It’s the dawning of a new age: a golden age of health and prosperity. The land lies before them – the promised land that is to be their home.
The people of Israel have survived forty years in the wilderness and now the time has come to prepare themselves at last for their new life.
Before they cross the River Jordan, Moses reminds them of how they came to this point. He re-tells the story of their exodus from slavery in Egypt and of all that has happened since then.
Central to that story is the relationship between the people of Israel and the Lord their God. Moses reminds them of all that God has done for them and of all that God requires of them.
During the wilderness years God has been building his relationship with his people, instructing, leading, blessing and often rebuking them.
The verses which come just before our reading from Deuteronomy today say this:
“Remember the long way the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, …. testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.
“He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
“Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.”
And then, as we heard, Moses goes on to describe the wonderful land God is giving them.
The great hope now is that God’s people will live a good life without fear and anxiety because God will protect and bless them as they live according to his word.
Well, the rich man in the story Jesus tells has certainly prospered in this promised land of plenty. He owns so many things and his fields have produced so much grain that he just can’t find room to store it all. His solution is to carry out extensive building work so he can pack everything in, sit back and enjoy it, relax, eat, drink and be merry!
“You fool!” thunders God, and we hear again the voice of Moses:
“Do not say to yourself, ‘my power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth’. But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.”
The rich man forgot where his wealth had come from. He’s so full of his own importance and power (for wealth is power in this world) he’s forgotten God’s commandments:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart ….. Love your neighbour as yourself.”
On these two commandments hang all the law.
The rich man has forgotten and he has no thought for his neighbours:
- his servants who work long hours for little pay and no other benefits;
- the hungry woman and her children in the nearby village who have lost the husband and father on whom they depended.
- the orphans who have been sold to him as slaves because they had no other relatives.
No, the rich man either doesn’t see or doesn’t care and he’s forgotten the warning Moses gave to the people of Israel:
“If you do forget the Lord your God, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.”
“You fool” thunders God to the rich man, “This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
“So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God” says Jesus.
So it is with those who haven’t learnt that we can’t live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
So much for that rich man – foolish and guilty – not because he’s rich but because he’s lost sight of the things of God’s eternal life, things that are far more important than status, power and wealth in this world.
This is our harvest thanksgiving service. We praise and thank God for all the good things in life which we treasure and enjoy.
This year, out of our wealth, we offer money for restoration work in Afghanistan, for the men, women and children there who are our neighbours, our brothers and sisters.
Perhaps we can also give thanks to God for the harvest of this nation.
Maybe we don’t think of our country as the promised land where the needs of all are satisfied and all citizens live in peace and harmony with each other. But let’s look at some of the harvest our nation’s history has yielded and consider how much we store up and how much we share.
We are a democracy: our Prime Minister and all our politicians are subject to the rules of that democracy. We don’t have a government which rules through the military. The people who march in London to support the countryside, to protest against war or to demand equal rights for gay couples are not attacked by tanks and grenades.
We can give thanks that, post 1984, Big Brother is just a television show and not the sinister dictator who seeks to control even our thoughts, by torture if necessary.
We have freedom to debate with our government and to vote for its members.
What will we do with that harvest of democracy?
We can store it, ignore it and take no interest in our country’s politics. Or we can take up the responsibility democratic freedom carries with it and so do our part to direct the life of this nation in ways which accord with God’s commandment to love.
We have a National Health Service and State Education: neither is perfect, we all know that. But what a harvest we have in both when we compare ourselves with many other countries.
What will we do with the harvest of health and education?
We can store them all up and congratulate ourselves on our superior standard of living and life expectancy. Or, as a nation, we can take up the responsibilities that health and education bring with them.
We can be aware of the needs of countries where our neighbours, our brothers and sisters, don’t even have basics like clean water, inexpensive medical supplies, books and pens. And we can share with them our knowledge, expertise and wealth.
We have civil order and by and large a tolerant society. Yes, we do have problems with inter-racial and inter-faith tensions. But we have no government policy to eradicate those of a certain race, colour or creed and there are times when our cultural differences are enjoyed and celebrated.
What will we do with the harvest of such tolerance?
As a nation we can stand back and watch while other governments carry out ethnic cleansing, persecute Muslims, Christians or Jews or oppress women.
Or we can take up the responsibility of peace-makers and reconcilers seeking always by non-violent means to negotiate settlements between warring factions and between oppressor and oppressed.
It all sounds overwhelming? Too much to cope with? Beyond our capabilities?
Yes it is, if we think we’re on our own. It’s not out of the question if we act together under God’s leadership and by his ways.
Let’s start with our own lives which is where Jesus always starts.
We are called to live our own lives with integrity and according to God’s word and all that we need will also be given to us. “Don’t worry”, says Jesus, “God knows what you need and he will provide.”
But what about the people who suffer starvation, disease, failed harvests, wars and natural disasters? Where is God’s provision for them?
It’s here among us. We have more than we need. What will we do with that wealth? We can build extensions for storage or we can take up the responsibility wealth brings and give to our neighbours in need.
What about those who feel lonely and isolated?
What about those addicted to drugs or alcohol?
What about those suffering severe mental distress?
They all often suffer rejection by society on top of their agonising pain and distress.
Where is God’s provision for them?
It’s here among us in who we are.
What will we do in our lives?
We can keep ourselves to ourselves, enjoy our own lives, follow our own interests and leave others to look after themselves. Or we can take up the responsibility of being truly our God-given selves. We can give some of our time, our attention and our gifts, something of ourselves to our neighbours in need and in our own parish.
We have such a rich harvest here with us today in what we have and in who we are. We give thanks to God for that harvest. We offer it to him for his blessing and then we go out into the world to store or to share? That’s up to us