07 October 2018

‘Strive first for the kingdom of
God and his righteousness’

‘Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home’ … harvest time in the fields beside the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 6 October 2018,

The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XIX)

11.30 p.m.: Harvest Thanksgiving Service, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

Readings: Joel 2: 21-27; Psalm 126; Matthew 6: 25-33.

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

Before I came to this group of parishes at the beginning of last year [January 2017], I had lived for more than 40 years in the suburbs of south Co Dublin.

So, for these past two years, my time here has rekindled the pleasures of being in the countryside, being in touch with the cycle of life and growth, sowing and harvest.

I spent important parts of my childhood on my grandmother’s farm in Cappoquin, Co Waterford, and then went to school in the middle of the countryside in Co Meath.

So, these past two years have awoken many childhood and school-day memories and images. For example, the Feast of Saint Michael fell last weekend [29 September 2018], and I realised how late autumn actually has been this year.

Like many people who grew up in the countryside, I was aware of the old belief that we should not pick blackberries after Michaelmas, Saint Michael’s Day, 29 September. But a week later, the blackberries are still ripening on the brambles in the fields behind the rectory in Askeaton and on the laneways around this church.

I know that for many farmers, this has been a mixed summer, but the interesting sunshine we had in recent weeks provided many farmers with some compensation at harvest time.

The weather these past few weeks has compensated for the heavy rains earlier in the year that threatened the summer harvests. The fields are still green and gold after a second cutting and in some places even a third cutting.

Despite living in Dublin all those years, I still yearned 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.

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 begin to 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 morning: ‘Be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things’ (Joel 2: 21).

Earlier this summer, I spent the best part of a week [2 to 4 July 2018] in England at a residential conference at the High Leigh Conference Centre, near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. There I heard about exciting and fresh new things that are being done by the Anglican mission agency that I am a trustee of, USPG, the United Society Partners in the Gospel.

This is an exciting time for USPG, as we take a fresh look at the meaning of mission not only for USPG, but for Anglicans around the world.

I chaired one of the conference sessions, when the Revd Dr Pervaiz Sultan, the Principal of Saint Thomas’s Theological College in Karachi, spoke of what it is like to live as a Christian and as part of a tiny minority in Pakistan, which is an overwhelmingly Muslim-majority country.

The new general secretary of USPG, the Revd Duncan Dormor, presented us with a new vision, a new strategy, for 2018-2021. He spoke of sharing in God’s mission worldwide, and he challenged us not to forget if the Church forgets mission we become a club: a nice club, with nice members, but just another club.

We are a pilgrim church, a pilgrim people, sent out into the world, like the disciples in this morning’s Gospel reading.

Duncan reminded us that the story of Jesus is a story of constantly crossing ethnic and religious divisions. We discover who we are through the other, and we find ourselves transformed and humbled when we listen to the stories of others and their faith.

USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential and champion justice.

The agency has four core values. Duncan’s strategic vision says that in mission USPG is faithful, radical, stands in solidarity and respects context.

He outlined three broad strategic aims: to rethink mission, to energise Church and community, and to champion justice.

One way USPG carries through on these visions and delivers on these aims is through the large number of volunteers who go where they are sent, and then come back and share their experiences and their journey in faith.

Bishop Donald Jute of Kuching, in Malaysia, spoke of the way our concepts of mission, our ways of doing mission as a church, have changed in recent decades. He identified the move from paternal to fraternal relations in mission, and from divisive concepts of donors and receivers to the concept of partnership.

And he used the word partnership in a witty way when he pointed out that the word partnership is made up of the words ‘partners’ and ‘hip.’

When Churches are partners in mission, it is like we are joined at the hip. He could have been drawing on this morning’s Gospel when he told us: ‘Together we are called and together we are sent.’

A few weeks ago, I was at a meeting in London where the trustees heard how USPG has become a partner and a supporting agency in appointing a chaplain to work among refugees stranded in Calais, amid concern about the rising number of migrants settling around ports in northern France.

Canon Kirrilee Reid is moving from her present post as the rector of a rural church in Perth and Kinross in Scotland to become part of the Anglican chaplaincy team in Pas-de-Calais.

Her appointment is going to boost co-ordination between both sides of the Channel, to ensure migrants and their families receive the care and support they need.

Every part of the Church is supposed to be both sending and receiving. We are joined at the hips as partners. We cannot exist as isolated, individual Christians on our own. Parishes and dioceses cannot exist without giving and receiving, without sending and welcoming. All this work goes to show 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 mission agencies like USPG are showing on behalf of the Church that the Kingdom of God spreads beyond the boundaries of borders of our own parish and our own diocese.

May we continue to rejoice in the harvest 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 morning: ‘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.

‘The tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and the vine their full yield’ (Joel 2: 22) … grapes ripening on the vines in Platanes, near Rethymon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Matthew 6: 25-33:

[Jesus said:] 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Harvest 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. Amen.

The Collect of the Day:

O God,
without you we are not able to please you;
Mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


37, Come, ye thankful people, come (CD 3),

47. We plough the fields and scatter (CD 3),

365, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (CD 22).

A harvest of lemons this summer in Platanes near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

1 comment:

Janet McKee said...

Thank you for your inspiring writing.