Sunday, 27 September 2009

Harvest Sunday, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

James 5:1-6
Every year our diocese recommends a particular Sunday when we give thanks to God for the harvest, which this year is today.

When we think of what it is that we have to thank God for, I know that there are many of you here who quite understandably feel that you have less to thank God for this year than you did last year: this recession, even if we are now supposedly now coming out of it, this recession has been a tough year for a great many people. It can sometimes be easy to thank God when we are in plenty; but nonetheless, thanking God when we have less can give us a new opportunity to re-focus and purify the thanks that we give. And thanking God is a good thing for at least three reasons: its helps our own happiness, it opposes jealousy, it helps us grow in love and opens us to the needs of our neighbour.

As a basic level, when life is tough, stopping to give thanks to God for the good things we have, is one of the ways that we can remind ourselves that there ARE still some good things in our life, and this can help our general happiness. Thanking God in the midst of difficulty helps lift us out of ourselves and out of self-pity.

Thinking of jealousy, our first reading (Num 11:25-29) and Gospel (Mk 9:38-18) both referred to a specific example of jealousy: and jealousy is when we see somebody else having something good, and instead of being happy that other person, we feel SAD because they have something good, typically because we somehow imagine that their possession is the cause of our lack (as St Thomas Aquinas says in his Summa Theologica, II-II, q36, a1).
Jealousy, however, is a self-defeating vice, it just leads to anger and resentment. And thanking God for the good things that we have is a remedy for jealousy because it turns our eye towards the good things we, rather than spitefully being turned towards the good things others have.

Now, that said, if jealousy is sadness at the holding the good enjoyed by another, there is nonetheless a RIGHTEOUS form of ANGER when we behold somebody selfishly refusing to share their goods with others, or selfishly being the direct reason that someone else does not have things they need. In our second reading, we heard St James warning the rich: He warned the rich that misery was coming to them, coming to them because they had not cared for the poor, they had lived “a life of comfort and luxury", they had stored up an EARTHLY treasure, but for the Day of judgement, "it was a burning fire that you stored as your treasure”. For the rich, giving thanks is also an important remedy for avoiding this "burning fire":

When we thank God, for whatever form of riches we have, we recall that the gifts we have are in fact gifts, they are from Him –even if we have made the most of them and developed them through our hard work. One of the things that means is that they are not just for ourselves. When my little nephews get given gifts at Christmas they need to be reminded that they need to let their other siblings play with them. We, too, as Christians, need to remember that we need to share, and remembering that our gifts ultimately come from God helps remind us that we too must be generous in our giving. We have a collection for various worthwhile agencies both at harvest time and during Lent, but these collections should be part of an ongoing giving in our lives. Having the habit of thanking God is an important way of reminding ourselves of the need to share our gifts –to use our gifts well.

So, I have said that thanking God helps our own happiness by reminding us of the good things we have, it opposes jealousy by turning our eyes away from the envious looking at other people's goods, and it helps us grow in charity by reminding us that the God who gives expects us to give too. But, at one level, these reasons are all secondary: the REAL reason that we need to give thanks to God, and to thank Him for the gifts of the harvest even when our personal form of ‘harvest’ is smaller than we would like, is because all good things come from God and giving thanks is the smallest acts of justice that we owe Him.

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