Sunday, 18 October 2015

Bringing the fruits of the harvest to
those who are signs of the kingdom

Blackberries coming to full fruit in Greystones, Co Wicklow, last week … a sign of a late harvest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Harvest Thanksgiving Eucharist,

Straffan, Co Kildare,

3.30 p.m., Sunday 18 October 2015.

Readings:
Joel 2: 21-27; Psalm 126; I Timothy 2: 1-7; Matthew 6: 25-33.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I want to thank your rector, the Revd Stephen Neill, for inviting me to your Harvest Thanksgiving celebrations this afternoon.

Stephen has been a good friend for many years, and I was delighted to attend his institution earlier this year as your rector: I know you are blessed to have him here, and I am sure he is equally blessed to be with you here.

Although I live in south Dublin, I have actually stayed in Straffan, and in Barberstown Castle earlier this summer when I was taking part in a wedding.

Living in Dublin, and living close to where I work in the south Dublin suburbs, I need to get out into the countryside on a regular basis, and to be in touch with the cycle of life and growth, sowing and harvest.

Last week, I was in Greystones, and was surprised how late autumn actually is this year. Like many people who grew up in the countryside, I grew up knowing the old country belief that blackberries should not be picked after Michaelmas, Saint Michael’s Day, 29 September. But three weeks later, the blackberries are still ripening on the brambles. Summer was too wet and too cold to allow them to come to full fruit until recent weeks.

I know that for many farmers, this has been a poor summer, but the interesting version of an “Indian Summer” we had in recent weeks provided many farmers with some compensation at harvest time.

The weather these past few weeks has compensated for the summer rains. Two weeks ago, while I was in Co Wexford, it was to see how farmers were gathering in a late harvest. The fields are still green and gold in many of these parts of Co Kildare this weekend.

Harvest fields of green and gold between Kilmuckridge and Kilnamanagh, Co Wexford, two weeks ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I was in Wexford two weeks ago because I regularly need to get in touch with my roots. Despite living in Dublin for so many years, I still yearn for those fields of green and gold that give that sense of belonging that many of us get when we move out of the city and return to provincial and rural life.

Going back to places that shape us and give us identity helps to integrate ourselves, spiritually as well as every other way, and helps us to prepare ourselves for the next steps forward in life.

It is as though, psychologically and spiritually, we need to take stock of what is in the barn, be aware of the riches and blessings we have from God in the past and in the present, so that in faith we can move forward.

Autumn seems a good time to take stock in all those ways. The summer holidays are over, the children are back at school, colleges and universities have reopened. Before the clocks go back and the winter evenings close in, now is the time to take a few steps back and just see where we are going.

It is time to take stock of the riches we have been blessed with, to realise what we have and what we no longer need, what we have been blessed with and what we can bless others with, what is there and what is missing.

Sometimes it is good to count our blessings. As the Prophet Joel says in our Old Testament reading this afternoon: “Be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things” (Joel 2: 21).

I see that in this parish, the ‘Harvest Appeal’ is going to the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal Fund. I was interested, during the Diocesan Synod last week [13 October 2015], to see how generous you have been in previous years in your giving to the Bishops’ Appeal.

But it might be good and appropriate stewardship to report back to you on some of the ways that money is used and spent.

The Bishops’ Appeal is one of the generous supporters of the work of Us, or the United Society, previously known as the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

Us, the old USPG, is more than 130 years older than Straffan Church building – it was founded back in 1703, making it one of the oldest Anglican mission agencies, and I am a member of the boards and trustees in Ireland and in .

And I spent the best part of a week this summer at a residential conference at the High Leigh Conference Centre in England, where I heard about exciting and fresh new things that are being done by this old mission agency.

Sheba Sultan, a writer and member of the Church of Pakistan, spoke about the challenges facing women in Pakistan.

Canon Delene Mark from South Africa spoke of people trafficking, especially the trafficking of young women, and the abuse of young women, yet could still tell us how the Church can ensure the Gospel is good news for women. He said: “The Gospel is good news for women. How? Only through us.”

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, author of The Essential History of Christianity, discussed gender justice with Dr Paulo Ueti, a theologian and New Testament scholar from Brazil.

The Revd Dr Monodeep Daniel, of the Delhi Brotherhood Society, drew on the Old Testament story of the rape of Tamar (see II Samuel 13) as he spoke of the way the Delhi Brotherhood works with women who suffer domestic and sexual violence, especially women who suffer doubly because of their gender and their caste.

Anjum Anwar is a Muslim woman on the staff of Blackburn Cathedral. She challenged us about how we live as good neighbours with people of different religious beliefs and values given the tensions we live with in the world today.

Since that conference in High Leigh at the end of July, I have also been receiving regular briefings about how Us has taken on as its Advent this year the role of co-ordinating fundraising on behalf of the Anglican Diocese in Europe as it reaches out to refugees arriving throughout Europe.

The Diocese in Europe is working on the frontline with refugees, and has asked Us to be the official agency for Anglican churches in Britain and Ireland to channel donations for its work, providing emergency medical support, food, shelter and pastoral care for refugees.

The initial focus, of course, is on the situation in Greece, working with people who are fleeing conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. The need for healthcare is particularly acute. Many refugees, including the elderly and children, are arriving in need of urgent medical care, but Greece’s overstretched public resources, and the lack of medicines in the country, mean many refugees are going untreated.

At the moment, the diocese has committed to the following initiatives in partnership with the Greek Orthodox Church:

● On the Island of Leros, a church centre is housing refugees and providing food, clothing, toiletries and medicine.

● On the Island of Samos, a church hostel is caring for 600 refugees, many of whom have medical needs. The hostel is mostly supporting Iraqi and Afghan refugees.

● In Athens, the church is working with the Salvation Army to provide food, water and medicine to refugees who congregate in local parks.

This work goes hand-in-hand with local initiatives throughout Greece. Last month I was privileged to visit twice the voluntary work of doctors, pharmacists and other volunteers who have set up a clinic and advice centre working with people without papers or without insurance from a shop front in a back street of Rethymnon in Crete.

All this work shows how relevant mission is in the world today. A mission agency that is over 300 years old is meeting the most contemporary and the most pressing needs in our world today.

These people are like the birds of the air, unable to sow or reap or gather for themselves. But by caring for them, by responding to their needs, the Church is showing that God still cares for them, that we know they are loved by God and so are worth caring for ourselves.

Taking stock of what we have in our barns, and giving thanks for the harvest are important ways of celebrating and of praising God. But in giving thanks and in giving to the Bishops’ Appeal you are also showing that the Kingdom of God spreads beyond the boundaries of borders of our own parish and diocese.

May you continue to rejoice in the harvest and be generous in your giving – the two go together – so that others may know of the love of God, and so that we may express this in our love for others.

As Christ tells us in our Gospel reading this afternoon: “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6: 33).

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns (Matthew 6: 26) … a barn on a farm at Cross in Hand Lane, outside Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

Eternal God,
you crown the year with your goodness
and 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 our Lord.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached at the Harvest Thanksgiving Service in Straffan Church, Co Kildare, on 14 October 2015.

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