Sunday 27th September – Harvest Festival

Call to worship

Holy Spirit of God,

            we invite you among us.

As we come too celebrate your harvest

and to pray for your justice

we also ask you to bring your peace.

So that the quiet place inside us may speak

in stillness may we be at one with you.

As we prepare for worship now,

Our good lives can be tangled with thorns.

Thorns of failure and sadness.

Tangles of duties and demands.

            Holy God, cut away the thorns that wound and choke.

            Free us to live and too grow in your light.

Wild Goose Resources 

Hymn: Come you thankful people come (Singing the Faith 123)

Opening prayers

As we go about our busy and frenetic lives

we thank you for your on-going unfailing love,

that at times we almost forget is there.
We thank you, that you are always present in our lives,

behind and before us.

Your love is so great that we know you will never let us down,

you will never betray or deny us.

You will walk alongside us every step of our way
For you are the light of creation’s dawn,
You are the very breath of our lives,
You are the promise of renewal
You are the harvest of our soul.
You are the loyal and dependable friend and companion.
In you we place our trust

In you we hold out our hands in adoration and praise.

Katherine Baxter: worshipwords.co.uk

A prayer by Nadia Bolz-Weber:

God of all beings,

A lot of us feel less safe than we did a few days ago and a few days ago we weren’t feeling that secure to begin with. Help us draw upon you, our Divine Source, when what we have just isn’t enough to get through the day. 

A lot of us are grieving. Actually, all of us are grieving: lost friends, lost family, lost homes, lost income, lost connection to others, lost health.  Help us not to also lose hope. We can lose a lot and still survive, but we can’t survive without hope.

A lot of us are so angry. Angry that our inherent worth and dignity seems up for debate by those who have never had their worth and dignity questioned in courts of law. Angry that love of power seems to trump love of neighbour. Repurpose our anger into righteous action, O Holy One.

My fear is turning to anger and I am afraid that my anger can turn so easily to hate and hate is the thing I say I am against. Turn me away from hate. My heart can’t take that kind of brittleness because I need it to give and to receive love. Remind me that my heart is spoken for.

A lot of us are ashamed of how numb we feel, but honestly we’ve run out of emotional bandwidth and the system needs to re-boot before it comes back on-line. Give us rest and self-compassion.

A lot of us are joyous and feel like we have to shield that joy from others, lest it seem like we are callous toward those who are hurting. Help us see and celebrate what good there is in our lives and the lives of those around us.

I don’t think you created us to be able to metabolize such a constant stream of bad news everyday. But I do know that you created us to metabolize biscuits and chocolate. And for that I give you thanks and praise. They are helping. But they are not enough. 

So if you could show up right now, that would be great. And if you are already showing up, give us new eyes to notice you. 

Amen.

Psalm 65

You are God our deliverer

in whom all put their trust;

all who live on earth,

all beyond the horizon.

By great skill and untold strength

you fixed the mountains in place;

you calm the raging seas

and quieten the warring nations.

People throughout the world

stand in awe of your skill.

Lands to the east and west

gratefully sing your praise.

You care for the life of the planet,

forever tending the ground;

you nourish the fruits of the earth,

the crops that feed your people.

You water and level the land,

blessing each season’s growth.

You crown the year with your bounty;

rich harvests are signs of your goodness.

The open pastures are lush

and hills are clothed with joy.

The meadows are covered with sheep

and valleys burst into song.

Iona Abbey Worship Book Wild Goose Publications

Reflection on Harvest gifts

Have you ever been on a picnic? What did you take along? What is your favourite food to eat outside, perhaps having walked to a beautiful spot? I love eating outdoors – somehow food always tastes better when I’m in the fresh air. And of course, being in good company is the best way to enjoy a picnic.

In a few minutes we’re going to read a bible story about a picnic. A picnic where there was a great abundance of food and everyone was stuffed at the end and I should think wanted a bit of a sleep before walking back home. Today, we are celebrating Harvest Festival. Perhaps you’ve been able to give the gift of food recently – it may have been some homegrown vegetables to a neighbour. If you’re a cook, perhaps you’ve shared an apple and blackberry crumble with someone. Or maybe you’ve been able to buy some extra tins in the supermarket recently and drop them into the collection points for local foodbanks. Some of you may have even given gifts of money to charities such as Family Space or GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) , who are working with people who are experiencing food poverty.

It’s good to share with others. Sharing food is a way of strengthening our relationships, whether that’s going on a picnic, or sitting down for a meal. For many of us, coming to church involves taking bread and wine together – communion – it’s a simple meal, but it symbolises that we want to be connected to God and connected to each other. It fills us with God’s presence and reminds us to share that love with those we meet. It’s been really tough these past few months not celebrating this simple meal with our Christian family, but one of the things that Harvest can remind us, is that we can continue to experience God’s love, and continue to share that.

And so, for all of those gifts, we pray a blessing:

We rejoice in the good things God provides in our lives.

And in gratitude we give.

Today’s special offering, our annual Harvest offering supports Family Space and GARAS and the Foodbank.

These organisations demonstrate the Christian message of loving God

by loving our neighbours through prayer, action, and financial support.

Let us give generously with grateful hearts.

As the ancient Israelites brought their gifts, we bring our gifts today.

Generous God – we pray your blessing over these gifts.

May both giver and receiver know your life and love

and that you are always with them. Amen

Hymn: We plough the fields and scatter (Singing the faith 130)

All Age Talk

Have you had your cereal this morning? What did you have? Corn Flakes, Weetabix, or something fancy? I wonder which cereals you have tried and which you like. I guess you didn’t have cereal like this?:

These do not look all that appetising do they? Truth is that although this type of cereal is not what we would have for breakfast, some of them make up the ingredients of our breakfast bowls and  we do have it in other meals. This cereal is very important to the world diet. For some people ‘important’ is not a strong enough word. It would be better to say that these cereals are ‘essential’ or ‘necessary for life’. There are two sides to our Harvest Service: The easy bit is to acknowledge how thankful we are for what we have. The harder part it is to be so moved by the fact that we are provided for, and that we are so well-off in comparison to others, that we recognise our responsibility to share. To sometimes share what we have; and always to make an effort to make sure that the world’s resources are shared out fairly. In a moment we’re going to listen to that picnic. Somehow Jesus played a part in making sure that whatever food there was that day was shared. Surprisingly it not only fed all the people, but there was some left over too. There is a great blessing in receiving, and a great blessing in sharing.

Readings:

Deuteronomy 24:19-21

Mark 8:1-10

Sermon

A great crowd has gathered. They hang on every word Jesus says. But they are now hungry. Jesus may have told the devil, who tempted him in the wilderness, when he hadn’t eaten for days, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ But Jesus knows no-one lives at all without any bread to eat. The people are close to fainting, and now Jesus is worried if he sends them home, some of them might not make it.

So he tells the disciples to feed them. And the disciples immediately protest – there’s not enough. Jesus also said, ‘the poor will always be with us’ – when I get to see Jesus face to face, I intend to have it out with him over that particular phrase, because when we are confronted with the massive problem of hunger, just like the disciples, we think it’s a problem too big to solve. It’s all very well being compassionate, but we need a dose of realism, or so we are told.

The shocking reality is around one billion people will go to bed hungry tonight. And tomorrow night, just as they did last night. The good news is that until recently, the world had been making really good progress on world hunger. In 1970 around one in three people went to bed hungry. By the year 2000, this was more like one in six. Even though we have seen the global population expand, the number of people starving in real terms is coming down. Significant numbers of people are moving out of poverty. This teaches us that ending hunger is not an impossible dream. It can be achieved.

And we know what it takes to end hunger – the main ingredient is political will. It takes the engagement of the whole of society – government, the private sector, nongovernmental organisations, the media, religious leaders, and us – it takes all of us to step up and make the economy work for everyone, including the poorest.

People in first century Palestine understood food poverty – it was a rampant problem for those who were not rich. If we imagine a typical Roman feast, we might picture total excess, tables laden with food. There are stories about Roman citizens who attended these feasts eating to the point of vomiting, and then returning to eat some more – how revolting is that? It’s revolting, not just because we don’t like thinking about throwing up; it’s repulsive because their waste resulted in others starvation which were at crisis levels. And maybe we could come up with examples of waste and excess today, where money and food are squandered whilst children go to bed with empty bellies.

Jesus sees the people are hungry. He’s seen it before, probably many times over. He asks the disciples to figure out a way of feeding them. He doesn’t tell them how to do it, or provide them with the resources. But in typical fashion, the disciples still manage to get it wrong. They are trying to work out a solution purely in terms of food. They have seven loaves and a few fish. They know the maths, and that is not going to divide into anything meaningful. The disciples believe the problem is too big to solve, they look at their resources, those loaves and fish, and think them insignificant. They haven’t explored their other resources – the people themselves.

The miracle, of course, isn’t that Jesus did some magical trick and the bread and fish multiplied before their eyes. The miracle is a very ordinary one. It is that Jesus saw the solution to the problem based on the people themselves. He believed in these people and their generosity. And like an enormous picnic, when the people saw that some of them had taken out what they had and were willing to share, other people followed suit and did the same. The miracle is one of generosity, because that is what Jesus encourages. Jesus transforms greed and selfishness, he transforms a desperate group of hungry people into a community of compassion and justice, a community in which everyone is fed and no-one keeps things to themselves.

There’s not enough, cry the disciples. Oh yes there is, says Jesus, you’re just looking for it in the wrong place. The story of this mass feeding highlights the two extremes – scarcity which endangers life, and the abundance of God. We have been blessed with a planet with immense resources – creation is a larder stocked to excess because God is extravagant in generosity. The shame is we’re not terribly good at handling extravagance and abundance. We think we can store it up – a bit like the Israelites in the wilderness who tried to store up the manna, but the next day it turned foul and was filled with grubs. We have a tendency to hoard – I wonder whether you are someone who likes to keep hold of things, to collect things, or not get rid of things because you think one day they might come in handy. God’s abundance and generosity comes from a desire to share, a desire that all life is lived in fulfilment, a desire to see communities where justice and love are the guiding principles. The abundance we sometimes hoard rarely comes from these desires; they mostly come from the desire of self-preservation. We make excuses about prudence and independence and self-reliance. Saving for a rainy day might seem sensible, but not if someone else is standing in a monsoon.

This miracle is the only one which makes it into all four gospels. Matthew & Mark think it so important they repeat it, give or take 1000 people. That suggests to me that not only was it a memorable event in the lives who experienced this, but that it had great significance. It was life-changing. Transforming.

The real wonder of this story is that it continues today: God still cares deeply and passionately for those who are most vulnerable – the poor, the immigrant, the hungry – and God continues to use us to care for them.

What I have discovered anew about this bible reading is how much I tend to restrict and narrow the vision of God and how much more expansive God’s vision is to humanity. When I say ‘no’, God says ‘yes’. When I say, ‘there’s not enough’, God replies, ‘here’s an abundance’. When I say, ‘that’s mine’, God says, ‘share it’. When I say, ‘God can you just come and sort it out’, God replies, ‘I’m asking you to do the same’. When I pray, ‘God help the poor’, God replies ‘Rachel, I’m asking you to do it for me’.

Our harvest today reminds us about the disparity between the abundance of creation and the despair of crop failure. It reminds us about the disparity between those who have more than enough, and those who live hand to mouth. Are we prepared to step into the harvest, to step into the miracle of abundance, to step into the possibility of compassion spreading like a virus? Are we prepared to say yes to God’s justice which will see everyone fed? The miracle of generosity is waiting for us all to step up and say yes. Amen

Hymn:  Jesus Christ is waiting (Singing the Faith 251)

Intercessions & The Lord’s Prayer

We pray today for farmers and farm-workers, especially those we know in our communities.

We pray for them in the heat of summer and in the wet and cold of winter, as they tend their stock daily and cultivate their fields, as they manage the hedges, woodland and waterways.

We pray for safety in a hazardous industry, encouragement for the solitary, and a fair price for their products.

We pray for seasonable weather, good growth and good yields, so that there may be abundant harvests to feed hungry people.

For safe work practices and healthy habits for all farmers, so that people and communities may flourish and be strong.

For health and happiness in the home life of all farmers, and for families to work together with love, respect and harmony.

For wise financial planning, land care and asset management, so that farmers may be confident about the future of their farms,

for good communication between country and city, so that we may understand each other’s needs and encourage one another.

We pray for this country to increase its self-sufficiency in food that supermarket-buyers will support local growers.

We pray for all those who provide seasonal labour at harvest time,

for those who clean and process our food – often in tough conditions,

for those who transport, inspect and sell our food and for all who cook it for us, remembering particularly all the new school caterers feeding our young children.

We pray for rural and regional networks working to overcome rural loneliness and isolation; the Farming Community Network  and the National Farmers Union.

We pray for The Arthur Rank Centre, an ecumenical project working amongst the rural communities across the UK, supporting farmers and the agricultural community.

Generous God, as we celebrate your goodness we also remember the plight of those whose harvests have failed.

We pray for those whose land or crops have been affected by floods, drought, or fire, by pests or disease.

For those whose families are hungry and for those who have no seed or livestock for the future.

We also remember those here and abroad who are dependent on food banks.

Help us to be generous givers – of our money, food and time, as Christian disciples in this place, and show us how to be stewards of the resources of Your world, for the benefit of all people. Amen

Adapted from The Church of Scotland

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn: Harvest Samba

Blessing

May God who clothes the lilies

and feeds the birds of the air,

who leads the lambs to their pasture

and the deer to still waters,

who multiplied the loaves and fishes

and changed water into wine,

lead us,

feed us,

multiply us,

and change us to reflect the glory of our Creator

now and through all eternity.

And the blessing of God almighty,

the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,

rest upon you and remain with you now and for ever

Amen

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