A Harvest festival sermon based on Matthew 22: 15-22
I always remember this passage (about the ten cured lepers and only one returned to say thank you) being read at a special service for all our families at Mirfield. And when the children were asked why they all hadn’t gone back to thank Jesus, my daughter Claire put her hand up and said, “because he hadn’t asked them to”. This flummoxed the young ordinand for a few seconds before he regained his composure and ploughed on trying to get the response he was looking for. We all had a little laugh of course but....
Now looking back I kind of find myself partly agreeing with Claire. Is that the response that God wants, to find us constantly giving thanks and praise to God, for in the church those two words are joined at the hip – thanks and praise – or would he be far more satisfied by us simply enjoying what we had been given and enjoying it to the full, as the other nine cured lepers did?
After all, thanks and praise are not needed by God, he is complete in himself, but do we need them?
At the Harvest festival for Gainford school here on Friday, I noted that as we get older we tend to lose our capacity for wonder and awe at the world we live in. We are so busy, so distracted, so worried about the future in many respects, that the ability to just stop, just stop and notice the intense beauty all around us is lost.
When was the last time you just looked up on a clear cold night at the millions and millions of stars, contemplating the enormity of the universe, and realising that I, the one doing the looking am an integral part of it all. Mind blowing.
Or when did you last stop and notice the beauty of the river right on our doorstep, sometimes nearly dry sometimes a torrent in all weathers, the trees, the heron, the ducks, cows, horses and the donkey. Do we just give ourselves time to just stop and take it all in?
Gainford is surrounded by productive farmland, animals and crops, the fruitfulness of the earth is staggering. We are surrounded in church today by products produced by this bountiful earth from all around the world.
Jesus once said that to enter the kingdom of God you had to become like a child. Meaning not childish, but childlike. Part of becoming childlike I would say is recapturing a lost sense of awe and wonder – to be able to just rest in it, enjoy it, because in enjoying it you are deepening your experience of life by appreciating the world around you.
And here’s the rub. In communing with nature and beauty and appreciating the fruitfulness of the earth, we are actually also communing with God, for God communicates with us through things, through matter, through the ordinary physical world in which we live.
If it wasn’t that way there is no way we could commune with God through eating bread and drinking wine. We commune with God through the ordinary made extraordinary by realising the sacred presence of God in all things. I often say that in the Eucharist we are drawing back the veil on the reality of all matter and existence – that truly God is present in all things – and what is true for the bread and wine is true for us and for nature and the natural world in all its beauty and diversity.
A celebration of nature and the fruitfulness of the earth should fill us with wonder and awe. I believe that in enjoying and communing with creation we are already honouring the creator perhaps in the very best way possible, which puts us all, both inside and outside the church, with the nine cured lepers. But we, inside the church are like the one who returned to Jesus to say thank you. We go just that one step further, not because God needs it or requires it, but because we need to, because our faith is built on a relationship with the divine, and in a relationship, if it is to grow and deepen we need to communicate, we need to talk, and sometimes we need to say thank you when we have been given something wonderful.