Harvest Festival Sermon for All-Age Eucharist, Sunday 27 September 2015

Harvest Festival Sermon for All-Age Eucharist, Sunday 27 September 2015
“Don’t worry,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel. “God will provide.”  And the prophet Joel says, “rejoice, for the Lord has done great things.”

We come together today to celebrate Harvest. To rejoice in the goodness of the life-giving earth, and to thank God for all he has given us. To celebrate that there is enough and more than enough.

And as I was reading these lessons to get ready to give this sermon, I had to repeatedly fight the impulse to throw my Bible against the wall.

Because I kept thinking, “what rubbish.”

People around the world are starving. Refugees are fleeing war, only to drown at sea, abandoned by ruthless smugglers.

Farmers are working hard, only to sell their food for less than they need to feed their own families.

Human activity is hurting the earth, and people’s homes and livelihoods are being destroyed by climate change. Can we smugly tell them, “don’t worry! God will provide! Rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!”  Can we tell them, “there is enough and more than enough?”

My newborn son, conceived after years of barren waiting, died in July.  And last Sunday, Struan Simpson, a beloved member of this congregation, a husband, a father and stepfather, also died. His youngest son is seven.  Can we tell these families, “don’t worry! Rejoice!  Boy, isn’t God great? You have everything you need – enough and more than enough!”?

The readings today seem smug. Complacent. Facile. To anyone with eyes in their heads, the world very obviously doesn’t work this way.  There isn’t enough. There isn’t enough food. There isn’t enough life.

So I could throw this Bible against the wall and walk away, angry with God. I could do that. I could just leave it there.

But let’s look a little closer.

Let me go back and read some of what was left out of today’s first reading.

Before the prophet Joel goes into all of that rapturous praise about the vats overflowing with oil, the threshing floors filled with grain, abundant rain on the fields, he tells a very different story.

It’s possible that Joel was writing as the army of Babylon surrounded the people of Israel, about to burn their city.  Here’s what he says:

“A day of darkness and gloom is coming! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; the land is like the garden of Eden before them, but after them a desolate wilderness.  They leap upon the city, they run upon the walls; they climb up into the houses, they enter through the windows like a thief.  The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.”

That sounds more like the real world.

But it doesn’t sound like Good News.  And the Bible is Good News – that’s what the word Gospel means.

To put these two things together, let’s look at one verse in the reading from Joel.  God says, “I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter.”  Now, a locust is an insect. They fly in huge groups, and they eat all the crops. They take away the food that gets you through the winter.

God doesn’t say the locusts won’t come.  God doesn’t say that death and sadness won’t come.  But God does say that death and sadness – the locust, the destruction of your city – aren’t the end of the story.

Suffering is inevitable.  It happens to all of us.  It happens to the bread we celebrate at Harvest, the bread that we take as Jesus’s body at communion.  It’s cut down with scythes, and beaten with sticks to separate the grain from the stalk. It’s ground between stones.

It happened to Jesus.
Today we welcome Richard into the church through baptism.  He will go through the water, acting out a death, and come out reborn into new life – like the wheat is killed and reborn, like Jesus was killed and resurrected.  And today we welcome Richard, George, Flora, Max, and Sabrina, to the Lord’s table, to put out their hands and receive the bread, to trust that this morsel of bread is enough and more than enough, that the water of baptism is enough and more than enough, that God’s love, and new life, through suffering, is enough and more than enough.

The world is messed up. We can’t deny this.  The words of the prophet aren’t a reflection of the world as it really is.  It wasn’t a reflection of his world – he was writing while an army threatened the city.  But maybe it’s a reflection of what the world can be.

And maybe it’s up to us to make it so.

We can’t get rid of death – that’s a grief we all go through, and only God can destroy it, and in the resurrection of Jesus, he has.  But there is a lot that we can do to make the world more like the one the prophet envisions.

We’ve brought in food today for our hungry brothers and sisters.  Maybe you can set up a monthly donation to a food bank, or shop at the Tesco Kensington Superstore or Waitrose King’s Road, where there’s a donation box for the Trussell Trust Foodbank.

Maybe the children can have a look through the cupboards at home and see what items are fairly traded, giving farmers a wage they can actually live on – and then find out how much more can be bought fair trade and make your parents do it.

Maybe the children could talk to a teacher about starting a club at school that raises money for charity or helps your school go Fairtrade, and maybe the adults can do the same for their offices.

Maybe you could find out about laws that are trying to help care for the earth, and write to your MP about them.

God needs our help to make those promises come true.  The bread of the harvest, the bread of communion – God makes the wheat, but human beings need to mix the dough and bake it.

God has given us this beautiful earth, that does produce enough and more than enough, if we share its produce fairly with one another.

God has given us Jesus, who fought death for us, and won, and invites us to share that new life through baptism and communion.

God has given us, through the prophets, this vision of the world, restored, remade, overflowing with good things, enough and more than enough. 

Maybe the next step is up to us.

Margaret Pritchard Houston
Families Pastor
St. George's Church
Aubrey Walk
London, W8 7JG

Tel: 0203 602 9873
Email: margaret@stgeorgescampdenhill.com
Holland Park Benefice