A reflection for Sunday 1st October 2023 Harvest Thanksgiving

I can remember from my early years at infant school loving the hymn; ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ like all young children I sang it with gusto but without a clue at to what it was all about. For someone, like me, a complete born and raised ‘townie’; ‘Harvest’ is a sort of alien concept. As I’ve just said when I was growing up it was something we sang about at School and then ignored it for the rest of my adolescence and early adult life. It was only on returning to faith that I re-encountered ‘Harvest’ the concept that we really do need to give thanks to God for it.

Even then in my re-discovery of this festival;  ‘Harvest’ was sort of only associated with ‘our daily bread’ and not much more. It was all seemed to be focused on the wheat-sheaf loaf placed on the altar. It took me quite a long time to realise that; ‘Harvest’ is so much more than giving thanks for the grain crop being cut before the Autumn rains can spoilt it. Even today, I have to challenge myself to push the boundaries of what I naturally associate as harvest to include all food production on land and sea and all who work to produce that food as well. Let alone the harvest of the city, whatever that might be???!!! !

What is ‘harvest’? What does it mean today? And is it still something we need to be conscious of each year, especially as we now live in a global economy and world where harvest occurs at different times and in different ways?

The simple answer to those questions is YES! Yes! Yes! Even more so today, do we need to stop and give thanks for all we have. 

When you next look at a plate of food try and remember where each ingredient came from. As I drafted this sermon I was conscious of a recent lunch which consisted of:

sea bass from Turkey

broccoli from Norfolk

peas and beans from East Anglia and Kenya

tomatoes from Spain

and almonds from Greece

One plate of food but it had travelled a very international route to find its way to my plate. 

All of it was seasonal to whence it came but not necessarily seasonal to Scotland. So much of what we eat is similar. At home I try to cook and use seasonal produce from Scotland but at times in the year there is only so many root vegetables or salmon one can routinely eat day after day without calling in variety from around the globe.

Without produce from around the globe and the skills and labour of people from different countries and cultures our diets would be ‘same-y’ and boring. Although harvests occur at different times in different places it is VITALLY IMPORTANT that at least once a year we stop, reflect and give thanks to God for all, that the many harvests of the world give to us. In that stopping and giving thanks we also need to remember to give thanks for those who grew and produced the harvest for us in the first place and to work out if we have exploited them in any way. Did I pay a far price for what I ate? Did the farmer get well paid for her efforts?

I have personally, been appalled by some of the big supermarkets and leading brand names pulling out of the Fair Trade organisation and now ‘partner-shipping’ with them, whatever that means? I suspect it means not paying a fair price for the goods and hoodwinking us to believe they still do pay a fair price. It is all down to profit margins over people.

It might seem trivial to us in the developed north of the world but we do take too much for granted at the expense of those who are basically subsistence farmers providing goods for us that they could not afford even to taste. And, as we live in a post-Brexit Great Britain we are also beginning to see some of the negative effects on our own farmers and seafarers and the empty shelves in our supermarkets. Fresh produce cannot now always be guaranteed to be available when we need or want it. 

So we really do need to pray for the Harvest. 

To pray with thanksgiving for the good gifts that God gives us. To pray for the future food production and producers in this country and around the globe. And, to pray for an equal sharing of the world’s resources so that no one goes hungry or watches their children starve before them, especially when they are the people ensuring that we don't starve. 

It is always worth remembering that the world is precariously balanced and that we might not always be as all right as we think we are. You might remember the film; ‘The day after tomorrow’ (it was on Film 4 recently) where the Northern Hemisphere countries get wiped out by a new ice age the survivors are ultimately rescued by welcoming countries south of the equator, whose climate remains warm and able to grow crops but the world has changed for millennia to come!

I believe that our cry today should simply be:

‘Thank you, God!’

Thank you for all the good gifts around us and for all the things you give us to make our lives happy and healthy. 

Never take the Harvest for granted and hold in prayer all those for whom harvest is a hope rather than a reality. All those who are facing a bleak future with a failed harvest or a poor one and ask God how we can support those in need who are so often those who produce the things we need and use.

“All good gifts around us are sent from Heaven above, then thank the Lord, 

O thank the Lord, for all his love.”


Commentaries of the three readings for Sunday 24th September 2023 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Jonah 3:10-4:11

Poor old Jonah, never really got it right. First of all when asked by God to act as a prophet, he shot off down to Joppa and boarded a ship in an attempt not to do God’s bidding. We all know what happened with the ‘big fish’ and how he was spewed onto Nineveh’s waterfront beach. It shook that city into repentance but it sent Jonah into a deep sulk! Jonah felt sorry for himself. He realised that he had not been able to hide from God and when he eventually gave in and warned the people of Nineveh to repent and seek God’s forgiveness he became grumpy with the fact that God actually forgave them. I think he expected God to smite the city - smiting, might have made up for his journey. 

What Jonah didn’t get was the fact that we have a generous and loving God. A God that does not wish to punish us for our mis-doings but a God who loves us more when we see our faults and try to do something about them. Jonah didn’t expect that of God, that’s why he sulked, remembering his trials. God then caused a plant to grow up to give Jonah shade during the heat of the day. It then dies back at night. This causes Jonah distress because he enjoyed the shade. God asks him why he’s now upset about the plant and basically Jonah says it’s because he liked the plant. God then says to Jonah, that he likes and loves the people of Nineveh and didn’t want them to die. It is then that Jonah understands the generosity and full extent of God’s love. 

Philippians 1:21-30

On first reading  of this piece from Philippians you might think that Paul has a sort of death wish:

23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.”

However, you soon see that what he is saying is that he longs to be in the eternal arms of God and the company of Christ, who has changed his life but that he realises  that God still has work for him to do and to give up now, would be to sort change God. Something Paul would never do, because all his life he has sought to serve God. First as a zealous Hebrew and latterly as a convinced Christian convert. I’m not too sure I might have viewed Paul in his day, his enthusiasm might have been a bit off putting but I hope I might have heard what he actually had to say and wasn’t put off by the ways in which he might have said it. Reading his words are easier to comprehend and ‘hear’ than perhaps actually hearing them might have been. 

One does get from this piece Paul’s total; commitment to his task and that I find admirable. Despite what he may have really wanted to do, he knows that he has to stick to the plan and to fulfil all that he felt called by God to do. It was his vocation and a vocation is never an easy thing to fulfil.

Matthew 20:1-16

“It’s not fair?”

Can’t you just hear that phrase in the Gospel reading we have just heard? Not all of the vineyard workers were happy. The late comers probably could not believe their luck, they were paid for a whole day’s labour and not just the actual hour or so, thy actually worked. I think I would have been more than chuffed to receive a full day’s pay after thinking I would not get anything at all. I would have been overwhelmed by my employers generosity.

Those who did work the full day, were grumpy that the Vineyard owner paid everyone equally but they forgot that they were paid what they agreed in the morning before starting work. They were not cheated or hard done by but got a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Yet it is only human nature, on the whole, to want to do better than someone else. In this case the Vineyard owner tells them that he can do as he pleases with his own money and if he wishes to be generous then he can. He did not cheat anyone he just chose to treat everyone equally regardless. 

Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is like the Vineyard owner. No one is treated any differently to anyone else in God’s Kingdom, for God loves each of us equally. We might find that hard to comprehend but in that Kingdom, not one of us is more important to God than any one else. That’s unconditional love. 

a thought for the day - Sunday 17th September 2023

Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. “

Matthew 18:21-22

Don’t just forgive once but forgive time and time again. For useless you do Jesus warns us:

35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’”

Matthew 18:35

Forgive, forgive, forgive and God will forgive you your sins and faults as well. Do not judge and you will not be judged, harshly, by God either. Not an easy thing to do at times is forgiving but it is something our Lord encourages us to try and do and to try we have to. In trying we may often succeed despite the pain and frustration it might cause us. So as the Golden Rule says:

‘Love God and love your neighbour as yourself.’

and remember it's the trying to do so that’s important. For in trying we show that we are willing to do God’s will, even if it takes us a while to fulfil it!

A reflection for Sunday 10th September 2023 by the Rev'd David Warnes

We regularly cheer ourselves up by watching classic sitcoms and reflecting, as one is increasingly inclined to do with advancing years, that “they don’t make them like that any more.” Recently we have enjoyed revisiting The Good Life and the title reminds us that, as Dean pointed out last Sunday, much of the teaching in Paul’s letter to the Romans is about how to live the good life which is the life in Christ. In last week’s passage, Paul provides a list of  “do’s”. This week’s passage begins and ends with a list of “don’t’s” but Paul’s advice is rooted in the Gospel imperative of love.

“Love is the fulfilling of the law.”

If you haven’t seen it, The Good Life centres on a couple, the Goods, who attempt to achieve self-sufficiency in a suburban house and garden. They do this to the bemusement of their next-door neighbours and friends, the Ledbetters, an ambitious executive and his deeply snobbish wife. That friendship is frequently strained but never broken and it is often the generosity of the Ledbetters which saves the day when things go wrong for the Goods.

The very last episode breaks out of the cosy conventions of situation comedy. Returning home accompanied by the Ledbetters, the Goods find that their house has been broken into and vandalised. A hostile and lawless world has hurt them profoundly and challenged their values. We watch as they struggle to come to terms with this and, supported by their friends, find the courage to carry on and affirm their commitment to the good life.

Today’s Epistle and today’s Gospel were both written to advise and support Christian communities facing the challenges and pressures of a hostile society which did not share their beliefs and a political system under which they were actively persecuted. The Gospel reading is particularly interesting because it is one of only two passages (both in Matthew) in which Jesus refers to “the church”. We heard the other one a fortnight ago.

Some scholars have questioned whether Jesus would have used the word “church”, suggesting that the Gospel writer is guilty of an anachronism – reading back into the past a development which happened after Jesus’ Resurrection. That’s not a view I share. The Greek word that Matthew uses is an interesting one – ekklesia literally means “those who are called out” – in other words people with a vocation. Jesus in his earthly ministry “called out” a wonderfully diverse collection of men and women, some of them, like Matthew himself with very questionable past lives, and called them out to be a community of love and forgiveness and to share that possibility with the world.

It may be the case that the procedures for dealing with errant church members which we just heard were a working out by Matthew’s church community of how to handle difficult situations, but their understanding of what it is to be a “called out” Christian community is clearly rooted in the teachings of Jesus.

It's a difficult passage for us because we live in a society which is very individualistic and that sometimes shapes the way in which Christians think about sin; think about it as an issue between the individual sinner and God. I think that’s unhelpful because all wrong-doing affects other people and undermines community. Jesus’ teaching emphasises that.

To be called out by Jesus is also to be called in – to be called in to a community. Community is a warm word, applied more widely than perhaps it should be, applied which ways which suggest a stronger sense of shared purpose than actually exists. There’s another, stronger and more helpful word for Christian community, Covenant. It comes from the Latin con venire, to be called together. Called together into mutual love and support; called together into loving acceptance of mutual obligations. When I look at the state of our politics and the fractious and fragmented nature of our society, I see a crying need for Covenant values and for the kind of firm, gentle, persistent discipline of which today’s Gospel speaks.

That’s the way of achieving the Good Life.

Short reflections on each of the readings fro Sunday 3rd September 2023 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Jeremiah 15:15-21

Jeremiah seems to be asking God to remember him despite anything he might do or not do. To remember him in his good deeds and in his forgetfulness. The forgetfulness is important here. Jeremiah tells God that he ‘ate his words’ and that wonderful phrase that reminds me of the Bible Sunday collect about hearing and inwardly digesting the Word of God:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

We all ingest many things be it the Word of God, conversations or good food, yet after we have ingested them we do tend to forget what it was we ingested. What did you have for your tea 10 days ago? Personally, I have no idea but I was nourished by whatever it was. What was the second last Scripture reading you read? You might not be able to call it to mind now but you will have pondered on it when you read it and ingesting its words it will have meant something to you; or it perhaps opened new vistas of understanding even you can’t now remember precisely what the text was!

Jeremiah in this reading is moaning about being forgotten by God or not being to understand God, despite ingesting his words. God it seems is illusive. However, God reminds Jeremiah that he has never abandoned him, it was in fact Jeremiah’s forgetfulness of God’s promises that obscured his vision of the Divine.

Sound familiar? We can all be a bit forgetful of God and then wonder where God has been or is now without realising that God has never left us. When you experience these times don’t despair, you’re in good company with Jeremiah and the rest of us including me. We might forget or misplace God but God never loses us!

Romans 12:9-21

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans gives us a template to try and fit our existence around, in order to try and live a good Christian life and to remember God. Actually, in our increasingly secular 21st society, I think, Paul’s words have a relevance to all people, whether they have a Christian faith or not.

In his Epistle, Paul (and this is the actual Paul, not someone writing in his name at a later date) we are given a good list of useful things to help us live a life that is not self-seeking or contrary to the ways of God:

Hate evil, hold on to good, be patient, be kind and generous to others, especially those who are worse off or unknown personally to you. Don’t ignore anyone but extend the hand of friendship whenever you can and never leave anyone wanting, when you might be able to help them.

Whenever, I read anything this positive by Paul, I always suspect that he was writing as much to himself as to those for whom the letter is intended. Many preachers, preach sermons that they need to hear as well as those to whom they are preaching. For example Paul often preaches about the need to have patience:

“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father...” Col 1:11

Was Paul particularly impatient? Could he get fed up too quickly with others? Probably, yes! Just like we all do and like Paul we all need to remind ourselves how we ought to behave towards others, because none of us get it right all the time. I know that I certainly don’t. But, if we try to live a good life we will be known by our deeds and evil will never be able to overcome us. If our hearts are as open and generous as our hands need to be, we will do all right and in being ‘good enough’ we will set an example to others. Be generous to others as you would wish them to be generous to you.

Matthew 16:21-28

Today’s Gospel reading takes the concept of living a good life a step further than perhaps Paul’s epistle suggested. Jesus tells his disciples that in order to fully live a life pleasing to God, one has to live sacrificially. One has to give so totally of oneself that ultimately one will give and give willingly all one has to give. These are strong words from Jesus for basically he is saying: ‘I’m going to give my life for you lot.’ What more can anyone give for others than their life?

All of us at sometime in our lives will give sacrificially. Probably not to the extent of actually giving our lives but of giving totally of ourselves in the support and help of others by sharing what we have (be it our time, talents or treasure) without counting the costs to ourselves. It is the old adage of ‘going the extra mile’ to help another and that should be our guide through life.