Monday, October 09, 2006

8 October 2006 - Faith and a Thankful Heart

Texts: Matthew 6:24-33 and Deuteronomy 26:1-11

I can give short sermons!!! This is a short sermon for Harvest Festival. I used two variations of this in two different congregations. In one congregation, a family worship service also included a skit about "trying to serve two masters". The other congregation had a free-form discussion on the bible passages and then I offered this as a "thought for the day". Both services included Holy Communion.

Faith and a Thankful Heart

We have come together today, as a church family – like the ancient Israelites – to celebrate the harvest and to give thanks for all the blessings that God has given us over this past year.

The passage that we just heard from Deuteronomy is the set reading for the Jewish people as they celebrate their Spring Harvest, which is the harvest of grain. I asked you to listen to the words that the people say as the priest takes the basket of grain from them to offer at the altar. It may seem like a strange thing to say at a harvest festival: to recite the story of the Jewish fathers.

The Jewish religion says that this text is actually a creed of faith. How interesting! It’s very different from our own apostles’ or Nicene creeds, where we recite the doctrines that we believe about our faith.

This creed is actually a statement about what God has done for the Jewish people. God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and led them to the land of milk and honey. This is a creed which proclaims the goodness of God and the generosity of God. Everyone in the land from the priest to the foreigner is invited to come and take part in the celebration and to celebrate the fact that God is good!

When you think about it, if anyone has a right to complain to God and to think of God as unjust and unloving, it is the Jewish people. This is the people who were enslaved in Egypt. The people who were scape-goated during the Inquisition. The people who were slaughtered in the Pogroms. The people who were gassed in the concentration camps. The people of whom many mis-informed Christians today are happy to say “killed Jesus”.

This is the people who every year recite as their creed that God is good to them and that God blesses them.

Rather than reciting their history from the point of view of “God has been good to us and blessed us”, they could recite their history from a “glass half empty” perspective: That story might go like this: A self-important leader named Moses who thought he was God’s gift to Israel, led us out of Egypt into the wilderness where we were homeless and starving. Our people were almost wiped off the face of the earth.

For a Jew to stand in the synagogue and to recite that God has done nothing but good for the Jewish people requires an act of genuine faith. To stand in the church as a Christian and to recite that God cares for every human being and that he takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field also requires an act of genuine faith.

Don’t tell any church leader, but I actually think that this is a greater act of faith than reciting a list of doctrines about the Trinity.

Without faith, it is easy to see life from the perspective of the glass that is half-empty. There are many people in this world who will tell you that they don’t believe in God because, if God really existed, there wouldn’t be wars and famines and drought. Without faith, it is easy to look at all that we have and to be profoundly unthankful for these things.

In the Deuteronomy passage, the focus of the harvest festival is giving thanks to God. The focus is God himself, not the worldly concerns of accumulating grain for the store-room.

In the Matthew reading, the long and poetic creed about the God who cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the fields is preceded by the statement that no-one can serve two masters. We cannot serve God and “money” – or any other things of the world. Either God in Christ is the focus of our lives or worldly concerns are the focus of our lives.

As we come together in this Holy Communion to celebrate our harvest thanksgiving, I would like to encourage you to remember that thanksgiving is at the heart of worship. In order to put God at the centre of our lives, we must continue to always and everywhere give him thanks.

In a few minutes, we will share together in the Lord’s Supper, in the Communion meal. Communion is the great celebration of Christ in the centre of human community. It is a sacrament where we recognise that we, as the church community, are the body of Christ. But it is also a sacrament where Christ is here, among us, feeding us with his very presence and giving us strength for our journey.

In many traditions, it is customary, as part of the offering, for members of the congregation to offer bread and wine and to physically bring them to the communion table. This bread and this wine, along with our offerings of money, are our offering back to God from the fruits of his creation, We bring the bread and the wine with a joyful heart in a context of thanksgiving and worship to be transformed into our spiritual food as we celebrate Christ’s commandment to do this in memory of him.

So, as you prepare your hearts to receive the feast of life at the Lord’s Table, bring to the Lord your offerings of praise and worship. Bring your offerings in faith. Bring your offerings with joy. Bring your offerings with thanksgiving.

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