Sermon for Harvest Festival 2020

Sermon preached by Revd Karen Charman for Harvest Festival, 20th September 2020 at St Mary’s Church, Garsington and via Zoom

Harvest Festival is an opportunity for us to give thanks to God – not just for a good harvest, safely gathered in, but also for the many blessings he pours down upon us.  It’s also an opportunity for us to respond to God’s generosity – perhaps by reciprocating his generous giving, and bringing blessings to others.

And of course, I’m sure many of you have done that already – either by donating food and other goods to Asylum Welcome, or the Community Emergency Foodbank, or by donating money to them.  And if you haven’t donated yet, there’s links on our e-newsletter to enable you to donate.

Today’s Bible readings remind us of the goodness of God’s creation, and of his generous provision.  Close your eyes for a moment and try to picture the land God promised to his people Israel:

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing …”

It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?  Like a second Garden of Eden, or paradise.

Yet the Holy Land is far from idyllic now, and the situation there far from ideal.  The Scriptures urge God’s people not to forget the Lord their God by failing to keep his commandments – but when we consider the plight of the Palestinians, and the continuing land-grabbing, the illegal settlements, and long-term humanitarian crisis in the Gaza strip, it seems that God’s commandments – to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God,[1] have been forgotten.  More than 80 percent of people in Gaza depend on humanitarian aid to survive, and now coronavirus is rife in the strip, with nearly 1,000 new positive cases reported in the last two weeks alone.[2]

And the Holy Land is not the only place where we see that God’s commandments and ordinances have been forgotten – his good creation marred by conflict and by human greed; justice, mercy and humility replaced by injustice, oppression and pride.  We see the same stories in far too many nations – nations torn apart by civil war: Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan to name but a few.

In the reading from Deuteronomy, we are given a reminder that our wealth … our successes … our good harvests are not merely the result of our own endeavours and strengths.  Instead, it’s God who gives us the power … the skills or gifts … to get wealth.

In many places in the Old Testament – Genesis Chapters 14 and 28, Numbers, Chapter 18, Deuteronomy 26, to name but a few – the principle of tithing is recorded.  God gave generously to his people and, in return, they were expected – or required – to give back to God; to the work of the temple; and to the widows, orphans and sojourners in the land.

Today, some argue that Christians are exempt from the requirement to tithe their income, whilst others argue that we are called to tithe to the church, to support its mission and ministry; and also to donate to charities supporting the poor.[3]  It’s not my place to tell you how to distribute your income – but I would encourage you to reflect prayerfully, at least once a year, on your giving to the church and to other charities – and Harvest Festival does seem like a good time for us each to reconsider what we are able to give in response to God’s blessings.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable of the rich man whose land produces abundant crops.  Rather foolishly – or, perhaps, selfishly – he decides to pull down his barns and build larger ones, to store all his grain and his goods.

It’s clear from the parable that the rich man has made a bad choice – but, I wonder, what should he have done instead?

Well, firstly, of course, he should have given thanks to God for the good harvest.  And, then, he should, I think, have invited all his neighbours … all those who lived, or were residing temporarily, in his village or town, to a great feast to share, and enjoy, the bountiful harvest with him.

With the threat of a ‘second lockdown,’ or tighter restrictions looming over us, we’d be unwise to invite our whole village or community round for a great feast this harvest-time.  But, as Christians, we are called to participate regularly in a great banquet – in the Eucharistic feast … the thanksgiving feast, to which all are invited.

Whatever the next few weeks and months might bring in terms of the coronavirus and lockdown – even if our churches must close again for a while – we can all participate spiritually in this great feast, in which we:

–          give thanks to God for his goodness

–          offer our gifts at the altar

–          and share in the one bread

Through our sharing together in the Eucharist – whether in church or on-line – we store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal.[4]

The threat of another lockdown is worrying.  I expect many of us are already thinking ahead to Christmas, and wondering whether we’ll be able to share that special festival, and our Christmas dinner, with our families.  Others may be remembering the stockpiling in March, which led to near empty supermarket shelves, and worrying about shopping for food, toilet paper and other necessities.

But Jesus comforts us: “Do not worry about your life … life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”  He bids us consider the birds and the flowers. 

Although, as humans, we find it hard not to worry, the first lockdown reminded many of us of the benefits for our well-being and mental health to be gained from sitting in our gardens, considering the birds and the flowers.

So, in the weeks to come, let’s all:

–          take time to consider the birds and the flowers, and the flora and fauna in our churchyards and gardens

–          count our blessings and give thanks to God

–          review what we are able to give (whether that be money, time, talents, or a combination of the three), in response to God’s blessings

–          remember our neighbours and, especially, those less fortunate than ourselves

–          and continue to share in the Eucharistic feast – whether in church, or on-line

[1] Micah 6.8

[2] Article in al Jazeera, 15 Sept 2020, by Sahar Atrache* ‘Gaza’s ‘quarantine within a quarantine must end.’  *Sahar Atrache is Refugees International’s Senior Advocate for the Middle East.

[3] Good argument in favour of tithing by William Barclay in The Gospel Coalition ‘The Bible commands Christians to Tithe,’ available on-line

[4] Matthew 6.19-21