Over 70 people came to our Easton Harvest Festival service and Parish Communion today and then met together for our Harvest Lunch at Easton Village Hall. The flowers at St. Mary’s were absolutely superb in a long tradition of flower arranging at St Mary’s….especially this magnificent display on our font:
It is always a pleasure to welcome one of the farmers from our principal farms to take part in the service and, this year, Michael Gray kindly read the gospel reading after Frits Janssen read the passages from Deuteronomy. Thank you to both of them.
Revd. Alex Pease spoke about Thanks and Giving from Deuteronomy 26:1-14 (see below)
Thanks and Giving
Last week, at the Martyr Worthy harvest festival, I spoke about the Delight Deficit: how we are less happy since the 1950s, when rationing ended, since our supermarket shelves have been full, and I said that I believe that this is because we are complacent about our food supply, so we are not thankful for it, and in any event, because of a decline in Christianity since the 1950s, we have no one to thank for it….the sermon is on our website, as usual.
This week, at the Easton Harvest Festival, I want to look at something different; if we are Christians, how we should express our thanksgiving to God for the amazing gifts that he has given us.
So, we need to turn to the passage we have just read in Deuteronomy. The book of Deuteronomy is thought to have been written by Moses, along with the other first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, maybe written around 1400BC, while the Israelites were still in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt before arriving at Israel, before getting to the Promised Land.
In the passage we have just read, Moses instructs the people of Israel, when they reach the Promised Land, to show their gratefulness to God, for their freedom, for the land, for God’s provision to them, in two ways:
by thanking, and
Or to put it another way
by declaring, and
Firstly, they must declare what God has done for them.
The Israelite worshipper had to recite a formula described by some theologians as Israel’s creed. Its a declaration, reciting the history of God’s generosity to Israel to show that they recognised how God had acted in their lives, before they gave their gift at the altar.
It starts ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor….’ Here, Moses is referring to Jacob (later known as Israel), who was a nomadic sheep and goat herder, who entered into Egypt with his family, which grew into a mighty nation of people, who were enslaved by the Egyptians, who called out to God in their suffering and were freed by God with God’s mighty hand and a terrifying display of power and were soon to be the possessors of land given to them by God, a land flowing with milk and honey.
So the Israelites were called on to declare before God what he had done for them, recognisingGod’s incredible generosity and having declared it, individually, the Israelites were called upon to donate, to give the first fruits, the best, of the produce of their land to God, before they even knew how successful their harvest would be, and to give to God the first born from every womb; so the first lamb, the first donkey, even the first son (who was not sacrificed, as were the animals) but consecrated to God for his life, or redeemed by the payment of money into the Temple. And, in each year, the Israelites were to give a tenth or a a tithe of the produce of the land to the temple.
The giving of a tithe, a tenth of the produce was a very, very ancient practice in Genesis 14:20, even Abraham who maybe lived in about 1800 BC gave one tenth of everything he received as spoils of war to Melchizedek, priest of God most high, to thank for a military victory
In Numbers and Deuteronomy we learn that the tithes were to be given to the tribe of priests called the Levites, who were responsible for leading the worship of the nation of Israel, who, unlike all the other tribes, were not given any of the Promised Land when it was distributed between the tribes of Israel.
Throughout Israel’s history, the Israelite prophets would challenge the people on whether they were giving their tithes, most significantly in Malachi 3:10 (a prophet speaking about 400 years before Christ) criticises the Israelites for not paying a full tithe to the Temple where they worshipped. His prophesy strikes at the heart of the problem of giving: God suggests, through the prophet Malachi, that the Israelites don’t trust him, that they will be left short changed, on not enough to live upon, if they give so generously, ‘Don’t rob God’ says the prophet, ‘trust him’ , he quotes God, saying to them, ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house.
Then he says a very remarkable thing, ‘Test me in this’, says the Lord, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room to store it’.
I have met many businessmen who have adopted this principle, who have given generously to God, to find their businesses flourishing beyond their expectations.
But its not about your business flourishing. God is saying, ‘Trust me’ ‘Believe in me’….
The New Testament continues this theme of giving. Paul in 1 Corinthians 8 and 9 says that when we Christians give, we should be motivated by thankfulness following on from the Old Testament theme. We should give in proportion to our means, give willingly, and cheerfully and in private secretly (but after discussion within a marriage), not to impress others.
So what does this all mean for us today?
In a moment, Rolls, who as you will know is our Parish Treasurer, is going to say something about giving to the church, how we respond materially to how God has blessed us, but firstly I want us to consider what we have to be thankful to God for.
It is just possible, I suppose, there may be someone in the church today who actually believes that their successes in life are all down to what they have done, to their skills, to their brilliance, even to their beauty, but I suspect not many.
Some of us may believe that our success is down to our hard work; some of us might put it down to luck, ’the harder I work the luckier I become’, we might say.
But consider this, where would you be now if you had been born in a Tibetan village in the mountains….however hard you worked, you would probably still be there….not enjoying the beauty of the Itchen Valley, the beauty of the mountains perhaps, but the daily hard graft of getting water and herding animals, far away from the comforts of life which we experience daily?
Where would you be now, if you had been born with half the IQ that you have? Perhaps you would never have had those stellar exam results, that incredible time at university, that first class job. Most of us, I believe, can see that at crucial junctures in our lives, even as we were formed in our mothers’ wombs, something happened, which made all the difference.
Personally, I can see extraordinary interventions of God throughout the course of my life, from the incredible path of my childhood and career, to my wonderful wife and children; to decisions made which seemed to have been prompted by Another. Indeed, every day, I can see the hand of God, if you like, saving me from disaster, from negligence, from accident or illness, blessing me way beyond my abilities, often at the last moment, often just in time!
So, as we look at harvest; as we look at the material things we have received during the year, we need to come before God in genuine heartfelt thankfulness, recognising what He has done for us. To show this today, I would like you to do something. In a moment of silence, just after I finish, while our organist plays, I would like you to write on the blank piece of paper you have been given, three things that you are thankful to God for. Don’t put your name, on the paper, keep it anonymous, but fold it up and bring it up when you approach the rail for communion, there will be someone by the step to collect the papers, and I will present these papers to God, as a recognition of our thankfulness to him.
Rolls Coleman then gave the following presentation on our financing and our need for parish giving. (to follow)
Deuteronomy 26: 1-14 First Fruits and Tithes
26 When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, 5 you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7 we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
12 When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, 13 then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of your commandments: 14 I have not eaten of it while in mourning; I have not removed any of it while I was unclean; and I have not offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the Lord my God, doing just as you commanded me
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Dt 26:1–14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
After our service we had coffee and tea and we then walked to the Easton Village Hall for our annual Harvest Lunch. This was a wonderful opportunity for us to meet up as a church in conjunction with the Village Hall to celebrate our harvest.
Tim Clapp organised some good games with the children (and the not so young)
Thank you so much to Vanessa Jill, Gilly, Tim and the many others who helped so much put together our wonderful Harvest Lunch which so many of us enjoyed so much.