I recently came across a story of a senior priest who was often invited to parishes to preach on special occasions. One year, he went to a church, and gave the sermon at a Harvest Festival service. Afterwards the Vicar approached him and thanked him for his contribution. “Oh, that’s all right,” replied the visitor, “that was the sermon I preached at my first Harvest Festival 40 years ago, and often use again. Some things never change.”
We live in a fast-changing world. I suspect that that visiting clergyman would find life in our 21st century very taxing. Things seem to change exceptionally fast these days.
But there are some things that do indeed never seem to change.
First, there is the hard work and labour of those who produce the food we eat: our farmers, fishers, gardeners and growers. Since earliest times, Harvest has been a time of thanksgiving and thankfulness for the abundance God has given us, and an acknowledgement of those who have planted seeds and gathered crops in to feed the rest of us. We are often more detached from them now than in past years, but we still have good reason to be thankful to God and for those who feed us with their produce.
Second, there is the stark truth that there has never been a time in our world when everyone has had easy access to enough to eat. In spite of technology and plenteous resources across the world, people still go to bed hungry and struggle to feed themselves and their families. Some have more than they could ever eat in a lifetime, while others starve. It is a scandal that in this modern day, people are still dying of hunger – an estimate is that one person, often a child, dies on average every 10 seconds because of hunger. Even in this country there are now more than 2000 food banks, providing for those who struggle to stay on top of things.
We recently heard in church from the Epistle of James, where his readers were urged to follow up their words with action. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2.14-17)
Praising God for our good fortune is important, but it has most meaning when we reflect God’s generosity in our own actions and share what we have with those who are far less fortunate than us.
There is no shame in needing help from others; it might be us in that position one day. But those of us who live with plenty while giving no thought to the needs of others will have to answer not just to them but also to God in the final reckoning.
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, which Jesus told, makes clear God’s thought on the matter: “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”
He will reply: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25.42-45)
With best wishes Sarah