Harvest festival…a time to repent? First sermon at St John’s Adel.

Climate change

Sermon for our harvest festival.

Coming to Adel, leading worship in this church – it’s impossible not to be aware of the history of the place. Standing here I’m reminded of the long line of Rectors who have preceded me.

Celebrating harvest is something else with a long history…much longer even than our church. As soon as farming developed the harvest was a matter of life or death – of getting through the winter or not. It’s not surprising then that rituals developed, like sharing a harvest supper – a celebration of ample food and rest from labours.

Like many community occasions, the church saw that it was good – and stole it. Harvest Festivals began to be celebrated in churches. They no doubt…sadly, became slightly more sober affairs – but were still thanksgivings for a shared experience that was essentially a matter of survival, of hope for the future.

As we become more detached from the land, and the memory of winter starvation fades, Harvest Festivals have become a time to remember those less fortunate. Offerings of fruit and veg joined by tins and packets – our gifts today will help local food banks, a sad reminder that people go hungry in Leeds in 2019.

I think though, that we’ve come to a new phase for this celebration. We’re realising the danger of being detached from the land. In our drive for ever-cheaper food, and year round availability – we’ve stopped viewing the yearly harvest as a miracle, a gift from God. The land has become a commodity to be exploited for ever rising living standards…and we’re beginning to see the cost.

I’m in no position to lecture…there’s nothing quite like moving house to show how much unnecessary stuff you have. Unpacking it all, against the background of global climate strikes, was distinctly uncomfortable.

I began to feel perhaps Harvest should be a season of penitence like Lent. A season to repent of what our demand for ever-greater harvests is doing to God’s creation.

I suspect many of you heard Greta Thunberg speaking to the UN summit on climate change. Whatever your feelings on children missing school – I imagine like me you were moved…perhaps like me you felt shamed by her ‘How dare you?’ But she doesn’t want our sentiments.

She said this…“Adults keep saying, ‘we owe it to the young people to give them hope’, but I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel everyday. And then I want you to act…I want you to act as if your house is on fire…because it is.”

“Blimey”, you’re thinking “are all her sermons this miserable? So much for a harvest celebration.”

Actually – not miserable. Serious – yes. Urgent – yes. But not miserable – because although I understand Greta’s fear and support her message to world leaders; as Christians we are in the business of hope.

The penitence of Lent is driven by the hope of Easter. The joy of the resurrection is the joy of being reconciled to God. It’s knowing we’re forgiven that gives us the reason to change our ways, the hope for the future.

So as Christians we should be offering hope…to Greta…to the young Australian woman who said she won’t have children because she’s too scared of the future they might have.

Easy to say, but how do we bring something different; the true hope of Jesus Christ rather than more false promises? Well as Christians we have a different narrative to offer…one that says fulfillment doesn’t come from stuff, from having more.

In our gospel reading the crowd are following Jesus because he fed 5000 people with one picnic. They’re excited by the abundance of food – of stuff. They’re focused on food for today. Jesus challenges them to see beyond today’s perishable food – to hope for the future – to himself – the true, life-giving bread from heaven.

We’re in the business of hope because we gather each week around his table to share that life-giving bread. Around this table – with all our imperfections and disagreements – we are one body in Christ Jesus. We are, for a moment, what we were created to be…stewards of the earth…at one with God and with all creation.

For me that morsel of bread and sip of wine are hope for the future, because they are a place of reconciliation with God. But if that reconciliation is real – it demands change. It challenges us perhaps, to see ‘food that perishes’, as the lifestyle we now know can’t last – and to work for sustainable living that offers a future for all.

So what? Well I believe that being stewards of creation includes forcing whichever political party we support, and whoever ends up in Government to take the climate crisis seriously.

I believe it means taking Greta’s “How dare you!” seriously. We have to look at our lifestyles – we have to make difficult decisions about plastics, buying new, whether we need that ‘stuff’ at all, and most urgently – about car use and air travel. The answers will look different depending on our circumstances – but the questions must be faced by us all.

This isn’t about the moral high ground – which after all won’t be much use against rising sea levels. It’s about being the body of Christ – and remembering that those already affected by climate change, and generations to come, are also part of that body.

The Christian Aid Harvest slogan is “help turn despair into hope”. They’re talking about fantastic projects working in individual lives. But I think it’s a pretty good phrase for us all this harvest…seeing despair on the faces of our young people is a powerful wake up call.

In addition to our material gifts let’s make some genuine commitments to tackling the climate emergency. It’s going to be a hard road – but when we act in Jesus’ name, we do so in the power of the resurrection. Let’s “help turn despair into hope” this harvest by showing that the courage Greta Thunberg finds through her fear – can be ours through hope in Jesus Christ.



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