Message from Revd James Marston
We continue to adjust to a changing world. And as our service schedule begins to show some signs of stability and routine I am reminded of the importance of continuity and constancy in our lives – especially helpful as we face an uncertain winter and the challenges of the weeks and months ahead.
Living day to day, in the moment, taking each day at it comes, is, for many of us, much easier said than done – I don’t know about you, but I like to plan, not being able to do so isn’t easy. Who knows how the guidance might change, in the weeks to come – we will adapt I’m sure.
In the meantime, we can take our troubles to God every day relying on His constancy and changelessness in a changing world.
And as we rejoice and celebrate Harvest and the changing season, so obvious in the landscape that 2020 has forced us to look at afresh, and offer thanks for the gifts of the countryside, as well as the gifts of the sea, we can reflect that we have much to be thankful for and much to look forward to in our benefice.
Our church community remains as strong and as caring as ever; indeed, maybe the events of 2020 have shown us with even greater clarity how much we have to be thankful for.
And if the price to pay for that is a life and a life less planned and a little less proscribed then, perhaps, so be it.
Eternal God, you crown the year with your goodness
and you give us the fruits of the earth in their season:
grant that we may use them to your glory, for the
relief of those in need and for our own well-being;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.
Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid waste-land with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
2 Corinthians 9.6-end
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, ‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.’
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.
Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity by
The Revd James Marston
May I speak in the name of the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing
I find myself in an unexpected territory, I say unexpected but deep down I knew this day would come.
For the first time since I began my journey towards ministry, for the first time amid all my placements and church contexts I experienced in the name of ministerial education, for the first time I find myself preaching on a topic on which I have preached before – Harvest.
Indeed, I am reminded of the old anecdote concerning a priest who trotted out the same harvest sermon year after year. When challenged he said he felt the same this year about harvest as he had done the previous year and the one before that and felt no need to change it.
But this prompted me to ask a number of questions: How can I say again that which I have said before? How on earth to vicars do it year after year? How do congregations sit through listening to the same stuff repeated each time this comes around? And the biggest question of all, will they notice if I use last year’s sermon anyway?
But then it struck me, it’s actually part of my job to say the same thing but in a different way – to proclaim the Gospel afresh in every generation. I naively thought that just meant once every 30 years.
However, there’s no denying that today is not the same as the first weekend of October 2019. In October 2020 we live in a totally different context and everything has changed.
That which we thought was constant about church isn’t. We can’t sing, or shake hands, indeed we have no idea if we will be able to meet at all in the coming months such is the fast pace of emerging guidelines and restrictive rules.
Harvest last year, seems more like a lifetime ago rather than just 12 months and more than ever we have been reminded that change is the only constant. Except that isn’t true is it?
Church may change, we may change, life may change but God is constant in His presence and in His love. And it is God, sure in the knowledge of his presence, to whom we turn to when the going gets tough.
Last week I met the Bishop of Norwich, I was interviewing him for the newspaper, and he said he had personally found these last few months had included some dark times. He has relied, he said, on the traditions of the church, the great storehouse of Christian writings and witness, and the practice of daily prayer to get him through.
It was, in some ways, an unexpected expression of vulnerability that I think we can probably all relate to. The Bishop went on to say that he “held on to the knowledge that God is with us and encloses us in His love.”
Harvest, as you already know, is a celebration not only of creation and the overflowing love of almighty God, but a moment in the year in which we express thanks and praise to the Lord.
For agricultural and marine regions such as ours it is an important part of the church year – one in which we traditionally thank God for our food and produce, our farmers and fishermen, our countryside and our sea.
Harvest festival also calls us to remember that we are creatures, and part of creation, not separate from it. And Jesus himself teaches that, made in God’s image, we are given freedom to choose in order to cultivate good habits and yield a good harvest.
I wonder if a good habit we might cultivate together is one of intentionally thanking God not just in early October but doing so on most days. I think my challenge to you today, this year, would be to find time to thank God just once a day for all you have and for all you are. It doesn’t need to take long or be a complicated procedure.
In these strange days in which we are deeply and increasingly concerned with our mental and physical health. Cultivating a habit of daily prayer is a way of expressing our gratitude to God, the harvest of which is not only taking care of our spiritual health but also a strengthening and deepening of our faith for the months and years to come.
Lord of the harvest, with joy we have offered thanksgiving for
your love in creation and have shared in the bread and the
wine of the kingdom: by your grace plant within us a reverence
for all that you give us and make us generous and wise stewards
of the good things we enjoy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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