1 October 2017 – 11:20 h
St Catherine’s Anglican Church Stuttgart
Anglican Church Ulm
Rev´d Dr. Howard Perry-Trauthig
2 Corinthians 9.6-end
It is always a bit of a challenge to celebrate harvest and thanksgiving in a city. In Stuttgart we can be thankful that the level of particulates in the air is not so high or that the traffic is not so bad. However, I find it difficult to celebrate thanksgiving in the city. That´s probably because I grew up in the country. In rural areas it´s much easier. We see and live the seasons differently than in the city. I remember best of all the big trailers with the cotton balls on their way to the cotton gin. We could always collect the ones that blew off the trailers at the edge of the road in the front yard. Although the farmers grew and harvested all kinds of things in South Carolina, I always think of the cotton balls my brother and I gathered at the edge of our yard when it is harvest time. You can take the boy out of the country, but you can´t take the country out of the boy! We all have certain memories that a Harvest Festival stir up in us – even if for others they don´t appear to have much to do with agriculture or country life.
All of the readings are set against such a rural background. That is fitting, of course, for a Harvest Festival.
The reading from Deuteronomy resonates with the Exodus and speaks of the promised land, the land of milk and honey, where all will have enough to eat – and it reminds the Israelites not to forget the God who led them there.
The reading from 2 Corinthians uses the metaphor of the sower to motivate its readers to give generously. It also contains a well-known saying that no pastor or vicar every forgets during pledge week: God loves a cheerful giver. They – and we – should give freely because God has given so freely.
Finally, the Gospel reading is a parable about a rich farmer who loses sight of what really matters because has so much. The parable reminds us, among other things, not to be obsessed with what we have, what we earn, what we want next. Otherwise, we lose sight of the one who has given us all these things.
When we read or hear these texts, when we celebrate a Harvest Festival, Thanksgiving, we tend to look backwards. We look back on the past year, its blessings and its trials, the good things and the bad things. We give thanks for what was good – and we give thanks for the strength to deal with the things that were bad. This is all rather vague – and it has to be – because we are all such different, unique individuals. What was good for me may have been not so good for someone else. If I got a promotion or a new position, that means that someone else did not, for example. And maybe someone else harvested the new job that I wanted so much.
That is all well and good. It is important to review and reflect about what has happened, what we have harvested – and have not harvested – this past year. And one important expression of our thanks are the various gifts collected around the altar today.
However, when only do that, when we concentrate on what is past and mostly look backwards, we miss the deeper point of all these readings – and we miss the deeper point of every Harvest Festival, of every Thanksgiving. Today I want to go beneath the surface of all this with you.
Then what is crucial is the attitude that is behind this emphasis on thanks and thankful generosity. A Harvest Festival, however humble it may be, and the readings ought to motivate us to venture forward into the future with confidence and courage.
It is perhaps paradoxical, but a Harvest Festival is more about the future, more about what is to come than it is about the past, about what has been. Any Harvest Festival is more about hope for the future than about saving the past in new barns!
When I survey this past year and take a longer look beyond my own personal harvest, when I review what we have harvested, I see that many persons have missed, have misunderstood what a Harvest Festival is ultimately all about – namely, faith in the future, faith in the God that led the Israelites out of slavery into the promised land. This God of the Exodus, our God, led them out of a past that was hard, but safe and reliable, into a future that was risky and uncertain – and this God went with them.
When I look at so many of the elections this past year, the presidential election in the USA, Brexit in the UK, the success of the AfD in Germany, I see not just lots of voters who are looking backwards, longing for a past that will never come again. I also see individuals who have lost their hope for the future. That is why they want to bring back the past.
And insofar that they are Christians, they have also shown that they have not really understood what Thanksgiving is all about.
It might be a bit odd to quote it here, but FDR formulated this insight brilliantly in his first Inaugural Address 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression: “[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
No preacher could say it better. It was not his intention, but FDR has nonetheless hit upon the heart of Christian thanksgiving.
Christians give thanks for the past while striving fearlessly forward towards the Kingdom of God. We do not need to be afraid of the future because the Kingdom of God is coming towards us.
The deeper message of a Harvest Festival, of any Thanksgiving in any form for anything is then: Fear not! Do not be afraid of the future. For the Lord is with you.
It gets even better! The Lord is coming to meet you!
Does this mean we know what is coming? No.
Does this mean we always shall get what we want? Of course not.
This does not even mean we shall always get what we need. However, it does mean we do not need to be afraid.
In its deepest meaning thanks for the harvest is not about what we have harvested. It is about our attitude! It is about our mindset, our way of thinking.
Thanksgiving is about this attitude! Actually, it is much more than an attitude. Thanksgiving in this sense describes a lifestyle.
Have hope against hope!
Look forward to the future –
Look forward to that which is coming.
Do not long for the past and resign yourself to a here and now in which refugees drown and fake news is taken for truth.
As Christoph Blumhardt once said, “We are protesters against death.”
In this spirit, with this lifestyle, next year, at the next Harvest Festival, we can once again give thanks for all that we have harvested, for all that we have received, as humble as the harvest may have been.
We do that not out of an attitude of fear or anxiety – but because we live a life of hope, because we live a life of Thanksgiving!