Harvest and Stone Soup

On Sunday 11th October, Adrian preached at St Peter’s Church at their harvest celebration, speaking on Joel 2: 21-27, 1 Timothy 2: 1-7, Matthew 6: 25-33. Here are his words:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, for you are our rock and redeemer. Amen.

The readings today, particularly the Gospel, speak to the natural human instinct to worry, the huge abundance of Gods grace and how this should be shared and the priorities that we have in life, all of which I will speak on but first I wish to tell you a story. It is a traditional folktale that some of you will probably know but it touches on the harvest theme and sharing of gifts very well.

Once upon a time on a cold and wet afternoon a weary monk was travelling along a road trying to find a place to rest his weary body and to have some food because he’d been walking for some time and hadn’t been able to eat or drink. At last he came upon a village and decided that he wold ask the inhabitants if they could spare some food for him and somewhere to rest for a bit. He went to the first house and asked if they has any food and drink for a weary monk. They looked at him rather suspiciously and told him that unfortunately the harvest had been poor and they only had enough to feed their own children, so the monk move onto the next house and knocked on the door. “Do you have any food to spare for a hungry monk?” he said, but he received a similar response. “The rain’s been very poor before harvest and we ourselves haven’t been able to eat for three days” they replied. By this point the monk was concerned, not only for himself, but in fact, for the plight of the whole village.

He sat down in the village square and started to think. The villagers came out to observe what this stranger was doing. In the end the monk for up and addressed the village “Dear people, I am concerned for your plight and the struggle for food, and I am hungry. I, therefore, am going to make us all some stone soup. There should be enough for all of us but first I will need a big pot of water and three large smooth stones.” The villagers were fascinated by the idea of stone soup and also that they might get some food, so some went off to get a pot large enough for the soup. They came back with the biggest they could find and then went to fetch some water. The pot required a lot of water to fill it and so the villagers got together with their pales, filled them with water from the well and the pot was filled in no time. The monk thanked them and asked two of them to find three large, smooth, stones and asked the others to fetch enough wood to create a fire and light it under the pot.

The river Gavenny was nearby so it didn’t take long for the villagers to find the stones and other villagers managed to get a fire going. The monk then, once the water had boiled, put in the stones into the pot and said “The stones you got are wonderful and should add plenty of flavour to the water, however it would be wrong to have soup without any seasoning. Would it be possible to find some salt and pepper?” People at this pint were enjoying the comradery building up through working together and also getting excited by the end product of their labours that they were more than happy to carry on lending a hand, so the daughter of one of the villagers went off to fetch some salt and pepper. “Hmm…” said the monk “but if could do with bulking up a bit. I realise times are hard but if you could find a few carrots, cabbages and potatoes it would make al the difference.” Several villagers got together and worked out how they could contribute to ensure the stone soup got what it needed. They even managed to get some chicken bones for a stock. A while later the soup was ready and it tasted wonderful, and everyone enjoyed themselves. There was even enough for a second helping.

I brought this tale up because it covers the underlying message of the Gospel, and also the Epistle, perfectly. It is natural for humans to worry about things such as how they are going to pay their bills?, is my job safe?, how can I stay in fashion?, Now I’m old how can I stay independent?, who’s going to care for me once my husband/wife has died?, and many other concerns.   The villagers in the tale were so worried about their food situation they didn’t feel able to invite a an of God under their roof, (by no means am I angling for an invite, I’m well cared for!), and Jesus understands our earthly concerns but says in response to them he says “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or about your body – what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” He is, through this, challenging us to think about our priorities. Later on in the Gospel Jesus makes it abundantly clear by saying “Strive first the Kingdom of God”, put God at the centre and recognise all comes from him. This is not some abstract notion form a God who only acts externally to our being, not is it a call to cut ourselves off from the real world, what it is saying is to no longer focus on self serving anxieties but to recognise that actually all that we cherish materially also comes from God. Once we recognise what we have isn’t ours by right but a gift from God, then we appreciate it more and want to share it with others.

If we go back to the story of stone soup briefly, on their own the villagers were struggling to survive after a bad harvest but through the work of the monk they were able to come together and prepare a feast. God does provide sufficient for us too live but are we happy to share? Are we happy with what God has created? You go to the supermarket and everything that is not aesthetically pleasing does not get put on the shelves. Are we really putting God at the centre of our lives? Many around the world struggle to produce enough to live on, are we willing to share our excess and pay a fair price? Are you willing to buy fair-trade products and donate to your local food bank? This is not an abstract notion, it is also practical. Similarly God is not some abstract being, the Gospel tells us how he looks after the birds and flowers, he is wanting an intimate relationship, as our father he is involved and understands all parts of our life, we can’t manage on our own, we depend on God and those around us to survive.

Today we, as the villagers did in the story, come together to celebrate what God has given us and in fellowship share that and our gifts with each other – both in what we do and in time we share at harvest lunch. A time that should be of celebration. The message, however, is not just for today at harvest time but is a symbol of how to live our lives day by day and I leave you with the question I posed earlier, are we happy to put God at the centre of our lives? Are we happy to share Gods gifts to us with the rest of our communities and the world? What more can we do?

And to him be all the glory and praise, world without end. Amen.

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