St Bride's: Sermons

Harvest Thanksgiving

Luke 12: 16-30

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16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:

17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?

18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.

19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.

20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?

21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

22 And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.

23 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.

24 Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?

25 And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?

26 If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?

27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?

29 And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.

30 For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.

Between optimist and pessimist the difference is droll

The optimist sees the doughnut - the pessimist the hole.

So, I wonder which category each one of you falls into.  Are you an optimist or a pessimist?  Do you assume the best or the worst in a given situation?  Is your glass half-full, or is it half-empty?  Do you see the doughnut or the hole?

Now, I don't actually think that either of these approaches is inherently preferable to the other (even though I am perfectly aware of the category into which I myself fall, and sometimes struggle to appreciate the outlook of those who occupy the other one) - nor do I regard one of them as more Christian than the other. They are simply different strategies for coping with reality.  Each has its virtues - and also its accompanying vices: an eternal optimist can be guilty of denying the true reality of a situation; an eternal pessimist can waste time and energy making provision for disasters that never happen.  An optimist can run the risk of complacency; a pessimist can live a life beset by worry.  But as George Bernard Shaw once observed, actually we need both: 'Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society' he once quipped.  'The optimist invents the aeroplane; the pessimist the parachute.'  .

Our biblical readings today provide us with some interesting reflections upon differing human attitudes to the goodness of God's gifts.  In our first reading from Deuteronomy Moses declares God's amazing promise to the people of Israel: the Lord is bringing them into a land of great abundance, full of wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, olive trees and honey.  And this land will be theirs.  And they will flourish, and their herds and flocks will multiply, and life will be good for them.  But over time a comfortable existence can easily lead to complacency.  So the people also have to be warned: 'Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances and his statutes.

In our second reading, St Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth that they must learn to live generously - and to give of what they have not only willingly but cheerfully.  For, as he explains, 'the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly; and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.'

One of the more sobering suggestions that I have ever heard was the notion that, in the world to come, God will reward each one of us with precisely the same level of generosity that we ourselves have shown to others during this lifetime.  Hearing that, I couldn't help remembering the countless occasions on which I have had the opportunity to act generously but have failed to do so.  For me, the recollection was really quite startling.

And then we have our Gospel parable about the rich man who found himself even richer, when his land produced abundantly.  And all this abundance causes him a real headache.  What is he do with all these crops?  Without any hint of generosity in his soul, his thoughts are solely for himself: he will build larger barns, fill them with all his wonderful crops and possessions, and look forward to a leisurely life for himself: he can indeed eat drink and be merry.  But God's response is utterly chilling, as he exposes the man's foolishness and complacency: the man is destined to die that night, and so none of his vast wealth will benefit him in the slightest; on the contrary, his utter self-centredness has in fact deprived him of all the benefits of eternal life with God.

I once overheard a conversation between two people concerning the recent death of an exceptionally wealthy man.  'How much did he leave?' one of them enquired.  To which the salutary answer came: 'All of it'.

And our gospel parable leads straight into into the most famous teaching of all by Jesus about anxiety.  He says to his disciples.

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them ... consider the lilies 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.

We can all so easily confuse the things that really do matter in this life from the things that do not.  We can so easily make the mistake of assuming that our first priority must always be, not merely to meet our material needs in the present, but also those needs that we fear we might have at some point in the future.

And the word 'fear' here is very telling.  Because if our priorities in the present are being shaped by our anxieties - by our fears about what might possibly happen in a theoretical future - then our priorities are inevitably going to be distorted as a result.  All too easily we lose all sense that the things we enjoy are things that ultimately all come to us as gifts rather than possessions.

I am not, of course, suggesting for a moment that it is wrong to make any provision for the future at all.  What I am saying, though, is that there is serious folly in allowing that particular kind of fear so to dominate our thoughts that it impedes our generosity of heart.  Because whenever self is allowed to remain the largest thing, then the needs of our fellow brothers and sisters are blocked out - and our relationship with God is blocked out as a consequence.  And whenever self is the largest thing - whenever fear is the largest thing - then we are no longer free.  Richard Foster in his book The Celebration of Discipline, wrote this:

If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety.

Our symbolic display of harvest produce is a reminder to us today that ours is a generous and gracious God, and that the gifts that we enjoy from the bountiful earth are indeed always to be regarded as gifts rather than possessions.  And in a culture such as ours, where most of us obtain the food we eat from places that are remote from the actual sources of production - it also behoves us to give thanks for all who work the land, to produce the food we so easily take for granted; and to remember, to our shame, that many of those who do so in the two thirds world, do so in conditions of poverty.                                                                                       

Alongside that, our foodbank collection at the back of church reminds us of our need to be generous with those gifts.  And, as the Journalists' Church, the display of newspapers, our 'Harvest of the Word' reminds us of the need for our generosity of heart to extend to the use of our talents, as well as of the things we hold in trust

If you are one of life's optimists - never forget to accept all the good things of life as a gift; if you are one of life's pessimists, never allow your fear of what might happen to cramp your generosity of heart.

The Church of England priest and writer on spirituality, William Law, who was born in 1686, made the following observation:

Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world?  It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms, or is most eminent for temperance, chastity or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God willeth, who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it.

And thanks be to God for that.


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