‘Most of all, that love has found us…’

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Words for St Mary’s Whitkirk – as we celebrate harvest and consider our giving.

Around this time, schools up and down the country will be holding harvest festivals and I’d be willing to bet many will be singing ‘Cauliflowers fluffy and cabbages green’. If you don’t know it…be thankful. I’ll just say…it’s a lovely autumn poem…but certainly in a church school I wished for at least a thank you for the apples, plums and broad beans we sang about!

Second in our school harvest chart was, ‘Autumn Days, and the grass is jewelled’. Another fine description of autumn…and at least this one reminds us to say thank you…although not who we’re thanking.

So, thank you Giles for choosing our next hymn…No. 138, ‘For the fruits of his creation’. It’s a harvest hymn…so it starts with gratitude for what God provides. It moves on to the importance of sharing those gifts…but for me, the last verse says something wider and more profound about receiving and giving.

‘For the wonders that astound us,

for the truths that still confound us,

most of all, that love has found us,

Thanks be to God.’

Recently Matthew and I were lucky enough to hear Rowan Williams speak. He described the Trinity as endless self-giving between the Father and the Son. And he suggested that prayer, our relationship with God, isn’t something we have to initiate…rather that we are invited to step into this eternity of love.

‘most of all, that love has found us, Thanks be to God.’

This goes much deeper than harvest gratitude for the ‘stuff’ we have prompting us to share with those who don’t. That can be to do with duty…finding we are truly, unconditionally loved calls much more from us.

It makes some sense of the passage from Matthew’s gospel we heard tonight…‘Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons…take no money, no bag, no spare tunic, no sandals, no staff; oh, and by the way they’ll hate you and probably flog you’…Not asking much of the disciples was he? But they went…why?

Well Jesus wasn’t offering great wages, or fame and gratitude. He didn’t inspire them like so many human leaders have done – by uniting them against a common enemy, giving them someone to hate…think of the crowds shouting ‘crucify’, or of Hitler.

No. Jesus told stories; showed compassion; denounced people for what they did, not who they were; taught forgiveness and love. He said – people will ignore you, or hate you, but share the message anyway and move on. And they went…

I don’t think it can just have been the stories – startling though they are – or even the miracles. In Jesus they encountered something much bigger, something they didn’t understand, but somehow knew to be truth. And they encountered love…they saw others loved by Jesus; they felt his love for them. In Jesus they saw complete love for God and from God and realised they could be part of it…

‘For the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us, most of all, that love has found us, Thanks be to God.’

Being found by love that doesn’t depend on anything other than our being there to be loved…that’s something worth sharing.

U A Fanthorpe, in her poem ‘Getting it Across’ has Jesus say of the disciples “I am tattooing God on their makeshift lives.” The poem continues with him describing the consequences for those men…

“Dying, ridiculous and undignified,

flayed and stoned and crucified upside down…

…that might, had I not touched them,

have died decent, respectable, upright deaths in bed.”

What about us? Well when we share in the Eucharist, are moved by the beauty of music at Evensong or the gift of peace at Compline, when we’re touched by this holy place, or find in St Mary’s a loving community…I think we too recognise truth even when we don’t understand…we too know that love has found us.

Through all of these, Christ is ‘tattooing God on our makeshift lives’, showing that along with all the harvest gifts, we’re given complete, unconditional love. Love we don’t earn – but are given anyway.

Real love asks for nothing, expects nothing in return – but somehow demands everything from us. Our response to God’s love may not be painful, or life threatening like the disciples’, but I think it should be costly. The command ‘You received without payment, give without payment’ is surely meant for us too.

Over the next two weeks we’re asking everyone to look particularly at their financial giving to the church. We English are not very happy when the church talks about money, as Archbishop Welby found out recently. But in England in 2018 sharing the love of God requires money.

I hear daily how lucky you feel to have Matthew as your vicar…I’m sure you want to hang on to him. But I’m also sure you would like other parishes to have equally well chosen properly resourced priests to love and inspire them. But that needs money – the same amount whether the parish is relatively rich (as we are here) or poor.

Jesus loved everyone…but most of all he sought out and loved those on the margins. Those who today, despite giving generously out of the little they have, need our help just to keep a church open so that others can be found by the love of God.

So please take the pack about our giving at St Mary’s. There is information about how our giving fits in with the rest of the diocese and what it’s used for; there’s a form we would like back, to tell us what you have decided to do…and there are 10 days’ worth of bible readings and prayers to remind us of the incomprehensible, wonderful, unconditional love we are given…and one way in which we can respond to that love.

‘For the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us, most of all, that love has found us, Thanks be to God.’

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