On the first Sunday of this month, even if we were blindfolded and led into All Saints’, we would be able to say immediately what the name of the Sunday was – because we’d be able to smell the scent of the apples, pears fruit and vegetables perched on the windowsills and ledges around the church. On opening our eyes we’d see beautiful arrangements of flowers and produce from people’s gardens and allotments, and wheat sheaves, both natural and made of bread, with maybe even the heads of some of Lord Berner’s pink mice peeking out of the wheat stalks.
What are we doing when once a year we beautify our Church building with flowers and fruit and vegetables? I’d say that we’re putting into action those words of David found in 1 Chronicles 29:11, the words we sometimes use at the offertory in our Communion service, “Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours.”
On Harvest Festival Sunday we are recognising that everything we have belongs to God. The creation is God’s, but he has gifted it to us to look after, to be the stewards of His creation.
But how are we to exercise that stewardship? In my opinion there are two main ways: first we need to be, as Lynn Treneary told us in September, thankful people – like those Lynn meets in Meridi – to use David’s words again, “Riches and honour come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. And now, our God, we give thanks to you…”
Giving thanks is of huge importance. It was J N Ward who said, “The Christian is a person whose mind is dominated by thankfulness. The believer who is a great sinner and yet preserves this characteristic element of thankfulness has still the essence of the kingdom of God within him”. Thankfulness is the open, happy and free recognition that we are infinitely indebted to God and that should help motivate our lives as Christians.
The once familiar words of the General Thanksgiving say everything that needs to be said, “We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace , and for the hope of glory. And give us, we pray, such a sense of all your mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days.”
So, we are to walk before God in holiness and righteousness. This is the second way in which we exercise our stewardship, by giving ourselves in love to the world. King David says, “I know that you test the heart and that integrity pleases you, my God…” It is integrity that forces us to admit that we’ve been bad stewards in that we’ve allowed an imbalanced and unjust situation to come into being where a third of the world has 20% more food than it needs whilst two thirds have 25% less then they need.
Think of the statistics that cover the number of doctors per person, housing, and life expectancy. There are huge disparities. It is a matter of judgement on all of us that whenever we have a general election in this country, little attention is paid to the world’s underprivileged two-thirds. We tend to listen to the politicians telling us how they will improve rather than simplify our own standard of living.
Do you remember those slogans used in world development appeals about twenty or thirty years ago: “Live justly to justify living,” and “Live simply that others may simply live!” In my darker moments, I feel that we are no longer a Christian country – the Church of England is the established church but seems to have little influence on the way our politicians conduct our country’s business. The Church of England has become an ‘accepted’ church, that is tolerated provided it doesn’t interfere with politics.
To sum up, we exercise our stewardship by being thankful people and by giving ourselves in love to the world. If we forget or ignore injustice at this harvest season, then it will appear to many that our Harvest Festival Service is something more akin to a fertility rite than to a Christian act of worship.
God our Father, giver of all good things, make us more thankful for what we have received, more content with what we have, more mindful of people in need and more ready to serve them in whatever way we can; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.