Preaching today at Holy Trinity Church, Baker Street the Sub Prior, Fr Tom Bates launched the campaign to re launch the churches book library
Remembering that Jesus said “the harvest is rich, but the labourers are few he said:
Within the greater scheme of things the rich man in the parable today (Luke 12.13-21) has lost the plot. He has all the peripheral things sorted: his wealth, his crops, abundant possessions, but he has neglected the most important thing of all: his life. The medium by which he can access and enjoy all his hard gotten gains, the one factor he cannot control or influence, is taken away: demanded of him just like that, turning all his hard work into worthless vanity. ‘This very night your life is being demanded of you’ God says: Stand and deliver, your money or your life! Well, God is not interested in our worldly wealth, but our lives belong to him, and he demands them of us not just at their earthly end, but every day of our earthly existence. That is why we’re here at the Eucharist, surely? To return to God, to know his pardon and peace, and to be reunited with him once more in Holy Communion.
So what does it mean to have life?
In the reading from Ecclesiastes the character of the teacher: Quoheleth laments the worthlessness of things. The worthlessness of material things and the observation that ‘all is vanity and chasing after the wind’.(Cheerful!) Should we, like Quoheleth give our hearts up to despair? In fairness to the teacher our lectionary today has chosen a particular passage which makes him sound like a bit of an Eeyore. He actually goes on to contrast his bleak observations about worldly ways with ones about how joy in life comes from heavenly things.
We can see that today in our readings. The teacher tells us that earthly things are worthless, and St Paul tells us that we are ‘to seek the things that are above’ because our life is not in worldly things, our future is not in worldly things, but is ‘hidden with Christ in God’. Like the rich man in Jesus’ story your life is demanded of you. Not just one day in the future, but here and now. God has plans for you. As the hymn by George Matheson says: ‘O Love that wilt not let me go,I rest my weary soul in thee;I give thee back the life I owe,That in thine ocean depths its flow May richer, fuller be.’
Our wealth, our fulfillment is not in the culture which surrounds us: Ours is the pearl of great price, that hidden treasure, which demands of us that we go and sell everything to possess it. So life is the dynamism, the potential power we have to write our fate. It is a limited economy, the five talents or so that we are given to go away and do something with. At the end of our earthly lives when our life is demanded of us in death that dynamism, our potential is complete. Like an exam, we put down our pens a the papers are collected by the invigilator. We have done what we can with what we have been given, in the time we have been allotted, and will be judged accordingly. We have written our fate and can do no more. Like the rich man in today’s parable, our fate is sealed. He has wasted the exam time sharpening all his pencils and thinking about getting a bigger pencil case but hasn’t actually written anything on the paper. All the potential he has to do good: His crops, his barns, his money, all good gifts which could help so many,can do nothing for him now. It’s the old expression ‘when you have more than you need don’t bring higher walls but a longer table’. God has given this man everything but he is so obsessed with protecting the means, walking along with his head in his wallet, that he completely loses sight of the ends.
In the bible the imagery of the heart is used to describe the hidden centre of the person. The place deep within from which all our thoughts, our actions our very essence of being proceed. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart’ says Jesus, for they shall see God. Sometimes we are divided within ourselves when we say ‘My head says this, but my heart says something else’. I wonder when you are in that situation which you usually end up following? In the parable the rich man has a greedy heart. Material possessions have consumed him.
On September 22nd, (next month), we will be celebrating our annual harvest festival. Harvest is an occasion in the church calendar when we come together to celebrate the gifts that God has given to us, largely the gifts that are essential for our health and wellbeing. Having grown up in a small village I remember harvest time as being an opportunity to reach out to the local community, to engage with our local farms and producers, and to give something of the good things we have received back to God in helping causes that spoke to us of who our neighbours were.
However harvest today looks very different: in 2004 the Trussel Trust launched its foodbank franchise initiative across the country in response to the growing numbers of those in need in our communities, and the fresh produce people had grown themselves and decorated as an offering of thanksgiving to God was replaced by the necessary long life goods that such foodbanks required. This is important and good work for the church to be involved with, however, by meeting a necessity what that has done is taken the element of food production and it’s celebration and thanksgiving away from our first hand experience. What we give to help others has to be governed by food hygiene regulations and manufacturers guidelines, as we would expect, but it has taken the celebration of harvest from being something of the work of our own hands to the more consumerist model of what we can buy with our own hands, and celebrating how fortunate we are to be able to have the choice and to be able to buy those things in our local shop.
This has been mirrored in the life of our town. A town that has grown up around agriculture has lost it’s heart: it’s cattle market, and replaced it with a big shop: a step away from being producers to being consumers.
When we sat down with the mission and outreach group after the joint wardens meeting last September we set to talking about and trying to understand why there seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm for harvest across our churches. Having served in two post industrial towns Abergavenny to me felt very different, yet, like those post industrial towns it too is trying to come to an understanding of what it is for, and what is at its heart. Jesus says ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’. Where is our treasure as a town, as a community?
For me I think our churches are where our treasure is. In Matthew Jesus talks about the harvest being plentiful but the laborors being few, saying that we should pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborours into the harvest. Nurturing that crop is the mission of the church and therefore this harvest I would like us to focus on that.
Jesus uses lots of rural and agricultural imagery in his teaching to talk about the life of the believer. He used language and metaphors which the people around him would be able to relate to and understand as they grew in faith and in their understanding about the kingdom of heaven.
We have been very blessed as a church congregation to have the benefit of the church library to act as fertiliser to grow our roots in the faith. I believe that it was an initiative Gwyneth set up following her background in bookselling. As a PCC earlier in the year we were asked to revue the library, and we decided that we would like to keep it, but many of the books had started to look a little dated and perhaps it was in need of re-freshing, and as you all know you were asked earlier in the year to help ‘weed’ that patch and I’m very grateful to Tania for the time she has put in to sorting it out. (There may not look like there are many left, but I have been asked by someone local if they could borrow one, so it is working)
So what we need now are some more books to nurture discipleship and to grow the harvest in this place, and we don’t just need surplus books, we need resources that have been tried and tested and have done you some good in your growth as a Christian. Books which you would be happy to recommend, not only to your friends here, but to people might come here on their first steps of discipleship. That is the sort of harvest I want us to think about this year. If each of you was prepared to make your harvest offering a book which has meant something to you on your Christian journey then we would have a library adequately equipped for nurturing and growing Christ’s harvest here in this place.
Now this could work three ways:
There are those of you who, since I’ve mentioned it, will have a book straight in mind that you think all Christians should read. It’s been so significant to you on your journey that you perennially buy multiple copies to give to people. If you have a copy and would like to give it, then that is fantastic.
You know what you would like to give as your harvest offering book, but you don’t have a spare copy: please write it on the sheet and I can order it for you.
You feel overwhelmed at being asked: That’s okay. I have produced a list of books which I think it would be good to have in the library, and if you would like to donate one of those I can order that title for you.
The books will all be dedicated with a bookplate and we’ll be able to bless and dedicate the new library on our harvest festival next month as we offer to him our gratitude for how these titles have been vehicles of God’s grace bearing fruit in our own lives. We will be able to move forward in the knowledge that we are equipped as a church to declare this place the place where our hearts and our treasure are, and to build up our brothers and sisters and new believers, and to send them out into the harvest.