A Sermon Preached by Ms Leslie Spatt
A Sermon Preached by Leslie Spatt
Sunday 26th September 2021: Harvest Thanksgiving
Well…Here we are at Harvest Festival, yet again. We’ve got the flowers, fruit and veg of harvest abundance in evidence, and have the usual images displayed in front of us: fields of gently waving ripening grain, hay rolls to feed farm animals through the winter, stacks of pumpkins, bins in the supermarket overflowing with produce. Images of plenty, in this country at least. But, sadly, there’s a painful reality that not everyone – even here in the UK – has equal shares in the earth’s fruitfulness. And recently, we’ve all become aware of potentially serious dangers to this abundance we almost take for granted. Whether we believe it’s media hype or something real, disruptions to the supply line are in the news, which is making people anxious.
Despite government assurances that any possible shortages will be only temporary, statistics seem to show that there aren’t enough workers in the fields to harvest crops which can’t be gathered by machine. Not enough drivers to transport those crops to shops, or fuel to petrol stations. There’s an irony in not having enough carbon dioxide to process some foods when we’re pumping out the stuff in quantities large enough to raise the planet’s temperature up to ice cap melting point. Some see empty shelves in supermarkets and go into an unsustainable, ridiculous panic buying mode. When I watch the news, perhaps you, like I, want to yell ‘get a grip’ at all those worried people frantically thinking that there won’t be any food – or loo paper – at all in a week or two, or any petrol to drive their children to school. Why can’t we all be kind to each other and to ourselves and not worry about it so much?
So…..what do we do about it. Or, perhaps a different question is, what can we do about it? Sit back and wait to be told what action to take? Join Extinction Rebellion and prevent people using public transport to get to work? Disrupt supply lines even more by gluing ourselves to motorways? I wonder what the relevance is of Jesus saying to the 21st century ‘do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.’ Of course we’re going to worry. We’re so used to being able to fulfil most of what we think we need in our everyday lives that we’ve forgotten how to cope with what’s available instead of what we want. While I refuse to go into Waitrose without a list, my current attitude is ‘if the shelf is empty, think of something else for dinner.’ Perhaps the key words are ‘do not worry’. Jesus doesn’t say ‘God will provide, so you don’t have to do anything.’ He says, ‘your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things – worrying won’t solve anything. Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.’ Good words. But what might they actually mean?
The Kingdom of God is in itself a sort of harvest, gathering up all creation back to its origin in God. Of everything being in a right relationship with God and with each other. And in those relationships there’s different sorts of harvest and fruitfulness. What we might want to pay more attention to is a harvest running alongside – or perhaps overlaying – the stereotype of the fruit and veg agricultural type. A cycle of sowing and harvesting words and actions which everyone is part of but which we probably don’t think of in those terms. Where we live and act by the Spirit. Before that sounds too pious, can I say that it’s not something inherently ‘religious’. It’s a call to action of what we hear in the letter to the Galatians – exhibiting the good fruits of the Spirit. And, indeed, being on the lookout to guard against the opposite, which Paul calls the works of the flesh – in other words, the bad fruits. We need to be good stewards of our words and actions as well as of the land – to take care of what we say and do as well as caring for the world we live in.
What St Paul calls the works of the flesh aren’t limited to his 1st century era – most are alive and kicking in today’s world as well: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing. All really quite destructive negative things and a harvest which has gone rotten. Most of us are familiar with the more obvious ones of jealousy, anger, quarrels, envy and factions. Some of us may have had a passing acquaintance with a bit of fornication, enmities, drunkenness or carousing. I don’t think many people I know have indulged in sorcery, idolatry or whatever Paul means by impurity. And I don’t think any of us are terribly anxious about being deprived of inheriting the Kingdom of God; more that we might have hurt ourselves or others by our words of jealousy or anger, or actions in quarrels or drunkenness.
On the other side of the equation is the healthy, positive harvest, the fruits of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Some people might consider these things to be weaknesses, a failure to be assertive about what we think we deserve and what we can get out of life. But… might it be that these fruits of the harvest are the very qualities which will save us from unhealthy corporate and personal tendencies to increasingly self-centred lifestyles? And maybe even save the planet from more ruin if we can learn to share.
Out of all of those, perhaps kindness is the most valuable of all; where consideration for others not only helps them but also our own well-being, our mental health which is just as important as our physical health. Kindness could be built into business decisions, government policy and official systems in a way that reduces discrimination and inequality, supports everyone’s mental health and contributes to worldwide well-being. That’s a pretty big aim, but it can start by individual commitments to showing kindness in our words and our actions without expecting any sort of reward. Small actions can make a big difference, just hearing that someone else has behaved kindly can motivate us to do the same. Kindness is the visible face of ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.’
God’s kindness towards us, as reflected in Jesus, is to offer us a kingdom where everyone is held together in God’s unlimited, generous, overflowing love. We certainly have to take care of practical day-to-day living, we aren’t told to just sit back and expect that God – or someone else – will provide. We need to do continual sowing and harvesting of physical and spiritual food to keep everything going. God’s kindness is giving us the assurance that God knows what we need; which isn’t always the same as what we want. We’re not taught to be indifferent to our needs. But we are taught not to worry. ‘Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?’ says Jesus. Of course not.
I wonder if we can create a world which exhibits those Spirit qualities St Paul writes about in Galatians, which don’t really make us doormats, but partners in looking out for each other, on personal, community, national and world levels. Where neither vast surpluses nor extreme shortages will exist. Where the primary fruit of our real harvest is kindness, to each other and to ourselves. And then perhaps the yearly celebration of harvest festivals will become so much more than a simple display of regional agricultural plenty – they will become celebrations of our interwoven, interdependent caring world community of the Kingdom, giving our thanks in response to God’s gift of kindness to us in the miracles of creation.
For the harvests of the Spirit,
Thanks be to God;
For the good we all inherit,
Thanks be to God;
For the wonders that astound us,
For the truths that still confound us,
Most of all that love has found us,
Thanks be to God.
Leslie Spatt 2021
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