Being Grateful!! Sermon for Harvest
By Pastor Gideon Reuben
We all remember those times when life is a bit dark and gloomy, and we find ourselves dealing with one challenge after another- illness, bereavement, problems with family or work. Times when it becomes hard to cope. Times when we are likely to become worried and irritable if we are not careful. At times like that, gratitude or thanks giving are the last things on our mind.
But in today’s Bible reading, we find ourselves hearing part of the instructions for the people of Israel to celebrate their harvest thanks giving festival. These are instructions for a farming community, in the days when the vast majority of the people lived off the land. So the command was not that you gave money (as we do week by week in church nowadays), but that you gave a share of the produce of your farm to God- the first part of the crop to be placed on a basket and offered to God.
The ancient Israelite harvest festival didn’t just celebrate God’s gift of the harvest. It was really to celebrate that God had freed Israel from slavery in Egypt, and that God brought the people to the land flowing with milk and honey. So these instructions about harvest offerings end with the words: in verse 11 – ‘Be grateful for the good things the Lord your God has given you…’
My thought for today at our Harvest Sunday service, is to meditate with you on God’s good gifts to us, and how we, too, might make an appropriate response like the Macedonian church did as we read in 2 Cor 8 : 1-15
We all go through times when we might feel that our life today is a bit like going along a narrow, dangerous canal side road, and that you keep coming across signs of challenges, dangers, uncertainties and difficulties. When life is not so good, how can we feel grateful?
- Thinking of Gods Blessings: Let’s start by thinking of what things we take for granted. We can all agree that most of us in UK and blessed to have plentiful and safe food – unlike most people in our world. So we rarely think about how it comes to our table or about the work of people across the world who bring it to our table.
- Refugee movement: Over the past few months we have seen people fleeing from war zones, masses of people crammed on boats which are unsafe for travel, but still people willing to risk their lives to cross the ocean for a better life and future, seeing on TV people walking along motorways in France, sleeping at railway stations and makeshift refugee camps.
Although poverty and hardship exists in our country, most of us are materially very well off. Although we worry about crime, our communities are still basically peaceful & safe. Most of us, however, are used to easy, fast travel where we indulge in a life style of instant gratification. A late train or a delayed flight gets us annoyed.
– Many of those on the move across the world are fleeing places like Syria or Yemen. But for the rest of us, all we know is what we see when we see TV pictures of cities in ruins.
– Just think of the people and what it would be like for us to live in places that have been on the receiving end of today’s high-tech firepower? The damage done to cities by modern warfare mean that the people who live in these places cannot do simple things we are used to, like switching a switch and getting electricity, getting water at the turn of a tap, lifting the phone and getting through first time, or even going to the shop and buying food.
So perhaps, indeed, we ought to still hear the instruction of Deuteronomy: ‘Be grateful for the good things the Lord your God has given you…’– because, for most of us, we are materially very well off, compared to most people in the world.
And so we ought to say thanks. And as we do so, we should also remember in our prayers those who have little- the victims of war; the peasant farmers who struggle to feed their families, the folks in our own communities who cannot feed their families. We pray, because we believe in a God who stands alongside those who suffer and struggle.
At today’s Harvest service:
– We give thanks not only because God has given us good material things.
– We are even more grateful because we believe that there is a God, and that we know what our God is like.
Religious people of the world who seek after God, have all sorts of pictures of what God is like. Many people think that God is angry, judgmental and distant from us. We who call ourselves Christians and are the body of Christ cannot paint a picture of God that agrees with the thinking of this world. We ought to be telling people who our God is and how a loving and caring he is towards us his children. Few of the below scriptures show who our God is:
- Isaiah 40:29 – He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
- Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
- Psalm 10:17 – Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.
- John 3:17 – For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
- Romans 15:13 – Paul writes: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
But when we read the Gospels properly, we discover that we are to see God in the person and the work of Jesus of Nazareth. So our God is one who lives alongside us. He wants us to know love, forgiveness and extend grace to others. Jesus went out of his way to welcome all kinds of people, especially those who thought they didn’t have any status. Jesus was eventually put to death – but on the cross we see a God who suffers alongside those who suffer, who shares our pain, even sharing our death. And in the empty tomb on Easter morning, as Jesus defeats even death, we see a sign of hope that one day all will be well.
If all that’s true, then, even if we are on a dark part of our journey of life, we can also feel grateful. Life might be difficult at times, and the signs we’re passing may not be cheery. But if we believe that God is travelling the road with us, then we still have cause to be grateful.
Today’s Gospel story (Luke 4:1-4) comes from near the beginning of Jesus’ story. It is a picturesque attempt to imagine how Jesus must have tried to prepare for his ministry of teaching and healing. To prepare for the work he believes God is calling him to, Jesus undertakes a sort of spiritual retreat. He goes off into the deserts around Israel, away from the crowds and distractions. He fasts – that is, he gives up eating food for a time- a traditional spiritual discipline for someone who wants to be close to God. He spends time in prayer; seeking to know the will of the God he calls his Father.
But it’s a struggle. What’s so powerful about today’s Gospel reading is that here we see Jesus as he really was. It is a symbolic story. It’s a story of a man struggling to understand what God requires of him. It’s a story of man trying to figure out what his vocation is. He knows he is called by God to do a job- but what job, exactly? And how is he to do it?
And what if it’s difficult and dangerous? There will be those who will hate his preaching and teaching. This carpenter’s son knows he will be in conflict with the established religious leaders. In an age when life is cheap, this could be dangerous. Rock the boat back then, and you could be in trouble. Religious heretics might be stoned to death. If the Romans thought you were a danger to their empire, you could be crucified. It’s not an age of freethinking. It’s a dangerous time for the sort of new ideas that Jesus has.
And so the story gives us an exposure of the devil, a symbol of the forces which press in even on someone we know is a good like Jesus. Because those who strive to do what is right, those who think they have work to do for God, are always going to be troubled by a wee voice that says, ‘There has to be an easier way than this’.
As we watch Jesus struggle with temptation, we see him as he was completely human.
- Someone who experienced pain and joy, laughter and tears- just like us.
- Someone who knew friendship and betrayal, health and tiredness- just like us.
- Someone who experienced temptations- just like us.
For me, this part of scripture, reveals to us that we have our adversary (our enemy), declared to be devil. In a way this is one of the most realistic stories about Jesus in the Bible which shows his humanity and how he overcame temptation using the word.