Harvest in a world of turmoil

October 1, 2017

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Preached by Canon Sue Wallace using 2 Corinthians 9:-15 at Sung Eucharist on Sunday 1st October 2017, the 16th Sunday after Trinity.

May I speak in the name of our creating, saving and sustaining God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

These past few weeks, whilst planning this afternoon’s harvest festival service I have been asking myself a significant question.

What does celebrating harvest actually mean in a world that is in turmoil? In a world where Kim Jong Un is testing ever larger nuclear missiles and firing them over Japan; in a world that has a President of the United States with the lowest approval rating in his first year ever sending threats over the Twittersphere; in a world where war is still tearing apart large areas of the Middle East and central Africa, and where natural disasters are rocking the ecosystem, sending giant hurricanes across the Atlantic Ocean, so large that they can clearly be seen from space and earthquakes to Mexico; In a world where 40 million people have been affected by the devastation caused by the South Asia floods. Surrounded by all this chaos what does celebrating harvest actually mean?

The reason we celebrate harvest, especially in the middle of chaos and death, is that harvest is about life: our fragile life held closely within the hands of God. Sometimes in our modern society, especially if we are city dwellers,  we can feel a little divorced from creation and the actions of God who is intimately involved in creating and sustaining the abundant life of our natural world every second of the day. Some may even look at our practical offering of tins of food and ponder that they are one step from the creation that produced them. Yet it only takes a tiny step of the imagination to see that the very stones beneath our feet speak of creation itself. Your feet are resting upon an ancient limestone pavement, once the shells and the bones of deep sea creatures and coral, pressed over thousands of years, an ancient beach.

And as for tins we offer today.  Tins are amazing! They are things we often take for granted, but in themselves they are tiny miracles, and the elements that made them, like the elements that comprise ourselves, scientists tell us, were born in the heart of giant burning stars.  Made of steel, from molten iron which in itself was smelted in a giant blast furnace from rocks such as Haematite dug from the belly of the earth, and containing food which has been heat treated to destroy germs and sealed to be completely airtight. These cans can last for centuries when kept in the right conditions. In 1974 a batch of hundred year old cans was discovered in a shipwreck in  the Missouri river. They were tested and the contents were discovered to be still edible; a perfect partnership between God who has provided the fruit and the vegetables, and the metals for the can; and the human being who was inspired to seal that food in an airtight container so that others might be fed with it.

Yet cans are also used for stockpiling food at times of danger or fear. You may have seen that conspiracy theorists have been predicting the end of the world again. This time telling us that it should have ended on September 23 because of a very strange interpretation of a passage in Revelation. It was, of course, not true as we are still here, but it reminds me of a story that is told of St Francis of Assisi.

The saint is reported to have been out hoeing a garden of beans when he was approached by a passer by who asked him. “What would you do if you knew you were going to die today?” He thought for a while before replying, “I would continue hoeing my garden.” A similar tale is told of Martin Luther who reputedly said “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” Both quotes speak of people who were at peace with God and themselves, enough at peace not to panic at the thought of the end of their lives. But both quotes also speak of the responsibility God has given to humanity to care for creation until such times as the present world comes to an end and we enter the time the Orthodox call the “age of ages” and we have the hope that some of the seeds we plant will grow up and bear fruit in the eternal kingdom. The stories we are hearing about on the news are quite terrifying at times, and yet, it is important to remember that the world has always been in pain and turmoil and it certainly was in St Paul’s day.

So what should we do about it? Well, this (I say as I hold the can) is what we should do. The more that the world is in turmoil, the more we are desperately needed because we can sow the seeds of goodness and compassion, we can be generous, we  share and help one another and this is why Paul wrote the section of his epistle that we read today.

The context of today’s epistle was a famine that was happening around Jerusalem sometime between 40 and 50AD. Paul and Barnabas made an initial famine-relief visit to Jerusalem in A.D. 46 and delivered a monetary gift from the church at Antioch which can be seen in Acts 11. Yet the church in Jerusalem still needed more support. So Paul organised a collection, just as we have organised one today, and the things Paul collected went to help those in need. They were seeds of love and compassion sown by those Christians in Corinth, and Paul was saying that their generosity would bring blessings and fruit into their own lives as well as the lives of the people that they helped.

“The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Paul sums this up in another of his letters as, you reap what you sow. Now those of you who sow literal seeds in your gardens know that if you only sow a few, you only get a few plants in return. But we also sow other things. These days I sow prayers that I have written, and service plans and songs and photographs and videos, and sometimes these help others and spread more widely than I expected like rapidly growing pea shoots. Other prayers I have worked on or made have had a much shorter shelf life. But what about you? What do you sow? What do you reap in return? Are the seeds you sow bringing you joy? What other seeds of kindness might you sow? This might not be money, it might actually be time, and the many hours of time given in this cathedral in volunteering have produced an amazing and bountiful harvest in the lives of those who come to visit here. Chapter receives comments all the time from those who have been inspired, renewed and blessed by their visit to us. Visiting choirs tell us that we are one of the friendliest cathedrals they have ever visited, because of the welcome and volunteering that you give.

And so this harvest, let us not be worried by the fragility and insecurity of the world around us, by disasters and wars and rumours of wars, instead let us be on the lookout for opportunities to allow ourselves be enriched by the immense privilege of being able to help and care for another human being, which is one of the greatest acts of creativity that we can ever do.