Sermon Harvest Festival 18 September 2022 – the Vicar

We are keeping harvest today, because I have sense that the late Queen and the King would approve. Not only country people at heart, they and the Duke of Edinburgh have had shared and complementary visions of the need for respect for our planet and the systems which enable food production and biodiversity. Without meaning to detract from the seriousness of the death of the Queen, and her funeral tomorrow, it seems right to proceed with our Harvest celebrations now, and I shall defer to thoughts expressed by the King in a major and very considered speech he gave in 2021, as the world leader with the longest track record on this subject.

Just a few personal words about harvests. My earliest memories are of the cider apple harvest.

Apples and Somerset are almost synonymous. Our garden had a small orchard which adjoined that of a neighbour, my grandparents had a historic cider apple orchard which could almost have been listed, with rare varieties, and my father worked for a firm which doesn’t exist anymore, but you may remember, Taunton Cider, which marketed rather substandard ciders Dry Blackthorn and Autumn Gold.

In these early memories I was always perched on tractor somewhere, as apples from different orchards were loaded on to be taken and pressed. The taste of raw cider apple is a bracing one. Very acid, they are not like any eating sort, we used to distinguish between cookers and eaters, and cider apples were almost another fruit entirely. Sadly, as the years went on and my father changed jobs, my grandparents went from selling their apples (not for very much) to giving them to another of the local cider producers, eventually to paying for them to be taken away. Artisanal cider crafting was some way off, with no encouragement for it in national or local agricultural policy.

The discourse in farming around sustainability and soil health are very different now, and simple things like increasing the variety of habitats around arable land is renewing the balance in nature, which mercifully is reducing the need for pesticides and expensive and unnecessary chemical products.

Today’s OT reading, written in the 8th c BC is about as topical as it can be. It was written at a moment when grain prices were exorbitant, and sheaves of wheat were decreased in size and sold for more money; and when some were so abjectly poor, that they were worth but the price of a pair of shoes. The intimate connection in an agricultural age between economics and grain production demonstrates the dependence of human society on wise stewardship of god-given resources. The canny or unjust steward in today’s Gospel, is commended for interesting behaviour. His Lord realises the steward may have been bad at his job before he was sacked, but as he saw the end of his livelihood from estate-management, he sensibly not only cut the tenants’ bills and rents – thereby almost certainly depriving himself of his rake-off; his lord could see that he was currying favour with future friends and supporters for after he was out on his ear. Faced with a crisis, the worldly-wise manager took vigorous action. He acted against his own interests to preserve his long-term future. As a “child of this world”, Our Lord is saying that the steward showed himself more shrewd than the “children of light”. Luke’s Gospel is all about reversals and up-endings. The coming Kingdom of God is essentially one great reversal:

The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.

It’s quite dense and relies on a grasp of what Jesus has said already in this Gospel. Luke is reminding his readers that giving away all that ties us down, our wealth, is the ultimate means to entry into heaven. Jesus tells us in Chapter 6 the poor have their privileged places in the Kingdom of Heaven., the same poor will welcome those who free themselves of these burdens into eternal dwellings, just like the tenants will be friendly with the steward who reduced their rents. Giving up our own interests, losing everything to find what is most needful is one of the great themes of Luke’s work.

We might connect these sobering words with what we might see as our God-given duty to play our part in the preservation of our planet. Giving up short-term interests and thinking for the centuries to come is what we are bound to do.

Our King’s lifetime commitment to the preservation of the environment has been an almost spiritual task. He spoke at the opening of Cop 26 in November last year.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us just how devastating a global, cross-border threat can be.  Climate change and biodiversity loss are no different – in fact, they pose an even greater existential threat, to the extent that we have to put ourselves on what might be called a war-like footing.

Together, we are working to drive trillions of dollars in support of transition across ten of the most emitting and polluting industries.  They include energy, agriculture, transportation, health systems and fashion.  The reality of today’s global supply chains means that industry transition will affect every country and every producer in the world.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the private sector is ready to play its part and to work with governments to find a way forward.

Many of your countries I know are already feeling the devastating impact of climate change, Any leader who has had to confront such life-threatening challenges knows that the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of prevention.  So, I can only urge you, as the world’s decision-makers, to find practical ways of overcoming differences so we can all get down to work, together, to rescue this precious planet and save the threatened future of our young people.

On this Harvest Festival and the eve of the funeral of our Late Queen, whose love of creation was foremost, we pray the leaders of all the nations in their stewardship of this planet, and we pray for the new chapter in this nation’s life under King Charles III, and with him renew our commitment to protect, steward and sustain our world.

 

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