19 September, 2011

Homily for Evensong - Harvest Festival at Towednack Parish Church 2011

Let me begin by thanking the Rev'd Elizabeth Foot, the churchwardens and all of you for inviting me to celebrate Harvest with you tonight. I am a bit of a townie so it took me a little while to figure out where the church was, and what a beautiful church it is too.
Before coming down to Cornwall I lived in Oxford for three years and in London for six before that. In London I worked in a grand department store, Harvey Nichols, and more specifically I worked in their Foodmarket. I still have the newspaper advert for that job; it described the Foodmarket as a “vibrant” and “ever-changing”, a place where one could find the best produce and confectionery available in the capital.
Indeed, under many aspects it was so. We had the best wines, the best cheeses and the best producers on our list of suppliers. Our customers were very much influenced by food fashion, as it were. They needed to have on their tables what was fashionable that month, not what was necessarily local or in season. I remember once we imported cheeses from Australia and put bottles of cognac on sale for over ten grand - which may have made for an expensive nightcap!
A similar problem is visible in many of our beloved supermarkets when for example they sell strawberries in December, chestnuts in June, Kiwi lamb chops and they shy away from selling British flour. Food stores are caught up in the struggle between selling fresh, locally produced food and stuff flown in from miles and miles away just as a novelty. This is also the struggle that a lot of people in my generation have to face daily when we go shopping, partly because we are totally disconnected from those who produce our food and form the seasons of the agricultural year.
Moreover, there is only a little sense of thankfulness and celebration for many who buy their food off a shelf. We think that buying things and getting what we want with our hard-earned cash is our God-given right and that we are the sole masters of our lives.

So, to this point, to celebrate Harvest is to acknowledge that there are seasons, there are rhythms imbedded in the very nature of creation and also it is to recognise that praise belongs to God as the first provider of every harvest, be it agricultural or spiritual.
This celebration is incredibly countercultural. In Christian terms it is almost as countercultural as the celebration of the Easter mysteries and the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Because harvest celebrates the goodness, plenty and generosity found in God alone.

Ps 67:6 “Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us.” (KJV)

Ezekiel 34:27 “The tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase, and they shall be safe in their land, and shall know that I am the LORD, when I have broken the bands of their yoke, and delivered them out of the hand of those that [held them captive].” (KJV)

I am sure some of our friends on the company boards of supermarket would beg to differ; in their terms agriculture does not have anything to do with religion or some sort of hocus-pocus, let alone giving thanks to God for what their farmers and laboratories have produced.
However, as Christians we can see beyond that. God has given us dominion over the earth, over his creation, yes; but He alone is the giver of all good things because we work the soil he gave us, we make use of the water he provided and everything we make is made out of the stuff, the matter he made and created.
And so it is that when we come together to celebrate the Eucharist we set before the Father bread and wine that our hands have made but that ultimately come from God’s own plenty.
Tonight’s Harvest festival is an occasion to say “thank you” to God for what we have been able to achieve in the fields as stewards of his creation; but it is also a time to set before Him our lives saying

Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power,
the glory, the splendour, and the majesty;
for everything in heaven and on earth is yours.
All things come from you,
and of your own do we give you. Amen.

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