From Thanksgiving to Justice - A sermon for Harvest Supper based on Psalm 8
As has been the case for many years this church is delightfully decorated for our harvest thanksgiving.
Around me I see a range of foods and flowers. These remind us that our God is a God of bountiful provision. Our God meets our needs and then adds those things that delight us, those things which take us from merely existing into the joys of abundant living.
It is right and proper that on an occasion such as this we should be expressing gratitude. That is gratitude to the people whose skills and labour enable our needs to be so well met. It is also gratitude to the God who out of love has granted us the use of a world that is rich in resources and teeming with wonderful possibilities.
And yet there is a BUT! That BUT is that being a follower of Christ should never be a reason to opt out of the real world. And in the real world we find that there are many for whom our harvest celebration might well ring a little hollow. At the extreme end there are those who can only dream of a square meal, clean water and shelter. Here we find our attention particularly focused on the developing world. But missing out on the bounty is hardly confined to far off lands. Closer to home are many missing out on the good life who are even fearful that their deprivations are about to get even worse. The poor are certainly a reality and a rebuke to our easy accomodation with injustice.
Our Psalm speaks to us of humanity being given a creative role in God's world. This creativity is expressed through work which is the means to which we are enabled to contribute to the material and cultural wellbeing of society. In recent times we have heard much about our duty to work. I sort of agree with this but it becomes but cruel mockery when it is not linked to the other side of the coin which is the right to work. Much needs to be done for the common good yet we have a rising unemployment in this country and in that we are certainly not alone. No wonder economics is sometimes called the "dismal science." Let me use one example. In my six years in this circuit I have seen some abysmal housing and have met people desperate for decent affordable and secure housing. Meanwhile builders languish on the unemployment registers despite their longing to work. The needs could be met! In so many fields life could be enhanced by developing skills and putting them to use. But instead the clever people at international summits tell us that this is just not possible. People experience instead the penury and frustration of not being allowed to develop and use creative skills and the practice of biblical stewardship is thereby strangled. No wonder when I listen to international captains of finance, I find myself singing that old Fun Boy 3 song,
"The lunatics have taken over the asylum."
Indeed the madness can be seen in the distribution of the bounty. Only today on the news we have heard of an agency designed to reduce 3rd World poverty indulging in lavish entertainment of its directors whilst failing the poor of the world. Only today we have learnt that the crazy bonus culture is back to something like before the banking crisis whilst destitution is on the streets. And we know that despite efforts of Make Poverty History and other such groups there is so much still to do regarding extreme poverty.
And still we know that too often human creative capacity is used less for life enhancing purposes than for naked destruction.
Many years go a man said these words;
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed."
Words from anti war campaigner Brian Haw? No! Words from a disaffected radical? Hardly! Those are words from General Dwight Eisenhower soon after the ending of his 8year term as President of the USA. And those are words that ring true today!
And those words bring us to the Harvest of the Spirit about which we sing in our final hymn. This is not a harvest about putting bottoms on pews. it is a harvest about seeking the will of God above all things. It is about being touched by the extravagant love of God and being so transformed by it as to find our vision of the world reorientated.
Through this harvest we meet the God who is the author of life and love, the God who grants value to all peoples. This means working for a society in which all are able to contribute to the welfare of others, a society in which all find dignity and a just reward for labour. It is a society in which as individuals we are bound through God to one another. So different from the stale, tired orthodoxies with which we are bombarded, here is a vision in which exciting possibilities can become wonderful realities. For it is in seeking the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed that we can both contribute to and experience the good life that god desires for all his creation.