Sermon preached on 10 November 2013

What are you fighting for…in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?

The gospel reading that we’ve just heard is a very particular one. The question is – if a man dies and his widow marries his brother, and six brothers die and she marries her way down the family, whose bride will she be in heaven.

What deep truth does this question and Jesus’s answer convey to us.

Well, I wasn’t supposed to be preaching today and swapped a couple of days ago with one of my colleagues.

The deep truth that this passage conveys to me today is always to check what the bible readings are before you agree to swap a date in the pulpit.

I’m going to start from a different place though and work my way back to what is going on in the gospel reading this morning. For the question is not straightforward at all, never mind the answer. [Read more…]

But when is Harvest? Please, please, when is it?

The Church Mouse has a good post today on whether Harvest Festival is redundent.

The most potent paragraph is this:

So we have the comical scene of a pile of disposable razors, shower gel and nit treatment being brought to the front of church while a group of unenthusiastic adults and confused children sing about ploughing the fields they have never set foot in, and think about how that relates to modern issues like GM production, big agri-business, global trade rules and local subsidies, over-fishing and CO2 emissions on food miles.

I have to admit that I have a great deal of sympathy with the Mouse on this one. More than once I’ve heard clergy who do have such an event complain that their well to do congregregation appear to go to the supermarket and buy the cheapest tins and cheap razers to present unto the Lord when one suspects that they would not use these themselves. A pile of “essentials” style grocery can make you think a lot about generosity.

Harvest seems to me to be one of the great triumverate of festivals which don’t actually appear in the Christian Calender (go look for Harvest in Cranmer’s prayer book) which most make well meaning folk rude to well meaning clergy. They are Mothering Sunday, Remembrance Day and Harvest. Such rudeness can come on with or without the festival being celebrated.

The driving force of the kind of harvest festival that the Mouse is referring to is and always was nostalgia and not agriculture. Its a piece of Victoriana too. When I say this, people do tend to contradict me. Oh no, they say, harvest festival comes from the time when the peasants worked in the fields and wanted to celebrate that all the harvest was safely gathered in. To which I reply patiently, for I am always so patient, no, this is a piece of Victorian nostalagia promoted by people who lived in cities. Harvest hymns are pure Victoriana.

I don’t just feel out of sympathy with the kind of limp festival that the Mouse describes. I don’t feel at all comfortable with the idea that God provides us with a good harvest whilst presumably letting others starve. That can’t be right. Its just a version of the Prosperity Gospel for the Middle Classes which is socially acceptable but no less theologically obscene.

Whilst I’m broadly in agreement with the suggestions that the Mouse makes about moving forward on this topic and liberating some of the good themes from harvest 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 with some nice music celebrating the natural world on Sunday night (Francistide), including one specific harvest hymn. I threw in some nice eco-prayers and some thanksgivings for the beasts of the field.

Satisfaction and happy people?
No – I was simply asked why we don’t keep harvest.

I’ve come to the view that some folk really do want limp veg and tins and no amount of thoughtfulness about eco-justice, food-ethics, the dignity of work, fair-trade, clean water or what have you will replace that.