The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Harvest All Age Eucharist      30th September 2018
How do we grow?
Ayla Lepine

Joel 2. 21 – 27

Matthew 6. 25 - 33

The prophet Joel, writing 2500 years ago, had a message for his people. And that message was all about the relief, the joy, and the anticipation of abundance. In our reading he talks about recovery from destruction. And he does something amazing. He doesn’t speak just to his people about what will happen when the rain falls and the crops grow and there will be plenty of food for everyone. He talks to the animals directly: ‘do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green.’ He even talks to the earth directly: ‘Do not fear, O soil, be glad and rejoice.’ When he talks to the dirt itself, full of nutrients and ready to give minerals and moisture and the earth’s goodness to tiny seeds that will produce good food, Joel introduces an enormous idea. Every single thing – the cows that are part of the charity we’re supporting to help African farmers, cherry tomatoes and bananas, the fish swimming around the coral of a giant tropical reef, the insects living all over Hampstead Heath, the tree that grows in the churchyard – all of these things are loved by God. God takes delight in all of them, and wants them all to be cherished by us in an ecosystem powered by the common good, and not by corrupt greed.

For a moment, let’s concentrate on something beautiful that the poet William Wordsworth wrote: ‘nature is a living, active, organic whole charged with divine meaning’. What does that mean for us, gathered here together today as we sit in these pews like seeds inside a fig or a pomegranate, where the church itself is the exterior vessel for interior fruitfulness. We are all seeds, full of potential, longing to grow. 

The sermon included three microsermons from members of the congregation. Each answered a question:

Andrew Diracles – What happens when a plant grows?

Vanessa Fitzpatrick – What does ‘organic’ mean? Why might it be important for our church?

Jenny Lupa – What is maturity?

Matthew’s Gospel reading this morning adds something unique to the way we might learn important lessons from nature. The whole of nature, Jesus tells us, is teaching us all the time. And it’s teaching us something which we need to hear all the time: trust that God will take care of you, and trust that God thinks you’re utterly amazing, trust that when we see beauty in nature – in flowers, birds, plants, and the miracle of growth itself – it is telling us that God is at work. Do we worry about what to wear, how to behave, how we’re going to get everything done that needs to get done, what we should eat? Of course we do, all the time, and those are understandable concerns, especially for those who do not have enough. This reading is not belittling those who live in poverty without enough food. It is not dismissive about suffering and being hurt and needing to heal. Instead, the passage is reminding us that God is Life itself. That God is abundance itself. That the lessons we learn from nature – to be patient, that things change and develop, and that the cycles of life, and death, and life again are as true for an apple tree as they are for each of us as human beings – are really important things we need to learn so that we can be the best people each of us is invited to be.

Harvest Sunday is a time for us to look at the beauty and the fragility of nature and to give thanks for food, for the rhythms of seasons, for the patterns of the land in farming, gardens, parks, and even crashing waterfalls and towering mountains. It’s a time to remember that when people near to us and people far away do not have enough, it’s part of our Christian responsibility to help them as best we can. That’s why we’re supporting Send a Cow, sending our airplanes flying through the church. All these things in nature, and all the creative energy inside us, contribute to an ecosystem that God made and loves. And so this morning is the perfect time to pray about growth. The world around us, growing and changing every single moment, helps us to learn about being children of God, gathered together, always growing as we walk with Christ. 

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