THANKSGIVING SUN Aspley 28 August 2019
SERMON by the Rev Terry Booth
Each morning Fr Nicholas and I begin our daily prayers with this prayer;
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day,
so may the light of your presence, O God,
set our hearts on fire with love for you;
now and for ever. Amen.
Oh God, as we rejoice in the gift of this new day, and perhaps at my age I pray this a bit more fervently than Fr Nicholas, it reminds us, and reinforces for us, that not only is the new day a gift of God, but life itself. So you can see my added motivation for rejoicing, not only for the new day, but for the gift, the gift of life and all it holds. It reminds us, and grounds us in a right perspective of all we so often take for granted; it reminds us that each new day, and all life is a gift of our God; God the source of all being. As I wake up each morning, this prayer focuses me on my God and what God is doing, and not, as our contemporary society so fervently promotes, our selves and what I am doing.
Then our prayer prompts our response, or perhaps reminds us of what our response to the gift of the new day, and of life should be; As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence O God, set our hearts on fire with love for you and one another.
So if I were to have a text for today it would be that; O God, in response to your gracious and generous gift of this day and the life to live it, SET OUR HEARTS ON FIRE WITH LOVE, that we may reflect you in all we do, that we may live this new day gratefully and generously to your praise and your glory.
Let me state at the very beginning, Thanksgiving Sunday, and all that goes with it, commitment and stewardship of our time, talents and treasure is a spiritual exercise and not a pragmatic exercise in keeping the ship afloat Thanksgiving Sunday, as the name evokes, questions our attitude to notions of the gift of this new day, and the gift of life and all it holds. Thanksgiving Sunday prompts the question we all need to face: How much do I love God, not how much time, talents and treasure I can afford. It further challenges the notion of ownership of all that I am and all that I have; my response to the things given to us, the fruits of the earth, and indeed the earth itself; given gifts to us, to sustain the gift of life.
The OT reading is the last of the covenant obligations listed in this section of Deuteronomy. In its context it is part of the Exodus story where God rescues his people and covenants, or more accurately, re-covenants his relationship with them, and lays down the law about how they should live and relate as covenant people. Quite simple, I will be your God and you will be my people; now this is what I expect of you. It starts so easily with the big 10, but then as in the 14 chapters preceding today’s lection, the expectation gets expanded and refined. This continues into the books of Leviticus and Numbers. In fact the Torah, the complete first five books of the bible enshrines the body of law, the rules governing the behaviour of covenant life. Today’s reading then focuses on one subsection, first fruits of the harvest season.
The rationale here is that land given to these previously landless wandering shepherds, this land flowing with milk and honey, ie prime agricultural land, this ground on which they now lived had been re-appropriated and gifted for the exclusive use of God’s people. In a sense, Yahweh was the proprietor of the promised land, and the people beneficial tenants. Like all land owners the owner had certain rights to what the land produced. Here in today’s passage we have the proscription of what is due in thanksgiving. A thanksgiving offering not only for life sustaining fruit of the earth, but for the gift of life itself, the new life freely given through the gracious saving from slavery. In this ritual act they acknowledge the sovereignty of God over them, and their covenant obligations, their thanksgiving offerings to their God. Their offerings then are more than the practical matter of sustaining the temple ministry and the ritualistic life of their community, but an acknowledgement of, and spiritual reaffirmation of themselves as the covenant people of God. I think that Fr Nicholas got it right when he began this little pilgrimage with you by reminding you of who you are, God’s covenant people through your baptism, and challenging you on what that really means to you. Ultimately asking you HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE GOD, and how much of your selves and accumulations, your treasure belong to God.
In a sense then, the admonition to generosity give to a separate relief appeal in Corinthians, seems out of context. It seems to be appealing to the recipients to respond in a practical way. It is appealing to the Corinthians to share generously of what they have, where as the first fruits is seen as an obligation and giving to God what is rightfully Gods. This appeal is more about what they could afford. It’s about left overs, it’s giving from the bottom, not the top like the first fruits. But I can see a deeper principle here also. Paul is really giving a spiritual perspective to what he is asking. Give generously as God has given generously. Reflect God in all you do, for “the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” And “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” This principle reaches into our generosity of our time, talents and treasure each day.
The Gospel reading about greed strikes at the very heart of life’s accumulation. It extends that notion of what’s Gods. I suspect that this parable of the farmer accumulating an over abundant harvest is well known. Jesus begins with the admonition “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Now I am aware that even the mention of possessions can make some twitchy. But here Jesus is challenging more than the things I personally accumulate. He is challenging the attitudes toward such things. He refers to all kinds of greed. Greed is about putting self first. Greed abrogates the very foundations not only of OT covenants, but the new covenant that we celebrate in the Eucharist, and the new commandment “- that you love one another as I have loved you”. Love is about giving away, greed is about hoarding and keeping. Love is about sharing what has been so freely bestowed on us through the God who is love personified. Greed is about some misguided perception that something is mine, and I have every right to build a bigger barn and keep it for myself. Love is about the other, greed is about the self. So this thanksgiving Sunday, we are reminded to “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” It asks, do we really OWN the accumulation of our life, not only our possessions, but our social and community status. All that stuff that paints the picture of who we think we are. Does it.? And is Jesus right on the money and our sense of ownership when he said “Watch, be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for life does not consist of possessions.” And likewise when he said to the hoarding farmer “You fool. This very night the demand will be made for your soul, and this hoard of yours, your life’s accumulation, whose will it be then.” And then a little later “You must not set your hearts on the things of this world, ……no set your hearts on his kingdom………..get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you. ……for where ever your treasure, your real treasure is, that is where your heart will be too.
So I ask you this on this your Faith Community Thanksgiving Festival, where is your true treasure, where is your heart, HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE GOD, and how important to you is the life, ministry and mission of this covenant community in its witness and proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
Gracious saving and generous God, As we rejoice in the gift of this day, may the light of your presence set our hearts on fire with love for you and one another.