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Sermon Preached on Sunday 2nd October 2022, Harvest Festival and Thanksgiving for the Life of Francis Jackson
Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor
Readings: Nehemiah 5:1-13, John 9
Title: A Harvest-Shaped Heart
Date: 2/10/22 4pm Evensong
Do you have a harvest-shaped heart?
Today we’re giving thanks for the bounty of the earth, and the gifts that it affords us. We reminisce about apples, potatoes and carrots, ploughing fields and sowing seeds, we have in our minds eye harvest displays and sheaves of corn – but do we have a harvest-shaped heart?
A harvest-shaped heart will shine a light on many things, just as the harvest moon causes us to look upon the world differently.
In his poem, Harvest Moon, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow suggests that in the light of a Harvest Moon- all things are symbols, we see things in a new way. The external shows of nature, he says, have their image in the mind, and I would say, make their mark upon the human heart. To celebrate the harvest is to respond not just with apples or turnips or pumpkins, but with the heart.
Julian of Norwich, the great medieval mystic and theologian, learned to look upon the world in this way. She held a hazelnut in her hand and said: “And in this God showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ She was seeing the world with a harvest-shaped heart.
Such a heart, takes us beyond a romanticised view of country life, a genuine harvest heart, will help us see the challenging realities of wealth and resource in our own society, it will help us value the earth and all that is in it from acorns to armadillos, and it will shape our own attitude to giving in the service of others.
Some don’t have enough to eat, we are told. Some are having to sell everything they own just to get by, some are having to borrow money at high interest just to survive.
Though this could easily be describing the state of modern Britain after a mini budget which has crashed the pound in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, it in fact summarises the plight of a people whom the prophet Nehemiah is called to serve around 450 years before the birth of Christ. He is appalled by the disparity between the haves and the have nots. Brothers and sisters, (all equal under God) – are divided by wealth, some starve whilst the nobles and officials take interest from their own people.
Nehemiah the prophet attends to what he sees with his harvest-shaped heart. His conscience cannot let this inequality define his community nor his humanity- ‘this thing you are doing is not good’ he tells those who do well by making others poor. This is not the way of God. God’s love embraces all that is made.
So, he seeks out justice and mercy for everyone -so that everyone can reap the benefits of the fields, and olive orchards and vineyards. These symbols of nature reveal the intentions of the human heart, whether to keep all for oneself and ones’ own prosperity, or whether to give away for the good of all.
Today we give thanks for the grain, the olives, the oil, the fruit, but a harvest festival also sharpens our vision to see that unless the spirit of the harvest flowers in our hearts, there will always be those who reap the benefits of a harvest and those who don’t. The harvest itself becomes a symbol of divine gift and human generosity.
As the harvest moon baths the earth in a new light, so the light of Christ helps us to see the world differently. Through him we are given insight, and we might pray today that our eyes may be truly opened and our hearts stirred to such generosity, that we may learn to give and not count the cost. Perhaps it takes mud and earth and soil, smeared over our eyes to help us see.
Imagine you have an apple tree in your garden, the boughs are heavy laden, there is almost too many apples for you to pick- do you squirrel them away for yourself or do you go to your neighbour and share the harvest?
If you are in receipt of a bounty- a harvest heart will lead you to share it with others whatever that bounty may be. Even if you have a little, a kindness shared is a sign of a harvest-shaped heart.
Whatever you have, there is always something to give. Can we share the fruits which Christ brings to fullness in each one of us? What is the harvest you are called to share with others?
If you have a beautiful voice- do you sing to yourself or sing with and for others and to the glory of God? Francis Jackson, our beloved organist emeritus had a gift for music, he didn’t hide his gift away, or keep it for himself. The fruits of his gift were shared lovingly and generously with the whole church.
We reap the benefits of his generosity today on what would have been his 105th birthday. We will all shortly sing his music which has long been paired with the words of the hymn: For the Fruit of his Creation which remind us that a harvest thanksgiving- always moves us towards a generous heart. His namesake, St Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is notably tomorrow: said this: ‘Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received – only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.
Francis Jackson is remembered here today for what he gave, to glory of the living God. The better part in life, is always about what we give, not what we get: what we share, not what we squander. In Christ, we are known by our fruits: in other words, we are known as his disciples, by what we give and by our harvest shaped hearts.
Thanks be to God.
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