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Sunday Worship 1 October | Days of Plenty

Updated: Jan 12

This was our Harvest service, and included collections for BMS World Mission and Leicester South Foodbank. You can learn more about the BMS Harvest appeal from this video which we watched as part of our service. We also shared in communion and created our own ABC of thanks with brilliant ideas from bacon sandwiches to rainbows, and the wonderful display you can see below was put together by a member of the congregation from produce grown on their allotment.

Much of the morning’s reflection came from Benon Kayanja, who heads up BMS partner Justice Livelihoods Health. Registered as a Ugandan NGO, JLH was founded with the help of BMS mission workers, and its staff are supported through the generous donations of individuals and churches. As well as transforming life for farmers, JLH provides spiritual support to churches, fights for legal justice for the vulnerable, supports children with disabilities, and drills boreholes in communities without clean water. The suggestions and contributions of the JLH team were invaluable in the creation of the material for the Days of Plenty appeal. 

In John 16:33, Jesus said: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Gulu, northern Uganda, was at one time one of the country’s biggest bread baskets because of its flat plains and fertile soils. However, twenty years of civil war destroyed Gulu’s resilient communities, and this was further complicated by climate change vulnerabilities. The question of how to survive amidst the high rigours of life in Gulu is often on people’s lips. They ask, how do we reverse the current challenges? And as Christians, how can we use scripture to restore confidence? These are some of the questions that were the main drivers behind the Days of Plenty appeal. The verse we have just heard from the book of John speaks powerfully about the fact that while we are living in this world, we will have distress. Distress comes in all forms, caused by unexpected crises, adversity or the daily pressures that we encounter in life. It’s very hard to control the distress that comes into our lives, but we can control how we choose to respond to it.

In Genesis 8:22, we read: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” We do continue to have seasons, summer and winter and harvests too, but some are losing their regularity and sense of control due to climate change. It has happened in the past, and it will happen in the future, and we trust that through it all God is sovereign over everything. And yet we also have an obligation – given to us by God in the Garden of Eden and never revoked – to have dominion over God’s creation as stewards made in God’s image. Under this mandate, we have a responsibility to safeguard our environment and respond positively to negative changes. That it is a responsibility shared by humanity is particularly important when we remember that it is communities like Gulu that suffer most, despite having done least damage and having least power to act. They need us to play our part, both in living more sustainably and in supporting efforts to make vulnerable places more resilient.

In Psalm 37:19, the psalmist declares: “In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.” Barbara is a widow in Gulu, who lives with her parents and eleven children, only four of them biological. The uncontrolled distress of climate change, wildfires and famine have made it hard for Barbara to raise these children, feed them and pay their school fees. The sense of disaster that comes to a widow considering how to support those who are dependent on her must be immense. As we consider this verse in the Psalms, we should be encouraged that God has a plan for families like Barbara’s, and we should be pushed into action because we may just be that plan. BMS World Mission, working in close partnership with Justice Livelihoods Health, are zealous to restore hope by giving basic agricultural training and seeds to farmers like Barbara, as these cannot be easily bought by households that struggle to put food on the table. With this help, they can bring an element of control to the distress they face, so that they can flourish instead of withering, turning climate challenges into days of plenty. 

Here I want to add to Benon’s words, and reflect a little more on the verses we heard from Psalm 37. The final promise of plenty aside, the passage may not be an obvious reading for harvest, with its vision of grass withering and green plants dying away, but of course harvest is part of a cycle that includes death as well as life. As Jesus said in John 12:24, "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." That should be the sort of knowledge we carry deep in our bones, but centuries of industrialisation and urbanisation and globalisation mean that we have become distanced from many of the natural cycles that once governed our lives. JM Barrie may have mused that "God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December", but thanks to hothouses and imports, we can now have roses all year long. I suspect we have lost as much as we have gained, as the more accustomed we become to having what we want, the more disappointment we feel when what we want proves unattainable. The passage from Psalm 37 and the verses from Genesis 8 and John 16 all remind us that our lives have seasons, and they include seasons of hardship as well as seasons of harvest. 

That may not be the celebratory message you expect from a harvest festival, but there is always an inherent tension in our celebration, as by bringing gifts to share, we give thanks for the plenty in one place and acknowledge the scarcity in another. This is more than just a reality check though, because the good news of our reading is that God is leading those who will follow to a season of harvest, imagined in these verses as peace and prosperity and the downfall of the wicked. (And I will add here that I don't think downfall has to mean destruction, I think it can be a humbling that leads to repentance.) That doesn't mean that God is not leading us when we face seasons of hardship, for there are many things that can frustrate God's plans, but it does assure us that there will be better times ahead. Until then, the psalmist exhorts us to wait patiently for the Lord, but that is not a passive waiting, for he also calls us to commit our way to the Lord and do good. As Benon said, we may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can control our responses, so may we choose to proclaim and practise hope, and may we play our part in sowing the seeds that will lead to the harvest that will mean days of plenty for all.

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