Sunday, 3 October 2021

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

Harvest themes in windows by Johnny Murphy and Reiltín Murphy (1982) in the Bishop O’Brien Memorial Chapel in Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 3 October 2021, (Trinity XVIII)

9.30 a.m.: The Harvest Eucharist, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer (Harvest), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry

Readings: Joel 2: 21-27; Psalm 126; I Timothy 2: 1-7; Matthew 6: 25-33 (Harvest, Year B)

‘The tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and the vine their full yield’ (Joel 2: 22) … grapes ripening on the vines in Platanias, near Rethymon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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

Autumn seems a good time to take stock in so many ways. The summer holidays are over, the children are back at school, colleges and universities have reopened, and there is a new sense of freedom – freedom tempered with caution – with the easing of pandemic restrictions.

Before the clocks go back and the winter evenings close in, our Harvest Thanksgiving Services this week and next week offer us time to take a few steps back and just see where we are going.

Harvest time is a 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.

We have had a year when the weather has sometimes given us too much – or not enough – rain in Ireland. But in many parts of the world, climate change has brought forest fires and winds that have destroyed not just forests, but farms, vineyards, crops, animals and homesteads too.

In contrast to the experiences of people in parts of Greece, Spain, Australia and California, we might be glad in Ireland this morning to echo the Prophet Joel in our first reading (Joel 2: 21-27), when he gives thanks for the ‘abundant rain, the early and the later rain’ (Joel 2: 23).

Both the rain and the sunshine are necessary for the growth of fruit, vegetables, grass and feed for animals.

Sometimes it is good to count our blessings. As Joel says, ‘Be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things’ (Joel 2: 21).

Our Psalm (Psalm 126) is a liturgical song and part of public worship. When the people first returned from exile in Babylon, they hardly believed their good fortune, and they were ‘like those who dream.’ So great was their success that other nations recognised God’s mighty works on their behalf, and the people rejoiced.

But after the initial euphoria, they realise that ordinary, daily life is difficult. They ask God to restore our fortunes, and that the land be refreshed and be made fruitful with the waters of free-flowing rivers.

They may be sorrowful as they sow, but they still hope to gather the harvest in joyfulness, as God once more acts on our behalf.

All creation gives praise to God, and good times and bad times should both remind us not just of each season, but of the needs of others:

Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who went out weeping, carrying the seed,
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves (Psalm 126: 6).

In our Epistle reading (I Timothy 2: 1-7), Saint Paul writes from prison in Rome to his disciple Saint Timothy, urging him to pray and to give thanks for everyone, including those who are in government and who hold power.

This is not an endorsement of any government or its policies. Nor is it passive or accepting. At a time when governments are slow to take the speedy measures needed to combat climate change, we are to pray for those in authority, as Saint Paul reminds us, so that all may live ‘a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity’ (verse 2).

What things, what unmet needs, are preventing people living among us this harvest time from living ‘a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity’? What global failures to respond to climate change are going to deny future generations the gifts God wants them to share in future harvests? And how might we pray this harvest season so that this is rectified?

The Gospel reading (Matthew 6: 25-33) is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Christ has spoken of the impossibility of serving two masters. One cannot love both: ‘You cannot serve God and wealth’ (verse 24).

A key word in this passage is ‘worry.’ The Greek word used here (μεριμνάω, merimnao) is repeated three times (verses 25, 27, 31). It means to be anxious, to be troubled with cares, to care for, to look out for, to seek to promote one’s own personal demands or interests, to be preoccupied with or to be absorbed by my own needs.

But that does not exclude caring for the needs of others.

To be preoccupied with food and appearances is to view life far too narrowly. Christ is using hyperbole when he gives birds as an example of a proper attitude towards food (verse 26). They work hard to find it, but they do not store it for possible future shortages, still less for hoarding or personal pleasure.

Of course, we should plan prudently for the future. But worrying excessively and being preoccupied with our own future needs are futile – and prevent us from responding to the needs of people today. Yes, of course I desire a long life, but worrying is not going to do anything about it.

I have a pension plan, I have plans for how to enjoy future years. But being preoccupied with my possible future needs can stop me from living in the present – which is a present – and stop me from responding to the needs of others in the present.

And being too preoccupied with my own future as I advance in age is in danger of muting my response to the future needs of the world: global warming, food security, the looming conflicts over global water supplies.

Sometimes when I worry about some of the speciality foods that I enjoy as luxuries are not available when I am shopping, someone close to me gently reminds me that these are ‘First World’ problems. She chides me to consider whether many people in Damascus or Kabul share these minor irritations.

Once again, we are warned against being over-ambitious about what we should eat, drink or wear. It is not that we do not need these things. But it seems that all too often we define ourselves by the food we like others to see in our shopping trolleys or we prepare for our guests, the reputations of the wine we drink or serve, or the branding provided by the labels on the clothes we wear to give us social status or acceptability.

But life is more than food and the body is more than clothing (verse 25). Sometimes, we too easily set silly if not wrong ‘standards’ to maintain, that insult families faced with not being able to pay their heating and electricity bills this winter, families facing mounting rent bills and homelessness.

As Christ tells us in this Gospel reading, ‘Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (verse 33).

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

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ (Matthew 6: 31) … harvest bread in a shop (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 6: 25-33 (NRSVA):

[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.’

‘You crown the year with your goodness and give us the fruits of the earth in their season’ … harvest scenes in a stained glass window in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Liturgical colour: Green

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

Preface:

And now we give you thanks
because you make us stewards of your creation,
to praise you day by day
for the marvels of your wisdom and power.

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 the of the good things we enjoy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Blessing:

God the Father, who created the world,
give you grace to be wise stewards of his creation. Amen.

God the Son, who redeemed the world,
inspire you to go out as labourers into his harvest. Amen.

God the Holy Spirit, whose breath fills the whole of creation,
help you to bear his fruits of love, joy and peace. Amen.

And the blessing …

‘For the fruits of his creation’ (Hymn 39) … blackberries ripening near Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

37: Come, ye thankful people, come (CD 3)
39: For the fruits of his creation (CD 3)
47: We plough the fields and scatter (CD 3)

The USPG Harvest Appeal this year focusses on Zimbabwe with the theme ‘Gardens of Hope’ (Photograph: USPG)

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

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



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