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Harvest Festival Streamed Service from All Saints:

 The Rev Mark’s Sermon for the Harvest Festival:

May I speak in the name of the living God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I remember a few years ago at a checkout in Sainsbury’s, I think, and I handed over a green pepper to the shop assistant. He looked at me somewhat quizzically and asked me what the vegetable was so that he could look it up and scan it. Okay, he might not necessarily have eaten green peppers, or he may not have seen many before, which might have explained his lack of knowledge and awareness of what they looked like, but I was a bit staggered, nevertheless.
I am not sure if anyone here this morning has had a similar experience to me where someone has not been able to recognise an everyday foodstuff, fruit or vegetable when at the supermarket checkout – it is not really that important in the wider scheme of things – but my experience, when I look back at it now, does make me think about food, our knowledge of it, how we relate to it, where it comes from, our relationship with God’s creation and the provenance of what we eat.
Perhaps I am sad, but I really enjoy food shopping, probably because I get great pleasure from cooking, but I am always amazed that there is so much variety around us and choice, if one is able to afford it, and so many types and kinds of food with their different and varied aromas, origins, tastes, colours, and textures. Does anyone here like going to food markets? The experiences in them can be a joy. The panoply of kaleidoscopic colours adorning the food stalls drawing and welcoming us in to look, explore and taste.
Although we know that our food, that “true wealth,” shows the generosity and abundance of our living God, many people sadly do not acknowledge its provision as a gift from God. Several people probably do not think about God as ‘creator’ and ‘provider’ when they buy food, prepare a meal or when they eat which may say something about how they relate to the food on their plates. I wonder what the responses would be if pressed about the origins of their food? Obviously I do not know but I would hazard a guess and suggest that many of their responses may include “‘Well, from me, I bought it,’ which chimes with the sentence from our reading from Deuteronomy “…my own hand has gained me this wealth”. Or other responses may be like “well, it comes from farmers, other countries, factories and food processing plants” or “from Tesco’s or Aldi.” Sadly, God does not get a look-in, but we hope that may be an oversight.
And unfortunately, food is too often viewed merely as a commodity or a product. Regrettably, many people do not have the time to think about food because of other more pressing matters; eating is a means to an end, ‘quick fuel’ to get through the day, without necessarily the time to enjoy it. But food is often considered as something that is bought to be consumed rather than appreciated, to waste when out of date, or to be stored in the back of a cupboard and never used. But when God is acknowledged as its ultimate creator – the provider of all – we see food in a different light and as a blessing, a gift to us, to cherish and enjoy and for which we give thanks to God each day.
Has anyone here ever been on a silent retreat? And there is a reason behind this question.
I remember several years ago being part of one with friends. It was an opportunity to reflect, be still, read, pray, listen for God in the greater silence, to contemplate, rest, sleep and to eat. The retreat was going extremely well, that is, until breakfast the following morning. We were sat around a table in total silence, avoiding eye contact, as you do, and then someone chose the Rice Krispies. “Snap, crackle and pop” was the sound they made as the cold milk was splashed upon them which reverberated around the refectory. Our faces became crumpled with smiles and some of us had to go outside to laugh. Admittedly, we were tested that day, but in all seriousness, eating in silence can change the way we relate to the food on our plates. On that retreat during silent mealtimes, it was an opportunity to explore the tastes, sweetness, sharpness, textures and temperatures of the food by eating it mindfully, and it was a time too that was available to think about where our food came from. Our food was not just from God’s earth but from the pain, worries, anxieties and the sacrifices made by farmers throughout the seasons too; and from the food factories, processors and the distributors, and all those who work in shops and supermarkets – more latterly, those very ‘key workers’ we have drawn so heavily upon during ‘Lockdown’ and continue to do so during this pandemic. So many people were involved in some way in its provision. And we too may reflect a little more and extend our thinking upon the relationship between the food we eat and the planet of which we are part. Although God created a world which was “good” and has enabled the conditions for food to grow and flourish, we may, if we wish to, contemplate today in the 21st century the effects of our own food choices upon the environment, the oceans, upon deforestation and the swings in climate change that can impact so dramatically upon the livelihoods of farmers in Africa and elsewhere. And as we give thanks for the Harvest, we need to be mindful too of the exploitation of people and the mistreatment of animals in the food sectors, and the unfortunate inequalities in food distribution across our planet, which can be changed if there is a willingness to do so. There are so many penetrating questions that need answers and remedies, and although we give thanks to God today for our food, for his beautiful creation that nurtures the Harvest, we have to ponder at times, I’m afraid, on how our food production and distribution processes do not always have the stewardship of God’s creation at its heart. We live in a beautiful, complex yet broken world, and sadly these issues remain with us, and the existence of COVID-19 today, a zoonotic virus transmitted from animals to humans, ought to make us ask further questions about how we relate to our natural world in the future. We are not gathered here today though to think about solutions to these problems, they are global matters for our national and international leaders to resolve, but we have to be aware of them as stewards of God’s creation, and to pray for their resolution.
We are followers of Jesus Christ and are his people of light, hope and prayer and we do not need to be downhearted. As we give thanks to God for the food on our plates, the clothes we wear and the roofs over our heads – his gifts to us – we offer our gifts in return to others in need either in the food donations generously made or in the collection to Christian Aid, which may be given as you leave the service this morning. We give in gratitude and thankfulness for all that God gives to us. It is through the love, generosity and “the surpassing grace of God” (from 2 Corinthians 9: 6-15) in Jesus Christ that we are nurtured, nourished and sustained throughout our lives. Let us then give thanks for the Harvest!