Sunday, 30 September 2012

Harvest Songs of Praise - Homily

A summary of the homily at our Harvest Songs of Praise, St John's, NW4, 29th September

When I trained as a priest I did so alongside a load of people who, for some reason, were fans of ABBA. As a consequence, for three years of my life in my early twenties, I was exposed to the output of the Swedish pop legends to a greater extent than is sensible for any human being. The lyrics of most of their songs are etched indelibly into my mind.

This became frighteningly apparent when I was saying Morning Prayer this morning. Because today is not only the day on which we celebrate the harvest here at St John's, it is also Michaelmas - the feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the great archangels we read about in scripture. So there was a lot of stuff in the Office about angels. Suddenly, after one psalm, horribly and involuntarily, the words came into my head, "I believe in angels, something good in everything I see".

We certainly do believe in angels. That is why we celebrate Michaelmas. Do we also believe in something good in everything we see?

The answer should be "yes". We read in the book of Genesis, "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. Everything that exists does so because of God. God is the reason why there is something rather than nothing at all. This is what the Church means when it speaks about Creation - not a rival theory to those suggested by science: of course we should believe our best theories of evolutionary biology and cosmology. No, by "Creation" we mean our conviction that everything, at the deepest level, for every moment of its existence, is loved into being by God. Everything - not just the flowers and trees we sing about at harvest time, not just the rural idyll beloved by Victorian hymn writers, but also the world of our day-to-day life in our 21st century city. The world in which we live, work, and play is created and loved by God. And however much we mess it up with our oppression, our injustice, and our violence, a core goodness remains precisely because of Creation - our Catholic tradition has never been prepared to accept that the blot of human sin can ever fully obscure the goodness of Creation.

The created order is good. And we should give thanks for it.

Harvest supper at St John's

But let's think about what is involved in giving thanks. Part of it is saying thank you, of course. But that's not enough. Suppose you bought me a Christmas present - I merely note that the Season is three months away. Let's say you bought me a bottle of premium gin. I'd say thankyou - I was well brought up. But if I then went straight home and used the gin to unblock my drains I would not be behaving in a thankful way. I would not be receiving the gift in the way it was intended, as a sign of your good-will towards me, intended to be drunk and enjoyed. I would be treating it, and by extension you, in a casual way.

Likewise, it is not enough to say thank you to God for the created order. How we use that order matters, because whether we use it well is the litmus test of whether we are genuinely thankful. And it has to be said that the human race does not use the created order well. We do not, systematically, use it so that we may flourish collectively. It is a disgrace that in a world of plenty people starve. It is a disgrace that, as we will hear later with our Christian Aid appeal, people are denied access to the land they need to live. And it is, I should, add an absolute disgrace that in a country as rich as ours, people are dependent on charity in order to survive.

Sometimes people are suspicious of Harvest being used to promote social concern. They suspect, I think, that it is the kind of thing thought up by trendy vicars in the 1970s. Now I am very much opposed to trendy vicars of all periods, but I think the connection between thankfulness and justice is an important one, and for that matter a deeply traditional one. Do we want to be thankful? In which case, we should pray and work for a world which promotes human flourishing. We have no other choice, because thankful children do not misuse their Father's gifts.

So let's commit ourselves anew to struggling for God's Kingdom of plenty until that Day when justice is done, peace reigns, and we - with all those angels in whom we firmly believe - give perfect thanks to the one Creator God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To him be glory for ever. Amen.

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