Thanks Be To God - Harvest Service

CALL TO WORSHIP: Almighty and everlasting God, we offer you our grateful thanks for your fatherly goodness and care in giving us your gifts and the fruits of the earth in through the seasons. Give us grace to use them rightly, to your glory, for our own well being, and for the relief of those in need; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Lord of creation, whose glory is all around and within us: open our eyes to your wonders, that we may serve you with reverence and know your peace at our lives' end, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Eternal God, you crown the year with your goodness and you 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 your own well-being; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

HYMN 123: COME YE THANKFUL PEOPLE COME.

PRAYER OF ADORATION: Heavenly Father, creator and sustainer of the universe, we are struck dumb before the beauty of the world; the ever changing sky, the variety of colour, the immensity of the night sky and the delicate, intricate detail of the tiny flowers. We thank you jar this season when the earth, rain and sun have again performed their miracle of producing a harvest. We thank you for our food and drink in such variety and abundance.  Gracious God, to you we raise............... This our sacrifice of praise.

We praise you for the work of painters and sculptors adding to the pleasure of life. Through their imagination and skill we are made aware of the splendour of the earth as well as the poignancy of human experience. We thank you for the great artists whose work still endures, those who built the great cathedrals and churches, those who recorded the customs and great events of history in paintings, tapestries and friezes, those who gave visual expression to the stories of the Bible in murals, on ceilings and in stained glass.  Gracious God, to you we raise............... This our sacrifice of praise.

We praise you for the music of the seasons, in bird song and insect drone, in wind and flowing water, in the rustle of leaves and the crash of thunder. We thank you for the work of composers, making music of all kinds to move us and thrill us. We thank you for all who perform as soloists, members of choirs and orchestras, dance bands and small groups. We thank you for the pianists, organists and other musicians who lead us in worship:  Gracious God, to you we raise         This our sacrifice of praise.

We praise you for writers throughout the ages. For those who wrote the Bible and shared their faith. For those who continue to translate the Bible, print and distribute it that it may continue to be used by the Holy Spirit to turn people to you. For the story tellers who have excited our imaginations and challenged our attitudes. For poets and historians, for novelists and journalists:  Gracious God, to you we raise   This our sacrifice of praise.

Accept the praise and thanks of our hearts which we find difficult to put into words. We rejoice in your creation and glory in your goodness. To you be all praise and glory now and forever.  Amen

COMMENTARY: Harvest is one of the most wonderful times of celebration in the church year. Nobody gets killed, there is just unbridled joy at the beauty and providence of creation. Well almost that is! There are some lessons of caution as well, and those lessons are perhaps more important for our times than ever before.

There are obvious lessons about caring for the world which has been entrusted to us. At harvest time we thank God, for all of the gifts which have been given to us, and all of the opportunities made available to us from the world and its resources. Yet this planet is not ours to do what we want with. It is made by God and we are privileged to have a time here to look after and enjoy it. The expectation is that we will pass it on to our children in a better condition than we found it.

There are salutary lessons at harvest about sharing. We cannot help but feel embarrassed that we have so much of the world’s resources, whilst others lack even the most basic necessities. No harvest festival service should ever take place without a time of prayer when we think of the shocking conditions prevalent in parts of the world where people die for lack of resources which we routinely throw away.

There are warnings about priorities. Harvest can be seen as an opportunity to glorify increasing consumption and hoarding. However harvest is not an occasion to thank God that we have managed to acquire masses of things. In our Gospel reading today Jesus tells his disciples that they need to care less about material things. This is a wonderful message but one which we struggle to hear. Jesus wants his disciples to stop worrying and live. The trouble is that most of us spend a lot of time worrying and working.

So whilst we enjoy harvest and thank God for it, it is also a good time to consider our priorities in life, what really matters. The pace of life is now so fast and the latest products are brought to market so fast that we might feel we have very quickly become out of date and need to replace everything. Yet even at the time of Jesus he knew that people had the same issues of worry and work.

Jesus knew that toiling for the latest material goods brought no increase in satisfaction to our society. No matter how much we acquire, no matter how many material possessions, no matter how much money we have - enough is always a little bit more than we already have. The pursuit of happiness in the acquisition of things is always a road to dissatisfaction. What a paradox, the more we seek to be happy through acquiring such things the less happy we seem to be!

The Christian message is that pursuit of happiness through amassing things will only ever bring ruin. It is a curious fact that contrary to our wealth bringing happiness it brings impoverishment of the soul. Funnily enough the opposite is the case, the more we give to others the more happiness we receive ourselves. Giving to others is something which we learn from our Lord, Jesus. He had no possessions, he gave up everything he had and gave his life for others. It is his model which we seek to copy.

HYMN 129: TO THEE O LORD, OUR HEARTS WE RAISE – StF

PRAYER OF CONFESSION AND THANKSGIVING:  You are not a distant God who set Creation in motion, and then sit on some heavenly throne, distant, aloof, and untouched by the world of your creatures. Through the witness of your covenant with Israel, and through the witness of your Church, we know you are a God willing to enter into the chaos of human struggles, injustice, and suffering. In the fullness of time, you came in Jesus, the Word made flesh. You were fully human, you suffered hunger, heart-ache, and betrayal. And yet, you remained faithful in your mission to proclaim the Kingdom, to call humanity to your way of love and justice. Where our love failed, your love was steadfast, even to horrific death on a cross. And then, you did not wash your hands of us, but returned to us and proclaimed your peace to us, calling us to be your people, including us in your mission of reconciliation.

Forgive us when we have forgotten whom we belong to. Forgive us when we fail to love those you have called us to walk with as your church. Forgive us those whom we touch in our lives do not find blessings, but indifference or even harm.

Father in heaven all good gifts come from you. You send the sunshine and the rain, and it is through your love and care that we enjoy the harvest time. Thank you for providing so richly for our needs and help us to share the good things we have with those who have little or nothing.

Lord we pray for your blessing on every kind of harvest that we enjoy. Thank you for the harvest of the land and the sea. Bless too the harvest of factory, mine and workshop. Bless the harvest of research and of creative art. May we work together with you in every area of life to produce what is worthwhile, good and fruitful. May you be glorified in it all.

Bring to fruition Creator God, the work of your kingdom in our lives. Make us part of that joyful harvest in which your loving purpose is completed. Help us to realise how important the smallest words and deeds are. Thank you for others who have set before us an example of true Christian living and who have sown the seeds of faith hope and love in our lives.

Lord we pray for your blessing on every kind of harvest that we enjoy. Thank you for the harvest of the land and the sea. Bless too the harvest of factory and mine and workshop. Bless the harvest of research and of creative art. May we work together with you in every area of life to produce what is worthwhile, good and fruitful. May you be glorified in it all.

READINGS: 2 CORINTHIANS 9: 1-16

HYMN 100: ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL – StF

SERMON: THANKS BE TO GOD (HARVEST SERVICE):  (2 Corinthians 9:6-15)

This week, I visited an elderly lady. As we talked she was lamenting over the loss of her husband and home. She can’t recall all the names of the grand children nor to talk about the great grand children. She now lives in a care home. After a few moments, her sorrow changed to a spirit of gratefulness. She said, “O Reverend, well, I have so much to be thankful for.” She was thankful for all her experiences, the life with her husband, her home, her family, the holidays, the cruises, the fun ect.

It is human nature to lament over the things in life we have lost. It is a natural thing to share our feelings of sorrow about loved ones who have died, things we no longer have or good times that have ended. On the other hand, to acknowledge our blessings or express an attitude of thankfulness takes a bit more effort. It comes from the belief that God deserves our praise for all that has been given. As it says in Psalm 50:14, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving; and pay your vows to the most high.” A thankful spirit comes from faith. For example, Colossians 2:7 reads, “rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

Today we are listening to the words of Paul who is encouraging the faithful to be grateful for all that God has done and is doing. Paul is giving a pep talk, challenging the faithful to be “cheerful givers”. And the reward for generosity is the provision for more generosity. Giving is understood as a way of worship. Also the good news is not just something to be heard; it includes a response of concrete gifts of love. Just as we have been given the gift of grace in Jesus Christ, we are to be givers of grace as well.

And even Paul does not ignore the reality of our need to lament. Earlier in this letter he makes reference to their sufferings and hardships. In chapter 1 (II Corinthians, l:8), he says, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.” Paul recognizes that before the faithful can be challenged to give joyfully, he must first affirm their sufferings and pain.

Thanksgiving is not just a celebration of our blessings and abundance. It is also a reminder of our loved ones who are no longer with us. Some are sad because they are separated by many miles from relatives or friends. While we are celebrating Harvest Thanksgiving we are also remembering those who are no longer with us. I believe that all of us are truly thankful for all we have been given. Paul, however takes it a bit further. What Paul understands is that a true spirit of thankfulness will help us to overcome our sufferings and multiply our blessings even further. Being thankful is the true attribute of the faithful.

Not only is Paul telling us to be generous he is asking us to be cheerful, to give willingly and joyfully. When we give reluctantly we will not be satisfied. “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

The measure of what we sow is the measure of what we reap. And the more joyfully we give thanks to our God, then the more fully we open ourselves to receiving.

The more we close ourselves to the needs of others, then the more we close ourselves to one another and to God.

And yes there is a definite place in this economy for giving of the wealth and the income that we have, and the more anonymously we do it then the more publicly God rejoices in it.

But there is a further dimension, for the costliness of worship is not only in the material gifts we make. There is also that sense when our own worship is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, made when we do not feel like it.

It is in worshipping God when there are tears in our hearts, and in trusting Him when all we see is darkness and all we feel is despair.

It is in offering Him the impossibilities of our lives to do with as He wills. This also is the costly giving, especially when none other can see or know it.

It may be offering up an impossible memory or relationship or hurt. It may be that sin which we believe that is so far beyond forgiveness as to be unreal.

But whatever the impossible thing is: God loves a cheerful thanks giver. Even, and especially, one with tears in the heart and soul.

HYMN 126: PRAISE GOD FOR THE HARVEST OF ORCHARD AND FIELD- StF

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION: Great God of seed time and harvest, our lives are in Your hands, You scatter and send out, You gather and come close. With confidence we bring our prayers for the world which You love and fill with life.

Nurturing God, through your church you broadcast the good news of the Gospel into every place. Through the hands of your people seeds of mercy, truth and love are planted into open lives and hearts. Nourish and sustain your Church to be generous in sowing and faithful in gathering. Bless the home congregations of those who gather in this act of worship that they may grow and flourish and bring forth a harvest of good fruit.

Sheltering God, You draw people to Yourself, even through the cross of Your Son. We hold before You people who have been scattered by war, terrorism and natural disaster. Those who have been uprooted from all they knew and held dear. Bring peace and justice to divided people and broken lands. Bring healing and help to those who flee burning forests and rising waters.

Dynamic God, You give seed to the sower and strength to the labourer. We remember all those who work the land and sea to reap a harvest. Those who delve and mine. Those who pack and carry and prepare and sell the food and goods we rely on. We thank you for the labour of unseen hands. We ask you to strengthen and hold safe these key workers and pray that we may all seek a just reward for their labour.

Healing God, there is safety and rest in the shadow of Your wings. We bring to You in prayer family members, friends and neighbours, colleagues and members of our church families who need Your touch at this time. Reassure the anxious, comfort the grieving, heal the sick, hold the hurting and encourage the downcast. Bring peace to hearts, homes and workplaces where there is trouble and division. May we rest in the knowledge that nothing can divide us from Your Love and that when our life has run its course, You gather Your people to Yourself.

Empowering God, You give purpose, vision and energy, encouragement and hope. We pray for ourselves. Show us when it is time to sow seeds and open and guide our hands. Show us when it is time to gather in, to act for You. Give us courage in the face of risk and uncertainty. Give us persistence when nothing seems to be happening. Help us to put our trust in Your Giver of Life and Lord of the Harvest.

We ask all these prayers in the Name of Jesus, Amen.

HYMN 130: WE PLOUGH THE FIELDS AND SCATTER-StF

BLESSINGS: Generous God, as we prepare for a fresh week, open our hearts to receive Your blessings and peace. Open our eyes to the needs and opportunities around us. Open our hands to extend Your goodness and love to those whose paths cross ours that we may plant seeds of hope and justice in Your Name.  Amen