

One of the reasons why I decided to offer myself for ordination after ten or more years in industry  back in the early 1960s was because I felt that our wealth as a nation, in terms of Christian belief and practice, was being washed away and not renewed. Secularisation was taking over and the love of money becoming paramount. In terms of the Gospel for today when Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount told people not to worry about life, clothing, food and drink, he was ignored and all were failing, especially within the church, to  strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.
I felt then and I feel now even more strongly that the Church in her widest sense must be a power house for good and represent all peoples before God and be a channel for the work of the Holy Spirit. We still have this role to articulate deeper corporate feelings as most recently witnessed in the memorial service in York Minster for the sad murder of two police women and of course the royal occasions. Having said that we need to be aware of how  a church, the body of Christ, can  be helped to prosper spiritually and grow in strength.

Someone who addressed this was Fr Lev Gillet a monk of the Eastern Church who died round the corner from here in Ladbroke Grove in 1980. Fr Lev preached what he saw as two fundamental notes of the Church, Love and Tradition.
With regard to LOVE Fr Lev appealed to the exhortation that generally appears in the Eucharistic liturgy introducing the Peace. Today at this Harvest Festival the exhortation begins The harvest of  the spirit is LOVE  and leads into the exchange of peace. Lev wrote 'In and by a common love the church proclaims its faith in the ultimate community of love which is formed by the father Son and Holy Spirit'. He concludes 'without love there is no church'.

With regard to Tradition, Fr Lev reminds us of the need to be grounded on the solid rock of  what has been handed down and tried through the centuries in the nurturing of faith. It is part of this need of tradition that the church remembers the saints, martyrs, missionaries, teachers both  men and women  through the centuries. Each week we list them in our Newsletter. They all merit looking up further and learning from them.

May we then in this time of thanksgiving for the Harvest of the earth, when we look to the wonders of the world and the bounty that feeds us each year in our country yet not yet in all the world, where so many still starve, look also in our selves  to the fruit of the Spirit as in the Letter of Paul to the Galations ( Ch 5 v 22): Love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, gentleness and self-control. Above all let us in the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel:

... strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Holland Park Benefice