Sermon preached at Harvest Festival

October 6, 2019

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Preached by The Very Revd Catherine Ogle, using Philippians 4: 4 – 9 and John 6: 25 – 35 at Sung Eucharist on Sunday 6th October 2019, the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, Harvest Festival.

Two hundred years ago, when John Keats walked the water meadows and stubble-plains of Winchester and climbed St Giles’ Hill, he saw both the glories and the labour of the harvest.  And in September 1819 he was inspired to write what some regard as one of the most perfect poems in the English language: ‘To Autumn’ evoking the sweetness, the density of late summer ripeness.

‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

with fruits the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

to bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

and fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

with a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees

until they think warm days will never cease

For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.’

 

Both nature and labourers have been hard at work, there is fruitfulness and drowsy exhaustion, and then there is the inevitability of winter.

Two hundred years later we are here, giving thanks for the ripening and sweetness, for the seedtime and harvest, the rhythm of the seasons, the fullness of Gods promises faithfully realised each year in the harvest.  Today with we give thanks for Gods faithfulness.  And thanks too for the labour that brings in the harvest.  The harvest is a great partnership between humanity and our Creator, for which we are rightly thankful.

On this day as we celebrate harvest, Scripture takes us into a deeper level.  We know Jesus as the compassionate one.  Jesus heals the sick and feeds the hungry.  One of the most lovely meals every described is the breakfast the risen lord prepares for his friends at the lake side.  As one of us, Jesus know our physical weaknesses and needs.  And he has so much more to offer us, as he seeks to transform our whole lives, mind, body, spirit, from within.  Jesus said to his disciples and to the crowds: ‘you are following me because I fed you’.  Naturally, people at the time of Jesus wanted an earthly king to come and make everything better.  Jesus wanted to show them that he was working to a different agenda and is offering infinitely more.  His life, death and resurrection will change the world, the harvest of his life will be for everyone, for all time. He has come to bring in the love and justice of Gods kingdom and the rule of God on earth. He reveals our deepest needs and satisfies our greatest hungers.  Jesus is the bread of life in all its fullness.

And Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi takes us deeper into the harvest of our lives.  Into the way of living in which Christ lives in us: Paul says: rejoice, be gentle, don’t worry, ask God for what you need, live in God’s peace.  This beautiful passage is about our cooperation with Gods purposes, resulting in a great harvest in our lives.  And it’s about how we chose to use our freedom.  Paul is saying, think about and dwell on whatsoever things are true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise, think about these things.  Cultivate your habits, keep on following these teachings.  There’s a strong resonance here with modern understanding about how our brains work.  So lay down good habits of thought, don’t dwell on negativity and cynicism, though it’s always tempting, don’t fill your minds with what is degrading. Co-operate with Gods loving purposes.

So let’s go back to Keats and to the wider creation, and cooperating with Gods loving purposes.  Because Keats wrote during the heat of the industrial revolution, a revolution in industry and manufacturing and a migration of former agricultural workers into cities and factories.  Certainly, wages and standards of living rose, people with modest means had things previously only dreamt of.  But by 1819, in the wake of war, food prices had risen and, for many, wages fell dramatically.

Just weeks before Keats poem was written, a peaceful protest of workers took place in Manchester.  Men women and children gathered, calling for suffrage and political reform.  Shockingly local magistrates ordered Yeomen and then Cavalry to charge them. 18 people including a baby died and about 500 were injured in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre.

So Keats wrote ‘To Autumn’, in a context of industrialisation, social anxiety and division and calls for radical reform.  The industrial revolution was fuelled by coal, and then oil and natural gas.  Great underground stores of carbon and methane, laid down over millions of years, have been released into the atmosphere with gathering speed, as carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas.   Global industrial activity, we now understand, has affected the worlds’ climate.  The last five years are the warmest on record.  Rising water levels and extreme weather conditions now threaten harvests across the world.  Once more we celebrate harvest against a backdrop of calls for radical reform, this time of lifestyle and habit, a call to live in ways that are sustainable, so that our lives may honour creation and the creator.

Christ calls us to remember that we are creatures, and part of creation, not separate from it.  And he teaches that, made in Gods image, we are given freedom to choose in order to cultivate good habits and yield a good harvest.

Both our bodies and our souls need healing and feeding.  Yesterday the green Hampshire Harvest was a wonderful all-age celebration of just that with the joys of local wildlife, steam organ music and local harvest.  And also the joy and hope of children and adults sharing together how to make changes so that life is sustainable, that we can all be fed, and that the healing can come to our land, the land of our neighbours across the world and to our precious planet.  May we hear and respond to this call, to choose the way of justice and harvest for the world.