Sunday September 26, 2021
Welcome to our harvest thanksgiving service.
Let us begin by singing one of the great harvest hymns
Hymn 233 Come ye thankful people come
Prayer of Approach and Confession
God our Father,
You are our creator, to whom we owe our every breath
And you have set us in a world of beauty.
Today, as we meet to celebrate the harvest,
We confess with shame
That we have been unfaithful creatures
Unworthy stewards of creation
Forgive us, we pray, our ingratitude
Our complacency, and our pride.
Pardon our selfishness,
Our abuse and misuse of your bounty
Grant that, with thankful hearts,
We may use your gifts correctly
And share what we have, by your mercy,
With all who need our help,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray together saying: Our Father….
Bringing forward of harvest gifts
Hymn 229 We plough the fields and scatter
1st Reading: Isaiah 58: 9-11 (NIV)
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
2nd Reading: John 15: 1-8
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Hymn 231 For the fruits of all creation
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
Last week David and I spent several days in what the travel brochures like to call “the Garden of England”, the county of Kent, the south-eastern most corner of Britain. At least since Roman times, if not before, that part of England has been the place where you could grow just about anything that can be grown in a temperate climate. The Romans even grew grapes there and Britannia was a wine-producing province further north than any other in the Roman Empire. And Kent has once again become a significant wine-making area, with some producers even winning international prizes.
For people in Kent, as for most of us in Britain, one of the things they live with, almost without thinking about it, is greenery. It is what we all expect in Britain, and we would be astonished if we woke up one morning and looked out of the window to see sand dunes and dust clouds instead of grass, trees, and flowers. For us the challenge is not to make things grow but rather to make the right things grow. For us the wild green landscape is a challenge to cultivate, to organise, and to tame the profusion, in fact to turn the wildness of nature into a garden. And almost everybody in Britain, (except possibly me!), is mad keen to do this, and for some people their garden is one of the great pleasures of life.
The Bible writers too were mad about gardens, but if you’ve ever lived or travelled in the Middle East, you’ll know that their enthusiasm had a very different origin from ours. For them, it was not at all about taming the profusion. Quite the opposite, because, for them, beyond every garden, so lovingly watered and tended, lies the menace of the desert---waterless, barren, empty, unforgiving, hostile. The life-affirming green of their garden flourishes in the shadow of the desert’s life-denying sandy wastes. For the people of the Middle East the choice is not between a wild profusion of life and cultivated life, but instead a choice between life and death.
The Bible calls Palestine a land “flowing with milk and honey”, but what it really flowed with in many places was water, replenished every year in the rainy season, and it is no accident that Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Jericho are where they are---they all had perpetual springs of living water that saved them from the desert.
Not surprisingly, therefore, from the Garden of Eden onwards, the very picture of earthly and spiritual delights in the Bible is a garden, and, as our reading from Isaiah suggests, the greatest blessing God can bestow is to create a well-watered garden in a sun-scorched land.
In contrast, physical and spiritual torment often unfolds in the desert. When Abraham decides to utterly reject his son Ishmael, he turns him out to wander helplessly in the desert. When the Israelites leave Egypt with Moses, they have to wander forty years in the desert. When Jesus faces forty days of temptation by Satan, the story unfolds once again in the desert.
So, while gardens in the Bible are the earthly embodiment of a heavenly Paradise, the Bible also repeatedly reminds us that all of this can go badly wrong. Adam and Eve, the Biblical ancestors of us all, lost their paradise by refusing to live by the garden’s rules and were driven out into the hardship of the world outside. And, interestingly, the supreme sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross began when the Garden of Gethsemane changed from being a place of rest and refuge into a scene of conflict and confrontation as Jesus faced the soldiers sent to take him off to trial and Crucifixion.
For the Bible writers gardens thus came to have, not only a natural significance, but also a metaphorical one: just as your physical garden could easily go wrong if you didn’t tend it, so could your spiritual garden. Isaiah in our reading warns his people clearly that God would not establish the “well-watered garden” in a land of social discord where the hungry are not fed and the needs of the oppressed are not satisfied.
The Bible writers understood this very well, but they have not been alone in realising it. I was reminded of that at another point in our holiday when we drove around Coniston water in the Lake District and visited Brantwood, the home of the great Victorian writer and philosopher, John Ruskin. Ruskin was a man whom we would probably call today a “troubled genius”, but it was the brilliance of his insights that made him a leading figure in his day, inspiring many people to search for a better way of life than they were experiencing in Victorian Britain. He felt sure that things could be put right if only we acted in the proper way, and he put this point in a comment that particularly appeals to me. He said: “All one’s life is music, if one touches the notes rightly and in time.”
Ruskin was deeply imbued with a Christian outlook and in many respects he revived the Biblical vision for the modern age, even writing in a style that reminds one of the Old Testament prophets, and the image of God’s garden was implicit in his whole philosophy.
One biographer of Ruskin describes his outlook in this way:
“In Ruskin’s eyes, the natural world was God’s creation. Again and again he writes of God breathing life into plants and animals. For him, our relationship with, and understanding of, these things comes from God…it is the job and joy of mankind to look after the earth, its waters and its creatures. But by refusing to honour and care for nature, by plundering and polluting, by wasting and littering, modern men and women behave as if there is…no need to worry about anything bigger than their own immediate desires. [He saw] that the consequences of squandering the earth’s resources would be disastrous…He showed us how we have failed in our stewardship.” [Cooper 64-65]
Like the Bible writers, Ruskin was convinced that, from the greatest to the smallest matters, everything was connected to how we related to God and his creation. For Ruskin, as for the Bible writers, this destruction of our earthly garden was therefore not simply an environmental problem but also a moral and a spiritual issue. And that in turn had implications for our dealings with each other, because in the end it was not merely a question of what people did to the environment but also a question of what the effect of that was for everybody else.
As human beings living in God’s world, we are, as Ruskin’s biographer says, “all connected by our choices---what we wear and eat and read, how we travel, how we spend our money, how we teach our children.” [Cooper pp 4-5]. And of course, supremely, we are all connected by the effects of what we believe--- philosophically, politically, and religiously. If I can put it like this, we live not only in the natural ecosystem God has ordained but also in what you might call God’s moral and spiritual ecosystem.
Ruskin’s writings are full of down-to-earth observations of this inter-connectedness. He asks pertinent questions not only about our relationship to the natural world but also questions about how that relationship connects to our relationship to each other. Looking at the heavily industrialised and polluting economy of his day, he asks: what is the point of giving people jobs in England’s dark satanic mills churning out smoke and poisonous effluent, when really all you are doing is providing them with an income hardly sufficient to live on, while at the same time robbing them of the healthy food, clean air and fresh water that make a decent life possible? And how can we justify such a system when basically it works simply to make some people richer and happier while making others poorer and more miserable?
Ruskin realised that we face these sorts of choices almost on a daily basis. I was reminded of that many years ago when I was working with a church in America and a pensioner in the congregation was showing me some inexpensive clothes she had bought in Walmart. Suddenly she looked at me sadly and said: “But I don’t like to think why they can sell them so cheaply.”
That troubling question still arises, as I saw the other day when David and I went into a chain store in Carlisle and noticed some items of clothing that were amazingly good value economically, some selling for as little as £5. And then I looked at the label and saw that they were made in Bangladesh. Now no doubt the workers who made them, with some skill I have to say, were glad to earn even a few pence in wages for their work rather than have nothing. But Ruskin would say that my relationship with those far-off workers was not merely economic but also moral. The question he would pose is: Should I, relatively well-off in Britain, be willing to benefit so hugely from the fact that those Bangladeshi workers in their poverty were desperate to earn even a pittance? And what responsibility do I have to prevent this gross exploitation from continuing in the future?
As Ruskin indicated, such issues take the question far beyond mere economics, and the answers are difficult and complicated. But Ruskin was very clear that creating an alternative system is not simply about economic choices but also moral ones, and that is a point that is emphasised in our own time by such things as the Fair Trade movement. We must always ask ourselves how much the choices we make will promote a better world and a better life for other people, because at the end of the day, as Ruskin said, “There is no wealth but life.”
And that, fundamentally, is the challenge the Bible writers and Jesus himself confront us with. We are the gardeners of God’s great life-giving garden and our task is to make that garden flourish for our own good and for the benefit of all.
Hymn 240 God in such love for us lent us the planet
Rededication of the Guild (Twynholm only)
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession (Gwen)
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father,
We thank you for the beautiful world we see round about us as we celebrate the harvest of our crops. We thank you for the harvest from our gardens – our fruit and vegetables; we thank you for the sun and rain that helped our garden grow and produce those crops.
We thank you for the harvest from our hedgerows for us to enjoy as well as for the birds and wildlife.
We thank you for the harvest from our farms for us and our animals to enjoy and we pray for those who help to harvest the crops, and we pray for more workers for the harvest and pray for more lorry drivers to help to deliver the crops to where we can access them.
We thank you too for the harvest of the sea and for those who risk their lives so that we may enjoy the sea’s bounty.
We thank you for the harvests of other countries that we can enjoy from our shops – the exotic fruits and vegetables that we can share and we include those crops that are preserved so we can enjoy them as fresh as possible.
We pray for our unequal world and pray that
where there is drought you will supply rain
where there are floods you will bring sunshine,
where there war, you will sow peace.
Where there is hunger you will bring abundance
Where there is greed you will sow moderation,
Where there is discord you will sow harmony
Where there is poverty you will sow equality of wealth
Where there is sickness and death, sow health and life.
All these things we ask in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Hymn 230 Praise God for the harvest of orchard and field
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you all this day and forevermore, Amen
Gatehouse of Fleet
Next Sunday the service in Gatehouse will be a family service with baptism.
Blythswood Shoe Box Appeal
Leaflets about the Blythswood Shoe Box appeal are available in the Church porch or from Jim Logan. Completed boxes can be left in the Anwoth Corner or with Jim Logan, 16 Fleet Street before the end of October.
Tarff and Twynholm
The first Guild meeting will be on Tuesday 5 October at 7:30pm: “Welcome Back – Lets Look Forward” – Violet and Linda (with technical help from Jim) will use extracts from the videos of ‘The Big Sing’ and the National Meeting to catch up on what’s been happening in the Guild, sing together and look forward to the 6 new projects so that TnT can choose which they wish to support.