Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 4 October, 2020.
• First Reading: Deuteronomy 28: 1-14 (The blessings of obeying the Lord)
• Psalm 19
• Epistle: 2 Corinthians 9: 6-15 (Plea for generosity, in meeting the needs of the Lord’s people)
• Gospel: Luke 17: 11 – 19 (Jesus heals ten lepers)
It is strange how we choose to celebrate the new year in the middle of winter. In the Middle Ages the new year was marked on March 25, Lady Day, while in Judaism the new year starts at harvest time.
The practice of Israel is to hold the New Year in September followed by the Day of Atonement when the emphasis is on reconciliation with one another and with God. Then comes the Feast of Tabernacles, when the harvest is celebrated along with a remembrance of the frailty of life as they live for a week in the flimsiest of field shelters. Then come the day for celebrating the giving of the law.
And our own Easter follows Passover, the beginning of spring and the lambing season, while Pentecost is the celebration of the first fruits of the harvest and the harvest festival is its final ingathering. And all are important for the church.
In this sense our Harvest Festival also looks forward to the final ingathering of the Harvest of the Lord and the inauguration of the physical rule of Jesus in the Kingdom of God.
Our present life and ministry all look forward to that point of Jesus’ coming again.
But there is something else for in Deuteronomy the harvest also looked at the ingathering from the fields and flocks as part of the relationship between Israel and the Lord, as each maintained their faithfulness to the other.
In our lesson, God has promised fruitful harvest as part of His love for His people as they remained faithful to Him in the keeping of His law. Yet the practice of Israel today is to relive the frailty of life and its fragility in the face of enemies abroad and the hazards of the seasons at home. And they have good reason to.
Yet we also have been finding a frailty in life as we have been negotiating the hazards of these times and the regulations intended to make sense of them and protect life.
In this sense giving thanks to God is an act of will in difficult times and as an act of worship, it is demanding and costly. And yet we have been finding in it an authority as we proclaim our trust in God and our defiance of those who might prefer to suppress public worship altogether.
The very act of coming out of our homes and in decorating the church with flowers and the produce of the land is itself a statement of something else that we value above the blandness of exhortations to public safety.
It is a counter-culture in which we also celebrate the things of God, in season and out of it, rain and shine, in plenty and in want. Yes, we are determined to worship the Lord for He alone is worthy of that worship, far above any other secular body.
In Him is the gift of life, the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of everlasting life.
And so we refuse to surrender this faith and this worship, even and perhaps especially when we are not worthy of anything and certainly when our good works can never match the goodness and holiness of God.
And yet our gospel lesson points us to something of the extravagance and the exuberance of God. One of the signs of the Messiah was the healing of lepers, who would have to present themselves to the Chief Priests in Jerusalem for examination and readmission to the community.
The priests would want to know who this person was, and had they been members of their community? Then, had they been lepers and excluded from that community? Next, had they been healed, and if so then how and when?
All of this should alert them to the presence among them of the Messiah, and so to send one healed leper was to send a visiting card to Jerusalem, and we are told in Luke 5: 12 – 15 that this is what had happened. Now Jesus sent 9 of them to Jerusalem, perhaps the theological equivalent of detonating a thunderflash in the reception room of the chief priest. Just in case he was hard of hearing.
But this is also an expression of the Lord’s delight in giving.
It is there especially there when we gather before Him in worship and as we determine to serve Him. If we determine to let Him set the agenda for our lives and for our life as a church.
It is when we keep having reservations and doubts, when we want to keep things back for ourselves, when we want to give half-measure of the second-rate instead of that overflowing measure of what is the first and the best of what we have.
And in this sense the Lord also looks at how we will honour Him in times of difficulty and adversity. It is one thing to give when we have plenty – but it is something else when we give out of our lack.
There is however something else about giving. The more we hoard our wealth, then the more we make ourselves a prisoner to it. We allow its preservation to determine our outlook and our priorities.
But in letting go of it and by releasing ourselves from its hold then we not only declare our independence of it, but we also declare our trust in God to meet us when we really are in need.
In this sense our harvest offering not only states our confidence in the provision of God but it empowers us as we enter that realm of freedom in Him.
This is indeed food for thought as be also begin to think about our own annual meeting and as we reflect on where and how the Lord is leading us in these times.