Harvest Sermon, Sunday 18 September, 2016
Joel 2:21-27; Matthew 6:25-33
Last week was the feast day of one of the great saints of the Western Church – St Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard was born in 1098, a few years after Flax Bourton Parish Church was built. She was a Benedictine abbess, mystic, composer, artist, philosopher, natural scientist and much more besides. She was consulted by bishops and rulers all over Europe and was one of the most powerful and well-respected women of her generation. In 2012 Pope Benedict named her as on the Doctors of the Church – if it was being created now she might have found a place in the Barrow Gurney Jesse Tree Window.
Here are some words she wrote that might help us reflect on the value of celebrating harvest: The earth is at the same time mother, she is mother of all that is natural, mother of all that is human. She is the mother of all, for contained in her are the seeds of all. The earth of humankind contains all moistness, all verdancy, all germinating power. It is in many ways so fruitful. All creation comes from it. Yet it forms the basic raw material for humankind but also the substance of the incarnation of God’s son.
Like Hildegard, Meister Eckhart was another German mystic. He was born in 1260, became a Dominican and was a highly influential and highly controversial preacher. He was tried by the Inquisition for heresy but died before they could reach a verdict. One of his crimes was consistently preaching about the Gospel in the vernacular, the language of the people rather than the approved Latin. He believed that the Gospel, like all the fruits of God’s creation, was meant to be shared equally with everyone.
Here are some words from his writing: There is no such thing as ‘my’ bread. All bread is ours and is given to me, to others through me, and to me through others. For not all bread, but all things necessary for sustenance in this life, are given on loan to us with others, and because of others and for others, and to others through us.
I think that these two short readings encapsulate the essence of why we should celebrate and give thanks for the harvest. They also seem to me to chime directly with our two readings from the Bible today. Jesus says in the Gospel: Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” Those have been, and continue to be legitimate worries for many people around the world from the beginnings of humanity. Jesus knows that, he spends his life standing up for those whose stomachs are often empty.
Perhaps what he is asking here is that we don’t allow individual concerns to override the bigger picture for the whole of society, the whole of creation. That is what he calls ‘the kingdom’. If we are all fixated on our own needs – what we can have, how we can get it – then we miss the wider impact on the whole earth. In our rush to consume we neglect both Hildegard’s revelation of the sacredness of the earth as the basic raw material of all life, even the life of Christ, and Eckhart’s vision of the interconnectedness of all our actions – everything we need is given by and through and for others.
Which takes us back to why we should give thanks for the harvest. It is not a given that we will always have access to food when we want it and how we want it. It takes a great deal of skill and hard work particularly by our farmers, but also everyone else in the supply chain, for us to be able to go out and buy whatever food takes our fancy. However, despite all the farmers’ skill there are a great many variables and wider factors involved that are not always under their control. The rain and sun do not pour or shine to order. Pests and diseases mutate and swarm in not totally predictable patterns. Surpluses and deficits of certain food stuffs globally sway the prices and what was profitable to grow one year becomes loss making the next.
So when we give thanks that we have a harvest, that we have enough food for our needs, that we have farmers dedicated to cultivating the land, we are also reminding ourselves that this is not a given. That the resources of the earth need to be respected, that each and everyone of us needs to uphold that respect and not simply leave it to our farmers, who we see as stewards of the land. Because, as Eckhart makes clear, every decision we make is interconnected with one another, every buying choice, lifestyle choice, has an impact on the lives of others, on the reservoir of resources, on the motherhood of the earth.
From Eckhart: ‘There is no such thing as ‘my’ bread.’
From Hildegard: ‘The earth forms the basic material for all humankind, but also the substance of the incarnation of God’s son.’
In this earth are the seeds of our life, the seeds of our sustaining, the seeds of Christ among us, the seeds of God’s kingdom. If we blind ourselves to the depletion of the earth’s resources then we are working against God’s will, because we are working against God’s vision of a kingdom where all live sustainably and with equal access to all that is needed for life.
Giving thanks for the harvest is an annual reminder, if a reminder should be needed, that for us always to have the sustenance we require we must never take its provision for granted. Giving thanks for the harvest is one way to remember our duty of care to one another – For not all bread, but all things necessary for sustenance in this life, are given on loan to us with others, and because of others and for others,and to others through us.
If we take that seriously, let it govern every decision we make, then we are playing our part in building God’s kingdom.