The gratitude that changes the world - A Harvest Thanksgiving sermon based on Ruth 2
“Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves so thanks for nothing!”
With those words the great theologian Bart Simpson doubtless speaks for many! Yet this morning we gaze on a Harvest display and link our pleasure with a sense of gratitude. Gratitude to God and gratitude to those whose labours provide a bounty. For this is a season when we know that far from being independent we live in a state of dependence.
We are in a state of dependence on God. It is not that God personally hands us the goodies. Rather it is that God is the reason that lies behind scientific processes that bequeath us a world of great possibilities. Our responsibility becomes that of using those possibilities in life enhancing rather than life destroying manners. And so God is worthy of gratitude! Indeed in thanking God we find a sense of unity with the one to whom we owe our being. We who are recipients of gifts and possibilities have a need to express gratitude. No wonder G.K. Chesterton once observed;
“The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.”
And yet if we stop at this point something is missing. You see this is a time to contemplate the links that exist within humanity. Farmers, fishermen, process workers, transport workers and retail workers locally and globally make this celebration possible. Those whom we may never meet or know much of are part the story of the abundance we observe on a day like this. It makes me think, albeit probably in a way that is different than he intended, of those words of John Donne;
“No man is an island.”
We depend on each other and need to develop our community and global relationships in a spirit of gratitude for in our world of diversity we are enriched by one another.
Different communities celebrate Harvest Thanksgiving in different ways. The revival of Harvest festivals in the 19th Century is said to owe much to an eccentric Anglican clergyman named Robert Hawker who served as a priest for a number of decades in Morwenstow, who begun the tradition of church harvest Festivals in 1843. There the outcome of the harvest was crucial to the wellbeing of the local community. A bad year and people went hungry – that is if they did not engage in those activities so beloved by his parishoners of smuggling and wrecking! And whilst some city communities emphasise in the words of a hymn “God of concrete, God of steel” for most of us Harvest is about food – that which so defines our living!
Today from the scriptures we have listened to the Book of Ruth. Incidentally if any of you are wondering after the past month how on earth they let “him” in, the book of Ruth is part of my story. At Ministerial Candidate's Selection committee part of the process is an interview by two people concerning studying done thus far. I remember little of this as my mind felt quite blank. Anyhow I ended up be asked about an essay I had written on the Book of Ruth and mission. I spluttered out a few words before agreeing with my questioner that really the book of Ruth wasn't primarily about mission. Asked what it was about I apparently replied, “Sex of course!” Anyhow my questioner who was the Principal of the place where I was to train, on his return told a student who became a good friend of mine that at that moment he decided I was in and I was coming to his college.
Well I am as you will have gathered a little bit shy so I have spared my blushes if not your by missing Chapter 3 with the threshing floor and all of that. But the second chapter of Ruth which we have just listened to is an ancient picture of the process of harvesting. Ruth is an outsider. She comes from Moab. The people of Moab get a bad press in the Hebrew Bible. They had opposed the conquest of Canaan and as a result been excluded from the “congregation.” The 2nd Book of Kings suggests a tendency towards human sacrifices. More than that Ruth is a widow, a vulnerable position at that time. And so by the time of our reading, her mother in law Naomi in response to the loyalty of her daughter in law is encourages Ruth to win the heart of Boaz, a good man, so that she might have the security she needs. The earliest encounter arises through following the harvesters. Indeed she goes out to be one of those who would follow the harvesters picking up that left behind. In this we find the practice decreed in the law given to Israel as recorded by Leviticus;
“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.”
This law shows the heart of God for the poor and the outsider. Always the needs of the vulnerable are to be addressed. And as you read deeper into the Book of Ruth, you find that Boaz goes beyond the law as he demonstrates that “hesed” which means loving kindness.
Today is a day to say thank you. It is also a day to consider those whose needs may be greater than ours whilst their value to God is equal to ours. Each of us can today rejoice in the loving kindness of God whilst exercising the thanksgiving that is expressed not just in cries of thanks and hymns of thanksgiving but by a renewal of commitment to the poor in this land and the poor globally. This is a day when we must protest against that trend which seems to have moved world concern away from the globally poor at a time when other economic concerns have taken central stage. Extreme poverty is as sharp a wound today as it was before the banking collapse – indeed its prevalence may well be increased. In a time such as this the cries of the needy must be heard as never before.
So let's rejoice today at the bounty. Let's show our gratitude to God and to the humanity with which we are bound up. But let our thanksgiving be the thanksgiving which leads to a real concern for the needy. Let it be the thanksgiving which demands economic, political and environmental justice for the poor of this land and for the poor across the world. Let this be the day when we take seriously the motive for which Jesus came – life with abundance! Life to the full! The time when God's creatures might experience life to the very max!