Monday, 4 October 2021

Give us this day... A Harvest Sermon


Preached as a sermon at Croydon Minster on 3 October, Harvest Festival. Gospel reading Matthew 6.25-33

‘Give us this day our daily bread’




This is one of those phrases that we say in the Lord’s Prayer, but perhaps don’t pause on it and ponder very often.


To pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’ is to pray some very powerful and deep words.


It is about grace. Grace is the way in which God gives of God’s own self to us, gratuitously, freely, without charge. Amazing!


‘Give us this day our daily bread’ is about savouring what we have and extracting every ounce of goodness from life.


‘Give us this day our daily bread’ is about looking forward, to the future, in an utterly non-anxious way.


Grace. Savouring. Non-anxious anticipation. These three things that flow out of the Lord’s Prayer all speak into the harvest thanksgiving we make today and to the way we navigate the cares and concerns of the world at the moment.


Ponder our gospel reading, where Jesus tells us not to be anxious but to focus on the gifts of God in creation. The petition, the request, ‘give us this day our daily bread’ encapsulates and distils that message.


That reading speaks of gifts freely given in creation, of savouring the moment we are in and a non-anxious anticipation of what is to come.


Yes, we might say, but that’s hard when people are, quite reasonably, feeling worried: where will my next tank of fuel come from? Will I eat or heat this autumn and winter? What will come of the ecological disaster that is unfolding in front of our eyes? And more besides.


So the Gospel of Jesus Christ responds:


From first principles. Everything in the world is fundamentally a gift, freely given. Life is not cheap, but it is free at source. I didn’t do anything to earn being alive; and nor did you. There is nothing anyone has ever done that could have brought the creation, with its abundance, richness and diversity into existence.


A gift is not an entitlement.


So we savour what we have. Last week the Church celebrated St Therese of Lisieux. Therese invites us to see God in the little details of life. Considering lilies in the field or birds in the air, the beauty of the little things is profoundly of the Gospel.


The Gospel moves us to notice beauty, and when we notice beauty then we can savour it. It may be the tiniest pleasure like a beautiful little flower, a robin redbreast: savour it. When you can savour those things then you can savour yourself more, and as you savour yourself anxiety loses its grip.


And what of non-anxious anticipation? That is the application of knowing life and all that you have to be a gift of God. That is the awareness of the little things of beauty and beginning to savour them day by day.


To be sure, being non-anxious when there is so much to be anxious about is hard: paralysing anxiety is not easily cast out. When anxiety and fear take hold of us they have a physiological impact that drags us down physically as well as mentally, and indeed spiritually. Savouring God’s moment means we act now, rather than wait for the future to come.


What the gospel invites us to is to begin to place our anxieties and cares into the loving heart of God. Our fears, anxieties and worries then are not solely about ourselves.


‘Give us this day our daily bread’ is a petition that is encapsulated in Jesus being the Bread of Life: it references the manna God gave to the Israelites in the wilderness, when they had just sufficient for each day; it takes us to the lavish Feeding of the Five Thousand in the Gospels, to the intensity of the Last Supper and the glory of the Banquet of Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread takes us into the mystery of the Eucharist.


It asks that our material, bodily needs are met, so that we do not go hungry in body, or in soul. That is echoed in our Harvest Thanksgiving too. And as Jesus says in response to Satan, ‘we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’.


‘Give us this day our daily bread’ is a prayer that keeps us in the here and now, in the present moment. Daily bread is about the present, not about yesterday’s stale bread, or tomorrow’s not yet baked bread, but what we have to face here and now.


So this Harvest Thanksgiving let us give thanks for grace, for all good gifts around us; let us savour what we have and be alert to its beauty; let us be non-anxious as we anticipate more than just tomorrow, but the coming kingdom of God, where ‘sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting’.

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