Today has seen the conclusion of my parish placement which has been a significant encouragement to me as I enter this second and last year of ordination training. I am hugely grateful to the warm welcome and hospitality provided by Revd. Simon Cutmore, his family and the parish of Mill End and Heronsgate with West Hyde. I am going to miss these lovely congregations a lot.
Last week and this, I have preaching for two of their harvest services. Both sermons were based on the same passages, and designed to be part of the St. Alban’s Diocesan Harvest Appeal .
BUT, last week’s harvest service at Maple Cross School was a sermon for an adult congregation while the children had their own activities, whilst this week the sermon at St. Peter’s Mill End was for a harvest parade service, where a congregation of more than 150 included the children of the local uniformed organisations. So, the actual sermons needed to be very different in style and delivery, even though they needed to contain basically the same message.
I’ll let you be the judge of whether I managed it or not!
Sermon for Harvest at West Hyde and Maple Cross last week can be downloaded here: Harvest 2013 Luke 7 and Deut 26 What have you done?
The activity and talk for this weeks sermon is below, and I am indebted to my new colleague at college @tweet_too_woo for sourcing me a bee-keepers protective head gear and a frame from a bee-hive!
This years harvest appeal in St. Alban’s Diocese is focused on bees and bee-keeping.
It talks about a man called Geji, who lives in Ethiopia in eastern Africa, who is now in his 70s. All his life he’s worked really hard to try and keep him and his family alive in his really hot, dry country, and he’s done this harvesting honey that the wild bees produce. But he’s never really had the right equipment to keep bees properly.
Until recently. He’s been given some presents. Do you want to see what one of them is? (Seek volunteer from congregation.)
The first thing that Geji has been given is a bee-keepers ‘veil’ (place on volunteer) – Why does he need those? So he doesn’t get stung – buzz, buzz, buzz! (Sit fluffy bee on the hat!)
He’s also been given a proper hive, with frames in it that bees like to build their honeycomb in, and from which the honey is easier to harvest. (Show a frame.)
Then, he and some bee-keeping friends have been given a present to share, a really important present that makes their lives much easier. It’s an honey extractor – describe briefly how it works.
So now Geji has lots of honey. And he can sell more honey – honey to hold – and get more money for his honey – money to hold.
So what do you think Geji is doing with all his money he’s getting for his honey? (Get 4 volunteers and give them the following).
Now he’s able to pay for
- his family to have three proper meals a day, which they’ve never had before – breakfast/lunch/dinner paper plates
- his children to go to school, because school isn’t paid for out of the money the government have collected like happens in this country – paper/pens and pencils
- he’s got enough money to buy his family and himself some better clothes for when he’s not wearing his bee-keeping outfit – pop a nice jacket on another child
- and… he’s got enough honey left over that his grandchildren can have some for themselves… another jar of honey to last volunteer!
So, not only has Geji had lots of things given to him to help his bee-keeping, but as a result he’s been able to share the results with his family.
He had done nothing special to deserve receiving these gifts, but he has used them wisely, and the ‘fruit’ of those gifts, is that lots of people have benefited.
As the service goes on we’re going to hear about other people who have been given things, and we’re going to think about
- what they’ve done with those gifts,
- what they’d done to deserve them,
- and what that might teach us today.
Get back all those props, and leave them at the front to remind us as the service goes on about what we’re talking about.
So Geji who we heard about at the beginning of our service, was given a whole load of bee-keeping equipment for no particular reason other than to harvest honey. He used the money he made with the larger quantities of honey he had, to make life better for his family. There will be a collection this morning to raise funds for similar bee-keeping equipment to be sent to Ethiopia to change more lives in this way.
In our Old Testament reading this morning, we heard about a group of people who were given something. The people were the people of Israel, and if you were listening carefully, you might be able to tell me what had the people had been given?
Tricky, adults can help, who read the lesson…. the Promised Land.
The people of Israel had been kept in captivity as slaves in Egypt, they had been freed by God with some miracles, and then they had been wandering in the wilderness for many years because they kept getting things wrong, making mistakes and disobeying God.
Finally, they were in the land that God had promised them, un-originally known to us as the Promised Land. It was a place where they could finally settle down with their sheep, goats and cattle. The soil was fairly good, so they could also grow crops, and harvest what the local trees produced. It was a land where they had a deep sense of belonging.
They had done nothing to deserve all this productivity and good living, it was God’s gift to them, as God’s chosen people. So, as a way of saying thank you to God, they brought a sample of all their harvest goods, the first-fruits of that land, and placed these before God at the altar. They also celebrated the wonderful things they had been given in the way they ate their meals at home, not just on special thanksgiving days, but all the time.
Now, most of us have done something very similar this morning, we’ve brought up goods and put them in front of the altar. I haven’t had a chance to do that yet, so who would like to see what I’ve brought from my little garden at home?
Volunteers, to place my items in front of the altar - pears, tomatoes, carrots, flowers
There’s lots of food here because people have been incredibly generous, so why have we done that?
Answers: so we can help people, so other people who need it can eat.
Now, do we know who is going to be given all these things in front of the altar?
Hopefully it’s not just because we were told to. This is an important part of our harvest celebrations,we’re giving away things that we have, to others who don’t have enough right at the moment.
So, what happened in our second reading this morning. The one about a woman who gate-crashed a private dinner party. WHAT was that all about, hey?! Don’t hear of any baskets of vegetables, or packets of rice, or jars of honey, in that story, did you?!
So, what did the lady in that story, bring and do to Jesus?
Who can remember? Hands up… tears, hair, ointment – anointed Jesus feet.
Does this seem like normal behaviour to you? Do strangers normally walk into your house, have a fit of hysterics all over your feet, dry them with their hair and then rub nice smelling oil into your feet afterwards?
No? Thought not!
The woman in our Gospel story this morning, also wanted to say thank you to God for something she knew she had received, and those tears and that nice smelling oil that she put on Jesus feet, were her way of doing just that. She had received something so special that she wanted to say thank you to God for it, even though she had done nothing to deserve it. She recognised that Jesus was God’s Son, living and walking here on earth, even though he might have looked just like an ordinary man at a dinner party!
The woman had received something sooooooooo special that she celebrated it with the first-fruits of her life, which happened to be tears and precious oils. They were what she had to show for the change inside her that was happening now she understood herself to be forgiven for all of the bad things she’d done in her past. Suddenly she was valued for who she was. She hadn’t received honey, nor a promised land on which to grow fruit and veg, but forgiveness. Jesus recognised what was happening in her, and when she had finished he blessed her with these words:
“Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
This morning, whilst we’re busy giving away food and money to those that need it and asking God to bless those gifts and those receiving them, what we all need to think about, young and old alike, is this:
What is the precious gift that we have received from God, that we want to thank him for?
- It might be that you know yourself to be loved by God. All of us are, I hope and pray we know that.
It might be that we are starting to understand what it means to be forgiven.
- It might be that we’re starting to understand what it means to have faith, to believe in Jesus despite all that the world and the trials of life do to stop us believing that.
It might be that you are beginning to feel a deep peace within you, that gives you mental, emotional space to consider other things.
I don’t know what it is you personally have received, all I can do is give you a reminder to keep you thinking about what God has given you. It had to be something simple that I could give to everyone, to remind you of the stories we’ve heard this morning. So it’s a piece of cloth with flowers printed on it, that we’ve poured a scent over.
- The cloth is to remind us of the clothes that Geji bought with the money he made from the extra honey he sold.
- The flower pattern is to remind us of the flowers the bees need, and also the first-fruits and flowers of the Promised Land that the people of Israel received from God.
- The scented is to remind us of the precious oil that the woman rubbed into Jesus feet when she realised that she had received forgiveness from God.
If you’re not sure whether you have received a precious gift from God, talk to someone else here, talk to Simon, or me, or some other Christian you trust, or trying praying, just talking to God. Don’t ignore the prompting. Think about it, and once you’re certain, share what you’re discovering with someone else.
So, with some help, I’ve got 200 little bits of scented, flowery cloth here – please take one, think about what you’ve received from God, and what you want to thank him for.