St Mary’s, Puddletown
Sunday 1st October 2017
2 Corinthians 9.6-15; Luke 12.16-30
A man is on an afternoon’s country drive. As he passes one particular field, he notices a man standing right in the middle of the grass. A bit puzzled, he stops the car by the edge of the road, and watches for a bit longer.
But the man stands there in the middle of his field, doing nothing, looking at nothing, saying nothing, just standing.
After a while the man from the car decides his curiosity is going to get the better of him. So he climbs out and walks to the middle of the field to ask the famer what on earth he is doing.
“Excuse me, Sir,” he says. “Are you all right? What are you doing?”
“Ah,” says the farmer. “I’ll tell you. I’m trying to win a Nobel Prize.”
The man from the car is puzzled. “How are you going to do that?” he asks.
"Well,” said the farmer, “I heard they give the Nobel Prizes . . . to people who are out standing in their field."
I wonder how many farmers you have seen recently standing in their fields. We are fortunate here in rural Dorset still to be in touch with our farmers and some of those who produce the food we eat.
I imagine that most of us here in church tonight actually know a farmer or two, and feel we have some connection with the food we eat, because we see the cows and sheep in their fields, we watch the combine harvesters and we get stuck behind the large grain-carrying tractors on our roads. Perhaps we’ve even been known to curse them in our impatience to get on rather than to be thankful that they are providing for us.
There are many people now in this country, though, who don’t know any farmers or farm-workers, whose only connection with the food they eat is the supermarket shelf.
In many cities, Harvest Festival has lost its significance. Even in the countryside, Harvest doesn’t have the power it had in the past, even 40-50 years ago in my childhood, when the whole community would turn out for church and the Harvest supper.
And I think that is a great shame. As people become more removed from those who grow their food – for a number of reasons: there are fewer farmers than in the past, more urban dwellers, much of the food we eat now comes from abroad - we become more forgetful of our good bounty.
In days gone by when every villager needed there to have been a good harvest, lives were much more directly affected than now, when if our harvests are poor we can buy up stock from other places in the world. Not always a good thing but it’s how we live today.
Our shops are never seriously empty, and if we can’t get something particular that we want, we can always try the next nearest supermarket or find an alternative ingredient.
Harvest thanksgiving is just as important now as it has been in the past, because it is a reminder of how much we have to be thankful for.
We live in a self-satisfied and increasingly secular world where the role of God in our provision is forgotten, ignored or denied. But we have so much to be thankful for: those who grow and produce our food, the amazing variety of it, our shops and those who work in them, our full cupboards, and the God in whom all this originates.
Harvest Festival is festival of thanksgiving. At its heart is our thanksgiving to the God who generously and abundantly provides for us.
We used to say in our communion services: all things come from thee, O Lord, and of thine own do we give thee. A reminder that we have nothing apart from God, and that we have a God who models generosity, a God who holds nothing back from us, a God who gives everything for his creation. A God who has given us the skills and means to shape the future for ourselves, who entrusts so much to us, but who continues giving even when we make a mess of it all.
God doesn’t give sparingly but bountifully. He is a profligate sower who spreads seeds of blessing, more than we could ever need or desire, upon the world. A God who knows that, in being generous, blessings abound and grow, and love increases.
Sadly we are less generous in our attitude towards life. It is true that as we become wealthier as individuals, as nations, as governments and peoples, we become less generous, relying not on God for our needs but on the cash that we have in our pockets.
In true generosity there is a sense of carelessness in some ways – a carefree attitude that looks outward to see what it can give rather than inward to pile up more. The widow who threw her two mites into the temple treasury received approval from Jesus, because she gave all that she had to God. The more we have the more we seem to worry about letting it go.
The story Jesus told in our reading from Luke’s Gospel today shows well the perils of thinking only of one’s own needs. The man with the barns that weren’t big enough to store everything thought not of giving away the excess – he hardly would have suffered – but of building bigger barns to store his wealth up. What was God’s view – you fool!
How often might God say that to us – you fool!
Listen to St Paul in our other reading: God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly. What is enough? A lot less than many of us live on.
God provides so we can share abundantly.
In church one night, a congregation’s wealthiest member shared his testimony. “I’m a millionaire,” he said, “and I put it all down to God’s faithful generosity. I remember the turning-point so well.
“Many years ago I had just earned my first pound. That night I went to our church youth club and heard a missionary speaking about his work abroad. I only had a pound, and I knew then and there I had either to give it all to God’s work or keep it all for myself. I gave that whole pound to God. And I believe God has blessed me ever since that moment, and that is why I am a rich man today.”
When the man had finished speaking, the treasurer got up and applauded the man for his faith: “what an amazing story,” he said, “and now I challenge you to do it again – give it all up for God’s work.
How much harder it seems to give away a million than a pound, even if that is all we have. The comparative generosity of people in our world goes down as a general rule as people become richer. The modern version of the man who wanted a bigger barn.
Generosity is an attitude of heart – it’s not just about giving from time to time to satisfy our duty or to fulfil a need. The truly generous heart is one that has been refined and transformed by God. It’s found in people who recognise that none of what we have is truly our but Gods. There is saying attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: there is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.
If only we followed that – we wouldn’t have carrots being ploughed back into the ground because they are not straight enough for our supermarkets while others struggle to feed their children. We wouldn’t have people in poorer countries without the storage facilities that enables them to keep the food they grow so that they can feed their families all year round.
It’s estimated that one-third of the world’s food production is wasted – just imagine what a difference that would make to people who currently struggle with malnutrition and starvation. If the will was there, things could be changed.
God longs for us to have a change of heart, to be people who think not of our own earthly futures and storing up wealth for ourselves but how we might share it. The more we have the more we seek to cling onto – that is a life of trust in mammon not God.
Generosity doesn’t diminish us, but as Paul says “will enrich us in every way”. It enriches both giver and receiver. The more we give the more our hearts will be transformed; the more we give the easier it becomes next time.
Generosity is not about giving grudgingly or only out of duty. God loves a cheerful giver. All that we have comes from God of his own do we give thee.
And the starting-point for generosity is thanksgiving. That is why Harvest Festival remains important – as we acknowledge and give thanks to God for all we have, it removes our sense of entitlement, our taking for granted what we have, our clinging to things and money, it shifts our focus from me and mine to God the Giver and to those in need.
A thankful heart becomes a generous heart. And God loves a cheerful giver.