Sunday 11 October 2015

Harvest Thanksgiving - Living simply

Address for Harvest Thanksgiving, year B, given at Killodiernan Church on Sunday 11th October 2015.

We all love Harvest Festivals, don’t we?
Just look around us at this beautifully decorated church, filled with harvest bounty - how can we fail to feel thankful? The decorators have every right to be proud of their skilful arrangements. Those who have grown the produce have every right to be proud that the best of it should be displayed here in God’s house. We all enjoy the colours and the smells of the fruit and the vegetables and the flowers; we all enjoy the familiar harvest hymns; and we all enjoy seeing so many cheerful people, filled with a sense of accomplishment, now that the year’s work has been crowned with success.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the sheer breadth and variety of our harvest:
o   We have the staples: we have wheat for bread, barley for beer, oats for porridge, rape-seed for oil, silage for cattle, and hay for horses.
o   But there is so much more than staples for us to enjoy, isn’t there! There’s milk and butter, cheese and yogurt, fruit and nuts, blackberries and mushrooms, plums and apples, potatoes and turnips, pumpkins and marrows, cabbage and lettuce, peas and beans, meat and leather. My wife Marty has harvested delicious vegetables and beautiful flowers this year. My plum crop was so heavy that the branches broke on the tree, and I’ve harvested over 40 jars of honey and a good crop of filberts.
o   Let’s not forget the animals too – we have this year’s foals and calves, lambs and chicks, ducklings, and goslings to delight us. And we must not forget the fruit of our own bodies, the children born this year.

Thanks be to God for giving us so much to rejoice over!

In today’s 1st reading (Joel 2:21-27) Joel expresses this feeling in beautiful poetry.
‘Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield.
O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God…
The threshing-floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.’
Don’t you just love it, that Joel calls not just human kind, but all living creation to be glad and rejoice, even the very soil on which fertility depends.

Joel is writing at a time when Judean farmers have been suffering hardship - successive plagues of locusts have ravaged the land. In these words he gives them hope for their future. They ‘shall eat in plenty and be satisfied’, he tells them, because God says:
‘I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you…
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.’

The harvest has been bountiful this year. Cereal yields have been good and cows have produced more milk than ever, according to figures I’ve seen from Teagasc. But market conditions are making many farmers very anxious, so a farming neighbour tells me. Dairy farmers struggle to survive with milk prices below the cost of production. Arable farmers are also worried about prices.

And it’s not just farmers who are anxious. Despite the economic recovery there are still very many here in Ireland trapped in unemployment, negative equity, at risk of losing their homes, or actually homeless. And then there are those other anxious, frightened people we see on the news in foreign countries far away, refugees from persecution, war and intolerable poverty.

We would all love to believe Joel’s words of hope: that the Lord our God promises us that he is with us, and that times will get better. But do we?

How do you feel when somebody says, ‘Don’t worry! Everything will be fine!’
I don’t know about you, but my first reaction is to scream inside, ‘It’s easy for you to say! This is my life. It isn’t happening to you. It’s happening to me.’

Worry is such a large part of all our lives. We worry about everything: our jobs, our children; our personal relationships. We worry whether we have enough money to pay the bills. In this wealthy country, while some go hungry others worry whether their food is healthy or fattening, and while some have no warm winter coat others worry about fashion. And we worry about our health, our aches and pains, and about dying.

In today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 6:25-33) – part of the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus tells us, ‘Do not worry about your life’. I wonder what the crowds who heard him thought - I feel sure many reacted just like me: ‘It’s alright for you, Jesus – you don’t have my responsibilities, you can afford to be idealistic’.

But in our heart of hearts I think we all really know that Jesus is right. We know that worrying cannot add a single hour to our life. We know that there really is more to life than material things, more than food and drink and clothing, more than all that stuff that we are greedy for, but which clutters up our lives.

In fact if we stop to think about it we will realise that it is precisely our society’s lifestyle of over-consumption which causes so many of the world’s problems that make us so anxious. And that anxiety, that constant worry, is unhealthy not just for our bodies and our minds, but for our deepest being, our soul.

We need to live more simply.
If we don’t we are lost - as individuals, as a society and as a species. Our over-consumption is destroying God’s Earth and making the poor poorer. We need to learn to trust that God, our Father in heaven, who knows what we need, will faithfully give us enough, so that we can stop grasping for more.
‘Consider the lilies of the field’, says Jesus, ‘how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field… will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?’

Jesus is not saying we should not work, he is telling us we must get our priorities right. ‘Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness’, he says. What does this mean?  God’s righteousness is found in his unconditional love for all his creation, including all human beings. To be righteous ourselves we must imitate God’s love. Jesus has told to love God, and love our neighbour as ourselves. This surely is what it means to ‘strive first for the kingdom of God’.

We must strive – that is, work hard - to show our love by replacing consumption with self-sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing. This is about not simply giving things up, but giving things away. It is a way of loving which moves away from what I want, to what God’s world needs – at the same time liberating us from all that makes us anxious.

God knows what we need and God works in and through us to provide it for one another. If we join together to show our love for one another like this, God will give each and every one of us enough - though maybe less than our foolish desires. If we live simply, so that others may simply live, we really can believe Joel’s words of hope!

We’ve all been horrified by recent images of refugees in the media.
We’ve seen pictures of people fleeing for their lives to seek sanctuary and build new lives, far from home. Today these refugees are like ‘the birds of the air’ that Jesus talks about. ‘They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns’, because they cannot – they have lost everything.

How will our heavenly Father feed them? Through us, of course, through you and me, and through the generosity of our spirit.

So as we give thanks to God and rejoice in the Harvest, I urge you to reflect on how together we can best help these brothers and sisters, our neighbours. And I ask you to give generously to the collection we will shortly take up for the Bishops’ Appeal in response to the refugee crisis.