Come Ye Thankful People!
Sunday, 6 October 2019 10:00
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples (Matthew 26: 26)
It’s funny the the things that pass through your head when you’re thinking about writing s sermon. This week it was two pig marionettes called Pinky and Perky. The height of sophistication in childhood entertainment when I was a little kid, these pigs would “perform” versions of pop songs of the time in strange squeaky voices. What brought them to mind is that the end of each show they’d have a version of a song by a band called The Scaffold called “Thank You Very Much”. “Thank you very much for playing this record. Thank you very very very much”.
Along with ‘please’, ‘thank you’ is the phrase that most often get learned when people are travelling abroad and want to have a smattering of the language. ‘Merci’ in French, ‘Danke schön’ in German and, in Greek, “Eucharisto”. The word Eucharist that we often use for Communion - for the sacred shared meal of Christianity that took place here last week - springs from this moment in Christs’s institution of it, when he takes the bread, and gives thanks; from this moment when he says thank you to God for the food and the wine that will play such a prominent role in the practice of the Christian faith in the centuries to come.
It’s perhaps a shame that the practice of saying grace before a meal has fallen away. We are fortunate, in a world that knows hunger and starvation, that by and large we never have to wonder where the next meal is coming from, where we can walk into food courts in shopping malls and have the choice of as much as we could possibly eat from the all the cuisines in the world. All of it - all - is the fruit of the harvest; of the growth and of crops, of the husbandry of animals; of sunlight and rain in the right proportions; of the abundance of the Earth, this precious blue pebble spinning in the vastness of space that God has made for us to live in. So come, you thankful people come.
Let us give thanks and reflect that when we forget to be thankful we start to take things for granted. We take it for granted that there will be food on our plates and flavour for our palates. Then it’s easy to forget that there are people for whom such certainty is fragile of non-existent. There are parts of the world where crops fail and famine follows. There are people in this country who, through loss of job or other financial disaster, find themselves queuing at food banks. There are refugees in camps across Lebanon dependent on the generosity of their hosts for survival. It’s easy - so easy - when we take food for granted to forget those who are hungry.
There are those who would say that there is no need to be thankful. They would say that the fruits of the harvest are not the work of God, but the results of the laws of nature. Laws that we, as human beings, can understand and use. For me - as a man of faith and science - the constancy of the laws of nature reflect the constancy of God; a God who created this universe with those laws of nature embedded in it. Laws that mean that on this planet, at just the right distance from the sun, water can evaporate and condense, air can circulate bringing rain to thirsty crops. Lightning can rip through the air producing the nitrates that enrich the soil. Let us be thankful.
More than that he has given us, his children the gifts of intelligence and curiosity to understand those laws of nature that God sang into his creation at its birth. Intelligence that led our ancient ancestors to study the stars and the movements of sun and moon to recognise the seasons for ploughing and planting, for lambing and preserving. Intelligence to find ways of cross-breeding and husbanding that would lead to better yields and less hunger. Intelligence to seek ways of protecting crops and livestock from disease and blight. So come ye thankful people, come.
Let us give thanks and reflect that when we forget to be thankful we start to take things for granted. We take for granted the gifts of intelligence and curiosity and use them, not to find ways of making sure that people don’t go hungry in a world where there is more than enough food for everyone, but to find more effective ways of killing one another. We take this world for granted. Instead of acknowledging that the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, we see it as a mine from which we can plunder its resources, a dumping ground into which we throw our waste, a machine meant only to serve our greed and desire for wealth. Worse, perhaps, we despise the insights of those who use the gift of science to recognise the harm we are doing to this planet.
Maybe that comes from our sense of mortality. Maybe, deep down, we know the harm that we, as a species, are doing to this beautiful and wonderful and fruitful world that God has given us and which supplies all our needs but think, “Aye, but it’ll see me out.” The thing is, though, that we believe that death is not the end. Through the Cross and through the Resurrection we have the promise of eternal life - the promise that one day we will share eternity in the presence of God and we will know how the world has worked out as a result of our choices in our lifetimes. You may think they will be small, but in a world where the beating of a butterfly’s wing in the Amazon can bring storms to our shores, who’s to know?
Come, ye thankful people, come. Let us be thankful. So much that is good in this world comes when we don’t take things for granted - when we recognise that we are fortunate and we wish that good fortune on others. When we recognise that we are fortunate in having more than enough to eat and share the bounty of the harvest with all who need it - when we put cans of food in a food bank, yes, but also when we demand of those in power that they make sure food banks are not required. When we recognise that we are fortunate to live in a world so beautiful that it sometimes takes our breath away and want to make sure we hand it on, still beautiful, to those who come after us. When we recognise that we are blessed by the love of God - a love that sings through creation and which reveals itself in something as simple as a fruit picked from a tree when it is ripe.
All we have springs from that love - a love that has made us and shaped us to be God’s children, meant to share this world with its bounty; to look after one another and make sure that no one goes hungry; to tend this garden that God has given us to live in; to use the insights of intelligence and science to guide us in keeping it beautiful and fruitful for our children and our children’s children. How should we respond to that love? How should we respond to a love that has created a world in which we are fed and clothed, sheltered and warm; that has gifted us with compassion and intelligence, creativity and insight to make sense of this world and make it more fruitful - as good gardeners do. How should we respond to that love if not in gratitude? So come, ye thankful people, come. Raise the song of harvest home and, when we break bread, let us take a moment to say thank you very very very much.
Lord we come in thanksgiving for the fruits of the Earth. We come in thanksgiving for all that we have from your hands. May we share this world’s bounty with all our brothers and sisters - with all your children. May we break the bread and give thanks.
Preached at Gretna Old parish church