Sunday, 4 October 2015

‘Strive first for the kingdom of God …,
and all these things will be given to you’

Harvest in Taney Parish ... the image on the cover of the Harvest 2015 edition of ‘Taney News’ (Volume 27, issue 3)

Patrick Comerford

Harvest Thanksgiving Eucharist,

Christ Church, Taney,

10.15 a.m., Sunday 4 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, Canon Robert Warren, for inviting me to your Harvest Thanksgiving celebrations this morning.

No, despite what it says in the current edition of Taney News, I am not the new Minister in Dundrum Methodist Church. In the past, like so many of my colleagues, I have experienced the generous hospitality of this parish at Diocesan Synod, and I have preached here once too.

It is good to be back here on a Sunday morning, and it is particularly pleasing to see that two of my students, the Revd Cathy Hallissey and the Revd Nigel Pierpoint, have been so warmly welcomed: you are blessed to have them here, and they are blessed to be with you here.

I have been at their ordinations in recent weeks, and the joy was enhanced by the fact that despite the poor summer weather we have had this year, the sun came out on both Sundays. What an interesting version of am “Indian Summer” we have had in the past two weeks or so.

This weather in many ways compensates for the summer rains, and it was interesting, while I was in Wexford yesterday, to see how farmers are gathering in a late harvest. Hopefully, this weather compensates for the poor performances earlier in the year.

Harvest fields of green and gold between Kilmuckridge and Kilnamanagh, Co Wexford, yesterday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I was in Wexford yesterday because I badly need to get in touch with my roots every now and again. 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 into 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, it’s time to take a few steps back and just see where we are going.

Not like a collector, gazing at stamp albums or shelf after shelf of unread books, even unreadable books, or paintings he knows the realisable price of, but not why they are valuable.

But 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.

Too often it is easy to think without thanks. On the other hand, though, generosity needs to be sustainable, or like every other aspect of financial life, if we do not ensure that our generosity is sustainable, we may lose the ability to give, we may dry up, and we may then come to resent our giving in the future.

But if we take a reality check, take account of the blessings we have, then we may become emboldened, enriched, equipped, so that we can continue to give without, on the one hand, running dry, or on the other hand, beginning to resent our own generosity.

I see that in Taney Parish this year you are looking at the wear and tear on the fabric of the church and the Parish Centre and the opportunity to refresh the Church fabric and furnishings.

To do this, this year’s ‘Harvest Appeal’ is being used to establish a fund so this can be achieved in time for the bicentenary celebrations in 2018, which are at the planning stage.

That is some achievement: 200 years of witnessing to Gospel, 200 years of inviting people through the Church into the Kingdom; 200 years of reassuring people that in Christ we know that we are loved by God and that we need constantly to work at loving one another.

We seem to be trapped in a decade of centenaries at the moment, remembering one more battle, one more revolution, one more gunshot, one more killing, and it is going to escalate when the New Year begins.

But sometimes it is good to remember our blessings rather than our hurts.

So by 2018, you will be recalling past rectors, curates and parishioners who have made this parish what it is today. As the Prophet Joel says in our Old Testament reading this morning: “be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things” (Joel 2: 21).

In our Post-Communion Prayer this morning, we pray that we may be “wise stewards of the good things we enjoy.” Being good and faithful stewards, you can not only conserve that, but be prepared to continue that into future years, with faith, with vision, with hope, with love.

As well as teaching your new curate and your new deacon, lecturing in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, I also serve on the boards and trustees of one of the oldest Anglican mission agencies, Us, or the United Society, previously known as the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

Us, the old USPG, is more than 100 years older than this church building – it was founded back in 1703.

And I spent the best part of a week this summer at a residential conference, hearing about the fresh new things that are being done by an 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 is co-ordinating fundraising in England 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 and Hungary, 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.

In Hungary, volunteers from church and community have been distributing aid packages.

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.

Getting ready for your bicentenary celebrations is not an end in itself. It is taking stock, it is getting ready, it is celebrating.

But in doing this you are recharging your batteries, making sure that the welcome here you provide for synods and conferences and community groups is sustainable and can be carried forward, hopefully, over the next 200 years.

“Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6: 33).

May you be enriched and blessed as you prepare for your coming celebrations.

May you be recharged, find new energies and be equipped with new enthusiasm.

May you find new and imaginative and creative ways of being engaged with the world, so that others know of the love of God, and express this in love for others. Amen.

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.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord of the harvest,
with joy we have offered thanksgiving for your love in creation
and have shared in the bread and wine of the kingdom.
By your grace plant within us such reverence
for all that you give us
that will make us wise stewards of the good things we enjoy;
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 Eucharist in Christ Church, Taney, on 5 October 2015.

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