Eternal God, you crown the year with your goodness and you give us the fruits of the earth in their season: grant that we may use them to your glory, for the relief of those in need and for our own well-being; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
2 Corinthians 9: 6 – 16
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures for ever.’
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Normally, at a Harvest Thanksgiving Service, I would preach on themes such as the wonder of creation, or the fruitfulness of the earth, or God’s call to the world to steward it with care and to share its gifts with justice, love and equity. These are the themes I would normally explore in my homily at a Harvest service. Today, however, I thought I’d take another theme, a theme to be found in the title of today’s service, the theme of thanksgiving, saying thank you, showing appreciation for everything we have received. In today’s reading from Second Corinthians we are told quite explicitly to be thankful, to give thanks. So, for the next minute or so, that’s precisely what we’re all going to do. We’re going to bring to mind some of the things for which we personally are thankful and we’re going to hold them, in gratitude, in the forefront of our minds. Take that time now in silence.
OK. Having gathered your thanksgivings I’d now like you to imagine waking up tomorrow morning and ONLY having around you the things you gave thanks for today. Imagine they are all that you’ve got now. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Makes you much more grateful, doesn’t it? Maybe it even makes you wish you had been a little more expansive in what you gave thanks for when you had the chance!
Everybody reading this will, I’m sure, be well brought up. Like me, you will have been taught to say please and thank you. My mother would have cuffed ma lug if I omitted to say please and thank you! She was a real stickler for niceties like that. In fact, she used to make me spend the days after Christmas or my birthday writing thank you letters to people who’d given me presents. When I got a bit older she would get me to phone them to thank them. These days, I still practise that old habit, but now I do it via email or text message. Unfortunately it’s a custom that has gone out of fashion in many quarters. And that, to me, is very sad.
Sad? Because I believe giving thanks is an important part of life. It’s part of what makes us whole as human beings. It puts us into relationship with each other and shows that we value the gifts that relationship brings. We receive from each other and it feels good, so we say thank you; and because it feels good, we give back to others and are thanked in turn.
That’s how it works with us. But that’s also how it works with God. God’s very nature is one of love, of generosity, of giving, of great abundance. Our God desires nothing more than to give us everything we need – and more – much, much more. But the trouble is, we forget to ascribe everything we have to the generosity of our God and to give thanks for it. We are so caught up with enjoying all that we have that we forget to pause and give thanks. We forget to bring God into the equation and to give God the glory God is due. We forget to do what Jesus tells us to do in the Gospels – “to look at the birds of the sky” and “to consider the lilies”, in other words to be intentional about our lives, intentional about giving thanks.
Of course, it’s easy to give thanks when everything is hunky dory and going well. It’s a lot harder when life takes a down turn and things start going badly. But scripture tells us to give thanks in ALL circumstances and not to worry. We don’t have to give thanks FOR all circumstances, but IN all circumstances. When giving thanks, the focus isn’t on the circumstances, because these change all the time. The focus is on God, who never changes. Whether life is a breeze or a struggle God still loves us and continues to shower us with blessings. We just have to train ourselves to look for them and to acknowledge them intentionally and to thank God for them.
In one of her books, the Dutch Christian writer, Corrie Ten Boom, told the story of the time she spent in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp along with her sister Betsie. They were imprisoned there for helping terrified Jews to hide during the holocaust. Throughout their time in Ravensbruck they managed to keep one possession – a bible, which they read and cherished every single day. Conditions in the camp were atrocious. There was little food, there were no comforts. All there was was filth, stink… and fleas. The beds were jumping with them. Corrie and Betsie were constantly getting bitten by them and having to scratch themselves sore. But every night, they would read their precious bible and pray that they wouldn’t be discovered doing so. One night they came to the passage we heard today, the one with Paul’s exhortation to “be thankful in all circumstances”. And like we did at the beginning they paused for a moment to think of things to be thankful for. They thanked God for each other, for being able to read the bible, for being alive. And then Betsie said: “we should also give thanks for the fleas”. Corrie was horrified. As far as she was concerned, that was a step too far! But Betsie insisted. And so, grudgingly, Corrie gave thanks for the fleas too! About a month later Betsie came to Corrie and said: “you know how we’ve always wondered why the guards don’t come into our dormitory, and why they don’t search our beds, and why we have managed to have the freedom to read our bible every night? Well, it’s because the guards are afraid of being infested with “fleas”. It’s because of the fleas that we are able to read our bible and pray together. I told you we had to give thanks for them!
So, like Corrie and Betsie, let us too count our blessings every day and give thanks to God for them. Although it’s easier to focus on the curses in our lives, that just leads to discontentedness and dissatisfaction with our lot and makes us, and everyone around us, miserable. If we look instead to our blessings and attribute the gift of them to God we will experience a contentment and a satisfaction that will radiate from us in an infectious way and, deep within, we’ll acquire the unshakeable assurance that God is with us always in every circumstance of life.
Lord God, as we give you thanks, at this time of harvest, for the many gifts and blessings we enjoy, so we remember that many people are less fortunate than ourselves and we pray for them, that their hopes may come to fruition and their needs be met.
We thank you for the peace we enjoy in our land and in our times. And we remember countries that are war or locked in civil conflict. We particularly call to mind the situations in The Yemen, Libya and Syria. We pray for peace for the people there and offer ourselves as peacemakers and peacekeepers in our own circumstances and ways.
We thank you for warm, safe houses to live in and for plentiful supplies of food to eat. We remember people who have no roof over their head and no food in their stomach in Sudan and Myanmar. We pray for a sharing of the earth’s rich resources to help them in their plight and we commit ourselves to have a special care for the homeless and hungry in our region of Clydesdale.
We thank you for the church, for the gospel it bears and the sacraments it shares and for the freedom we have to worship you without fear. We pray for Christians in North Korea and China who are persecuted for their faith, and we ask you to give them grace, strength and resilience in their circumstances. And give us grateful hearts for your presence with us at all times.
We thank you for our community, for its hospitals, care homes, schools and Foodbanks. We pray for our sick: Christine, Ian, Les, Margaret, Sam, Olive, Chris, Bill, Ann, John, Avril, Helga, Colin and Margaret. We ask for healing and wholeness for them.
We thank you for the hope we carry within us of eternal life in heaven after our life here is over. We commend to you the soul of Tommy, who has died recently, and give thanks for the lives of Gordon and Ian, whose years minds fall this coming week. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Lord God, accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.