Sunday 14 October 2018

Harvest Thanksgiving in Kilglass Church

A Harvest Thanksgiving address given in Kilglass Church, Kilmoremoy Union on Friday 12th October 2018

I must begin by thanking Archdeacon Stephen for his invitation to speak to you.
My name is Joc Sanders, a diocesan reader from Nenagh in the diocese of Killaloe, part of the united dioceses of Limerick & Killaloe. It is a great pleasure and privilege for me to join you today in your harvest worship and thanksgiving here in beautiful Kilglass Church in this diocese of Kilalla, part of the united dioceses of Tuam, Kilalla & Achonry.

Stephen and I met as we participated in the inter diocesan discussions about the future of our dioceses and became friends. Recently our separate diocesan synods have both voted to seek unity under a single bishop in the fullness of time, so no doubt over future years all of us in our dioceses will be getting to know each other much better, but I already feel I am among friends here.

We all love Harvest Festivals, don’t we?
Just look around 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:
·         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.
·         But there is so much more than staples for us to enjoy, isn’t there! There’s milk and butter, cheese and yogurt, nuts and blackberries, plums and apples, potatoes and turnips, pumpkins and marrows, cabbage and lettuce, peas and beans, mushrooms, meat and leather. My wife Marty has harvested delicious vegetables and beautiful flowers this year. I’ve picked 4 supermarket trays of apples, the first quinces on a young tree, and a fine crop of cob nuts.
·         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 thankful 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 last year has been difficult for farmers here in Ireland, with the late cold winter and the summer drought. I think the drought may have been worse where I live than for you – no grass grew for two whole months where I live in North Tipperary. One neighbour had to feed fodder he needed for the winter and is already selling beasts he can’t feed for low prices. Another tells me his barley yield is way down, and only partly compensated by the high price he has got for the straw. Farmers are anxious for the future.

And it’s not just farmers who are anxious. Despite the economic recovery very many here in Ireland are trapped in negative equity, at risk of losing their homes, or actually homeless. Others are anxious about Brexit, geo-politics in the age of Trump, and climate change.

And then there are those other anxious, frightened faces we see on the news in foreign countries far away, refugees from persecution, war and intolerable poverty, and those picking up the pieces after natural disasters.

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 how can 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 would have reacted like me: ‘It’s easy for you to say, Jesus!’.

But in our heart of hearts we all know, don’t we, that Jesus is right. We know that worrying can’t add a single hour to our life. We know 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 today’s lifestyle of over-consumption which causes so many of the world’s problems that make us anxious. And that anxiety is unhealthy not just for our bodies and our minds, but for our deepest being, our soul.

We need to live more simply, to love God, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
If we don’t we are lost - as individuals, as a society and as a species. This is what Jesus is telling us - and this week’s latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives world leaders the same message. 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?’

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 of us. To be righteous ourselves we must imitate God’s love. Jesus has told us 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 what 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!

St Paul in the 2nd reading (1Timothy 2:1-7) urges us to pray and give thanks for everyone
- including ‘kings and all in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity’.

So in this harvest season let us pray both for ourselves and for world leaders:
Creator God,
We thank you for the wonder of the world in which we live:
for the earth and all that springs from it,
for the mystery of life and growth,
and for the bounteous resources you have given us.
Through your Holy Spirit,
give us the grace to share the good gifts we have received in your Son’s spirit of generosity,
guide world leaders to take the decisions necessary to protect our fragile planet and all its creatures,
and strengthen in us the determination to tread lightly on the planet you have given us.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord we pray.

No comments: