Sermon for Harvest Festival 2016

My tweet is probably the TL;DR version!

Harvest Festival 25 September 2016 Year C
John 6:25-35 | Deuteronomy 26:1 -11 | Philippians 4:4-9

When originally delivered, this sermon was interspersed with stories from users of the local foodbank. I’ve taken them out, in case anyone was accidentally identified, but left the gist of the reasons. Eat or Heat are our local foodbank.

Today we celebrate our harvest festival.

We give thanks for those who provide the food to sustain us. We are t2016-09-27 08.22.06.jpghinking about those who do not have enough. We are going to hear the stories of people that have used the food bank we support. And we are going to think about why Jesus said he was the bread of life.

But first, let’s hear from P. [benefit withdrawal due to mistake by DWP]

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”

In many places bread is a staple food.
Can we name different kinds of bread? (White sliced, brown with bits, naan, pitta, flatbread. Bread rolls. Bloomer. Cob)

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” Just before this, he’s performed a miracle.
He’s fed five thousand people.

I am going to read a bit here.

One of Jesus’s disciples, Andrew, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’… so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.

Geoff’s harvest loaf here reminds us very clearly of that miracle of abundance.2016-09-27-08-23-08

Deuteronomy, a book all about laws, tells the people of God what they should do when they reach the land that has been promised to them. After forty years of wandering in the desert, they should celebrate with the first fruits once they are settled. That’s got to be the first harvest festival.
So we have heard about saying thank you to God for the harvest.

And we are reminded of Jesus miraculously feeding people.

And we have abundance.

We have 24hr supermarkets. Internet delivery. Great British Bake Off.

B said [fighting a work capability assessment]

Food is such an important part of life. We have birthday cakes, mince pies, Christmas puddings. If we can afford it, we go out for meals for special celebrations. We invite friends over to share our food. We share in the Eucharist together, meeting Jesus in the bread we eat.
But when we’re skint, money for food can often be the only thing we can vary. Rent, or debt, or fares to work can’t be changed. But what you spend on food can. So good, healthy, nutritious meals become a thing of the past. If you’ve got very basic cooking equipment – or only a kettle – then your options are limited.
A said [low paid work and homelessness]

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”
Jesus can be the staple on which we build our spiritual lives. The essential, for everyone.
Let’s just think about those five thousand people that were fed. Perhaps compassionate provision went to some ‘wrong’ people. The ones at the back, making jokes about cheesemakers.

Jesus didn’t check whether everyone in the crowd was properly hungry, or deserving of lunch. He didn’t suggest that handing out short term provision would make people dependent on handouts.

He didn’t separate people into ‘them,’ and ‘us.’
He didn’t judge people for not having the foresight to bring extra provisions.
He didn’t assume that because one person had the opportunity to bring lunch, all the crowd should have also have done.

So, as we bring our offerings for the food bank to God, let us ask ourselves what assumptions we might be making.

K said [working for low pay and facing large expenses]

Do we assume it could never happen to us, because we are not like them?
Do we judge people’s choices and circumstances without knowing their story?
Do we listen to accusations of fraud, or the foodbank being a soft touch, and assume everyone is on the make?

Do we live with guilt and shame knowing we can’t make ends meet ourselves?
Do we forget that everyone is a loved, and chosen, child of God?

If we enforce ever harsher restrictions on who can be helped by our social security, we hurt those who are vulnerable even more. It seems to be that at best, benefit sanctions or work capability assessments create a dehumanising regime designed around the assumption that all claims are frauds. And at worst, they destroy lives.

Jesus is the bread of life.

Life is more than just existing, getting by, being treated as less than a person because you haven’t got a job.

A full life – an abundant life – doesn’t require great riches.

It does require understanding that we are a loved and chosen child of God.

And so is that user of the foodbank. Or that person struggling to find a job.

The crowds following Jesus around demanded signs. They wanted proof of who he said he was. What would be the proof of who we say we are? What do we do, that proves we are followers of Jesus?

Filling a carrier bag with tins can create a lifeline for some. And we should give thanks for our ability to do that…and recognise that for some, contributing to a food bank represents sacrificial giving. 150 people have been helped so far this year; and the foodbank needs more resources – food, time, volunteers. When I visited last week, one of the things they’d like to be able to do is offer a cuppa to those using the service. Tea, a chat, a chance to be treated like a human being. Like a loved and chosen child of God.

I want us to support our foodbank, because it is a practical demonstration of Jesus’ love for all people. But. There is a danger that we can be happy to lovingly help people out of a river, but not investigate why they are there in the first place. Who is up-river, pushing people in for us to rescue? We need to be in both places.

We need to ask ourselves the hard questions.

Questions about WHY the foodbank is needed. About WHY rent is so high, and housing so scarce. I want us to know if whether the businesses we give our money to make people work for free. I want us to question the assumptions behind headlines, advertising, the pressure to borrow and to spend. I want to challenge the decisions made by politicians for whom £20 is a cab fare home, not a week’s supermarket shop.

Are we tacitly supporting of benefit sanctions, because we believe the ways newspapers and television present poverty? That people are poor because they’re lazy?

Do we think that refugees are having the time of their lives, on five pounds a day?
Are we the sort that think, “they can’t be that desperate, they have a smartphone?” whilst taking for granted our access to the internet?

So. To finish.

We give thanks today for the food we have available. We give thanks in the Eucharist – that’s what the word means. So as we approach the altar to receive bread and wine, let us be sustained by that bread of life. Let us take strength in that encounter with Jesus, here, this morning, in the abundance of his presence. Let us celebrate our abundance, and the gifts we can make to the foodbank.

And let us question why we permit a society that forgets that all are loved by God and equal in his sight.