Sermon preached on Lammas Day – 1 August 2010

Today is 1 August and that is a traditional day in Scotland which has a name and a heritage and a series of traditions around it.

And I bet most people these days don’t know what it is.

Today, 1 August is Lammas Day – one of the Scottish Term Days, similar to the English Quarter Days. These were the days on which rents were paid and servants were hired, and the day on which the clergy stipends were due.

In old fashioned terms, it was a day of reckoning. A day when the tabs were all added up. The balance sheets balanced. Debts were settled. And a line was drawn under what had gone before in order to provide for a clean sheet to begin business again.

I’ll come back to the idea of a day of reckoning in a bit, for Jesus certainly seemed in the gospel to be speaking about the day of reckoning that comes of each of us and about the nature of the balance sheet that we are left with at the end of life. I’ll come back to that in a minute, but first I want to stay with this image of Lammastide for a moment for there is a bit more that I want to draw out of it.

Lammas was more than just a day of reckoning and settling up. It is also a traditional harvest festival day. Now, I know that most people think that Harvest Festival should come in autumn and be accompanied by “We plough the fields and scatter”, yet that is modern (by which I mean Victorian) confection that has little depth in the soil of Scotland.

The all is safely gathered in style of harvest festival is something that is pretty modern and goes back little further than the creation of this church by our Victorian forebears. The hymns that people tend to think of as being traditional harvest hymns all have relatively modern dates to them and come more from the romantic remembrances of people drawn into the cities by the industrial revolution than from any real traditional festival . If you want proof of that, go and dig out an old traditional book of common prayer. The truth is, will find little mention of harvest festival in Cranmer’s prayer book.

In Scotland, if ever there was a traditional harvest, it was Lammas-time  – 1 August.  And it was a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest. The idea was, and this one does go back into the mists of time, that if you offer God the first bit of the harvest, you cut a first sheaf of corn or in a hotter climate pour out a libation of the first wine from the vineyard. Then you have a big party, eat your fill, dance about through the vineyard, go and have a roll in the hay and offer the first fruits of the harvest to God – a God who governs how all the crops grow.

And the theory behind Lammastide is that God will be so pleased and delighted by the offer, that you get a bumper crop and get to keep the rest all to yourself. Its good economics!

Sadly, its bad spirituality!

And its that kind of bad spirituality, I suspect, that Jesus is hinting at in the gospel reading this morning.

He doesn’t seem impressed with a spirituality which says: Oh, you’ve got lots of goods, therefore God must have rewarded you.

He doesn’t seem impressed with a spirituality which recognises wealth as being a sign of being blessed by God. Not at all.

He doesn’t seem impressed either by a spirituality which says: eat, drink, be merry, roll in the hay and which does not make a connection between having fun in those ways and with knowing God.

So what is Jesus saying?

Well, I’ve no doubt that he is asking us to question our systems of giving value to what we encounter in this world.

I think its quite likely that he may be encouraging us to recognise that our wealth can be better measured by what we give than by what we retain.

And I’m absolutely certain than Jesus is asking us, and not for the first time, to ask real and serious questions about what we do about with what we own.

When Jesus thought about ethical questions, he does seem to have thought in terms of property, possessions and what we do with what we have. There is an interesting contrast to be made with the morality of St Paul and the early church, which does begin to explore what we might describe as personal morality – leading to those lists of things to avoid – licentiousness, covetousness, wrath, anger, malice, pride.

That’s and interesting contrast, I think, which I’ll leave you to think about. Jesus, and those who first witnessed to his radical good news, seemed to care a great deal about money and possessions and what we do with the.

Once the church got going, Paul and the leaders of the church start to worry a great deal more about sins of relationship than how offensive it is to God to tolerate the sin of poverty in the world.

I rather think in Scotland that we’ve heard a good deal more moral teaching about relationships than about property and now we need to tune our ears to hear the first teaching of the Gospel more clearly which has a lot to say about what we own and what we do with what we have.

For the man of the parable that Jesus told, the day of reckoning came when he least expected it. All that was known of his life was barns stuffed with stuff.

I don’t think that possessions in themselves are wrong. I don’t think that security in life is a bad thing. I don’t think that saving for a rainy day is a bad thing.

But I do believe that God calls on us to think about what we do with what we have. I do believe that God calls on us to offer everything we have in life and not the measly first-fruits of the harvest. And I do believe that we need to build for ourselves, not merely a pension fund of cash to see us through old age, but also another fund that we need to invest in that will see us through spiritual austerity when that seems to come. Into that pension pot, we need to store up things that will tide us through.

Into it go

  • the wisdom we have learned
  • the ways of being spiritual we have been taught
  • the kindness we give and the kindliness we have received.

We need that pension fund to lighten us up on dark days and to bring light to those around us whenever we need to crack it open.

We need to collect up the things that teach us that God loves us and store them for a rainy day.

  • those times when God seems close,
  • those snatches of beauty and courage that we encounter
  • and those glimpses we sometimes get of God’s love and intimacy and delight.

In the name of God, Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer.



  1. I would have thought that someone with your Yorkshire heritage would have found a way of weaving Yorkshiire Day into your sermon.

  2. Elizabeth says

    I didn’t get a chance to mention it yesterday, but I enjoyed this sermon very much.


  1. […] and doing something positive with them, I also think that won’t satisfy some people. I did a harvest sermon at Lammastide, (the real Scottish harvest festival which celebrated first-fruits) and then we picked up and ran […]

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