Harvest resources

It must be time to post something about harvest – here’s a collection of stuff that might be useful.

Some all age ideas

  1. The four corners of God’s love (not my idea – I learnt it from a Sally Army officer ages ago!)
    Start with a large square or rectangular piece of paper, and announce that this is the four corners of God’s love. Say, ‘It’s my piece of paper, so it’s the four corners of God’s love for me.’  Count them out to make sure.
    Ask, ‘What would happen if I cut off one of my corners and gave it away?  I have four, but if I gave one away, how many would I have?’  You may get the answer, ‘three’.
    Cut off one corner, give it to someone in the congregation, and count your corners again. You have five! You had four, you gave one away, and you have five. And the other person has three. That’s eight whole corners of God’s love!
    Try it again with another corner. And get one of the recipients to try it with one of their corners etc. Keep counting up the new total of corners until everyone loses count.
    Reflect on generosity, abundance, giving, God’s providence, blessings given and received….
    Encourage everyone to take their ‘corner’ home as a reminder.
  2. Ready steady cook
    Ask members of the congregation to come forward and pick out five items from the donated produce and say what they’d cook with them – get everyone to vote on the best idea.
    Reflect on how bringing the gifts together means we can do amazing things with them – maybe we each brought only one gift, but God multiplies what we give.
  3. World map
    Draw a rough outline of a world map on a double bedsheet and lay it down on the floor  – as people bring their gifts of produce, invite them to place their gift somewhere near its (possible) country of origin. Have some information displayed about some of the key producing nations and what life is like as a farmer/producer there. During your talk, look at some of the foods, and trace their journey from field/forest/ocean to plate.  You could
    (a) Say a prayer for each stage of the food’s journey
    (b) Talk about fairtrade and related issues
  4. Place mat grace
    Give everyone an A4 piece of paper with a simple place setting drawn on it, and some pens. You can also provide glue, scissors and old food magazines for those who like to cut and stick.
    Invite people to decorate their plate with words or pictures that remind them to say thank you for their food.
    Teach everyone a simple grace that they can use at lunchtime when they get home. Invite them to write it on their placemat. This might be something quite traditional, or something sillier – or have a variety to choose from. Popular options might be:
    (a) For these and all God’s blessings may his holy name be praised.
    (b) Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub!
    (c) (sung) One, two, three, four, five, thank you God that I’m alive, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, thank you God for food, Amen.
    (d) (sung) Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise him above ye heavenly host, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
    Alternatively, you could write a variety of graces on the reverse of the paper so that they’re all provided.
    If you have the facilities, you could offer to laminate the placemats while people are having coffee after church, so that they’ll last longer.


Here is the original (longer) version:

We bring our gifts:
The first-fruits of our labour,
or perhaps the spare we do not need,
(an offering to mitigate against our greed).

To the church we bring them,
and into the hands of Christ we place them,
and we say, ‘Take this,
and do with it some miracle:
Turn water into wine again,
or multiply my loaves and fish
to feed a crowd again.’

And Jesus takes them from our hand,
this fruit of the ocean, this product of the land,
and blesses them, accepting back
what always was the Lord’s.
Our gifts will fill the lack
of hungry people,
putting flesh on words
of charity, and making folk
in our small corner of the world
more equal.

We know there is enough for everyone.
But once the leftovers are gone –
taken to the homeless, hungry poor –
what of those twelve empty baskets standing idly by?
Can there yet be more
that we can ask our Lord to multiply?

Into those baskets therefore let us place ourselves,
those parts of us that need transforming,
grace and strength and healing,
the gifts in us that need to be increased and shared
with a greater generosity than we may be prepared
to offer on our own account.

For we are God’s rich and splendid bounty,
seeds, sown and scattered by the Lord in every place.
the human race:
the crowning glory
of the ever-evolving creation story.
We thank the Lord
that he does not just separate wheat from tare,
but takes our very best
then turns us into far more than we are.

And here is the shorter version:

We bring the spare we do not really need
(for surely God will honour all we bring
although it cannot make up for our greed).
And place into Christs’s hands our offering:
“Turn water into wine again,” we say,
“and multiply my token loaves and fish
to feed another hungry crowd today.”
Our gifts, we know, will put some flesh
on words of charity. Then into those
twelve empty baskets, let us place the gifts in us
that need to be increased and shared
with greater generosity than we may be prepared
to offer on our own account.
For we are God’s most rich and splendid bounty,
sown as seeds and scattered by the Lord
in every place.
the human race:
the crowning glory
of the ever-evolving creation story.
We thank God that he does not only separate the wheat from tare,
but takes our very best then turns us into far more than we are.


Clipart and assorted autumnal pictures

  wheat sheaf clipart       The whole world in his handfeeding of teh 5000

harvest     foodharvest festival clipart


hands held out     19th sept 2014 005broken bread


The Sunday after Ascension

‘Why do you stand there looking up to heaven?’
It’s no wonder the disciples were caught staring up at the place where their friend and teacher and Lord had bid them farewell, but the angels are right to point the disciples back to the world – we are not to be so heavenly that we are of no earthly use.

It seems to me that the Ascension is, above all, a feast of the body of Christ – as is this Eucharist that we celebrate this morning, just a few days afterwards. It’s the period in the church year when we remember the departure back to heaven of Jesus’ earthly, incarnate form, the day when his presence stopped being particular (tied to a specific time and place and material form) and started to be universal – present to all times and places ‘even to the ending of the age’ (Mt 28.20).

But the ascension is but one moment of this process of the particular becoming universal.  Jesus fed a crowd with a few loaves and fish, and called himself ‘the bread of life’; at the Last supper he explained his own body in terms of bread and wine, which he then broke, poured out, and distributed.  On the cross his actual body was broken and his blood flowed.  At the resurrection his body was both physically real (which he proved by eating and drinking) yet also able to go unrecognised and walk through locked doors (a step up, perhaps, from walking on water?).  Then at his ascension, that physical body disappeared into glory, and in its place was left a group of bewildered disciples left with the task of carrying on their teacher’s work.

By the time St Paul started writing his letters to the early church, he had started calling the christian community ‘The Body of Christ’ – something which we still do, and to which we continue to aspire.  There was one final thing that needed to happen before those early Christians could assume the role as Christ’s new body on earth: that body had to receive the Holy Spirit, the breath of life, which we can read about in the story of Pentecost (Acts 2) or indeed in the quieter version in John’s gospel where the risen Christ breathes his Spirit on his friends in the upper room.  It is that which we look forward to celebrating next Sunday.

So during the course of this process, the Body of Christ which begun as the incarnate Son of God, born as a baby in Bethlehem, growing up as a carpenter’s son in Nazareth, being baptised and undertaking a three-year ministry of preaching, healing and teaching, and culminating the cross and resurrection – that Body of Christ is transformed into the Church – established by Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit to continue his work in co-operation with God.  Thus, Jesus’ particular body (limited to one time and one place, two thousand years ago) becomes universal, filling the whole world, and for all time.

We talk about the universal church, but really is that what we mean?  In the end, to be true to the Christ whose body we try to be, we come full circle: in the Church, the body of Christ becomes not, after all, merely ‘general’ or ‘universal’ but particular again, incarnate in the individuals and christian communities in which the Holy Spirit dwells.  If we are, in Teresa of Avila’s words, “Christ’s hands with which he blesses people now” then our action in the world is particular, in the places where we find ourselves.  The church may fill the world, but if it is truly to be the Body of Christ, then it cannot be ‘general’ but must always be active in the places where it finds itself.  If we are the Body of Christ then we must be incarnate, too – through the ascension we will always have a heavenly life, but here and now our calling is to continue, in his name, the work that Christ began.

You have heard the phrase, ‘you are what you eat’ – hear also these alternative words of distribution at the Eucharist: ‘receive what you are’.  These challenge us to connect what happens here in church with what happens in the other 167 hours each week. We are the body of Christ not just gathered in a church building to hear the word and bread bread together, but in everything that we do and think and say.

At times like these, when as a nation we face again the reality of terrorism, violence, hatred and fear, we must grasp more than ever the need to work out what being the body of Christ looks like in real life. What will it look like for us to be Christ’s hands and feet, his eyes and ears, today, this week, this month?  How will we be active in continuing the work of God in the world?  How will we be continuing to live out Christ’s own manifesto, as we receive the Holy Spirit afresh, and proclaim, as Jesus did, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because he has anointed us to preach good news to the poor; he has sent us to proclaim freedom to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and liberation for the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’  We have seen this week the inspiring and humbling response of the people of Manchester. Their refusal to meet hatred with hatred and evil with evil. Their solidarity in diversity, and their embracing of one another in shared pain and fear so that there might instead be the transforming power of love.

When Jesus said ‘do THIS’ in remembrance of me, he cannot have been talking just about the breaking of a piece of bread in a closed room. He must surely have been talking about everything captured in the phrase ‘This is my body, broken for you’ – the totality of his incarnation, life, ministry, preaching and teaching, passion, death and resurrection, so that as we do ‘this’ and remember Jesus, we may truly receive what we already are, and go out to love and serve the Lord as his body on earth, ready to bless and heal and reconcile and bring something of the love of God to a world in desperate need of it.

St Vincent de Paul (1581-1660)

You can read a brief biography of St Vincent de Paul and the readings set for today (27th September), when we remember his life and ministry, here.

If there was ever a saint who matched their set gospel reading, it is Vincent de Paul: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Vincent de Paul and his gospel reading invite us to look at others and see Christ, and not only to see Christ but to serve Christ – ‘just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ It is in so doing that we become more like Christ.  The subjects take on the character of their king.

This means, though, that we must also look at others and see ourselves – this is something that I became real for me on a prison placement while I was an ordinand.  It is in seeing the Christ in those in need or in those who we find difficult or strange or disturbing that we start to be able to see the Christ in ourselves, not only out of empathy (note the similarity between the gospel reading’s ‘I was hungry, I was thirsty’ and the #Iam solidarity hashtags that have been around since the Charlie Hebdo massacre) but out of an awareness of our common humanity, our common belovedness in the sight of God .  We might think of the great commandments: ‘love God and love your neighbour as yourself’ for it is in love of neighbour that we understand what it is to be loved, and to see ourselves and our neighbour alike truly as beloved of God.

Meanwhile, if we, like Vincent de Paul, were to live out this gospel fully it explodes beyond the individual, and becomes a way for us to participate in the building of the kingdom of God, in which the chasms that are so often fixed in this world between the privileged and the not-priveleged might start to be broken down in preparation for the radical equality of the kingdom of God. What we do right now to join in with this work both brings earth nearer heaven, and prepares us for it.

This is how Vincent de Paul lived, and these are the kingdom values which we are invited, or rather commanded, to live out here in Westcott, in this city of Cambridge, and beyond.


Thoughts towards a homily on Luke 14.25-33

Luke 14.25-33 is another one of those horrible gospel readings where you read it and think, ‘Really? Jesus said this?’  And then you realise you’re supposed to be preaching on it – in other words, making sense of it not just for yourself but for other people too.   So you’re not just talking about hating your own parents, you’re talking about other people hating theirs, and that’s just another whole lot of tricky.
I realised something as I read this through: the way it’s phrased makes it sound like a genuine choice: this thing or that thing, parent or God, as if the two were in any way equivalent to one another. Perhaps our metaphorical use of ‘Father’ for God compounds this immediate (and unhelpful) sense of the possibility of being equivocal.  But what if instead we took seriously the reality that God is not equivalent to anyone or anything?  That we’re not, after all, being asked to make a choice between two equivalent external sources of authority, validation or love, but rather to take on board who God is and what that means for who we are?
God is, after all, the creator of the universe. That’s everything. Stars, planets, black holes, and all the immensity of stuff in between that we don’t even have a proper name for. All of time and space (and spacetime). Huge things and tiny things, and things that don’t even properly exist in any way that physics can explain.  Animals, vegetables, minerals. The whole lot. Me, you, my parents, your parents, life itself.
If we believe that – really believe it – then the universe only makes sense if we are aware of everything being held in God’s hands.
Two brief diversions:
1. My children used to often ask whether, if God was everywhere, ‘is God in this dirty coffee cup?’ ‘Is God in this teatowel?’ ‘Is God in the mud on the bottom of my trainers that I just trod into the nice clean carpet?’  Exasperated, I eventually answered, ‘It’s the other way round. God is not in those things, those things are in God, because the whole universe is in God. Happy now?’ And remarkably, they were. At least until the next question.
2. If you’ve not read Mother Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love, you should. The most famous of her visions is of a tiny round thing the size of a hazelnut, which the holy Mother holds in the palm of her hands. She wonders what it is, the answer comes to her, ‘It is everything that is made.’ She wonders how it continues to exist, for it is so small it might just disappear. Again, an answer comes to her, ‘It exists, and will continue to exist, because God loves it.’
So, in our mental image of God as creator of the universe, holding everything that he has made in his hands, that includes us – you, me, our mothers and fathers, the people we love and the people we hate, and the people we don’t even know and will never meet. As well as the stars and planets and black holes.
God is the ultimate context for all our other relationships – with people, and with creation. And our relationships with one another and with the world can only really make sense that way round, in the bigger context of God. It simply doesn’t work if we try to make anyone other the creator of the universe our “ultimate context” – if another creature (a parent, a lover etc) is given the status of Ultimate Context, that’s way too much pressure to put on them – nobody is big enough to be someone’s whole world, no matter how romantic or loyal that may sound. Only God is big enough, flexible enough, strong enough to be our first call, the ground of our being, our all in all. And if we try to make another human being into those things, even if they could hold us in their hands, they simply cannot hold all our other relationships as well, and they definitely cannot also hold all of God in their hands.  Our relationships with others can be held in the hands of God, but it’s very hard indeed to ask someone else to hold our relationship with God in their hands. It’s just the wrong way round.
In ministry I’ve always been grateful for an image of the hands of God being huge, and careful and gentle and strong and utterly reliable – and placed just under mine, ready to catch all the things that slip through my fingers. There are people who rely on me, for whom I am their first port of call. But I am not their last port of call, because of those big generous hands of God just below mine.
For me, there is something of this in the gospel this week.  And this may be my clumsy way of putting what Rowan Williams puts much more deftly in his book, Being Disciples:

“Being with the Master is recognising that who you are is finally going to be determined by your relationship with him. If other relationships seek to define you in a way that distorts this basic relationship, you lose something vital for your own well-being and that of all around you too. You lose the possibility of a love more than you could have planned or realised for yourself. Love God less and you love everyone and everything less.”

To love God is to realise that you are held in the hands of God, along with everyone and everything else. That tends to put things in perspective.

It’s the 5th time this gospel reading has come up in the lectionary since I was ordained and I still don’t know what to say about it…

This isn’t a sermon, it’s some thoughts that might lead to one.

Luke 12.49-56 is a really hard gospel. I like to find good news in the gospel, and I also like to inhabit the grey areas, but today’s reading leaves me very little scope for either; it seems full of judgement and harsh dividing lines, and destruction. And although I like complex, I like my complexity to be, well, happier.

One of the things I encourage my ordinands to do when they’re preparing to preach is to identify the ‘gospel in the gospel’ –  a process which involves letting the scripture reading converse with the time of year, the occasion, the church context and local/national events, and the preacher’s own perspective, experience and insights. Sometimes (=often) this process results not in a neat and tidy conclusion, but in more of a ‘way in’ – a starting point for what is likely to be a longer journey of reflecting and mulling-over, and responding.

Today is one of those days. There was a particular phrase that I found myself drawn to, and I’ll treat this, if I may, as the rabbit hole through which to explore this gospel, and see where the journey takes us.

“I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!”

This isn’t the first time that Jesus has talked about baptism the context of his coming time of suffering, and his approaching death.  Remember Mark 10.38-39?  You do not know what you are asking, Jesus replied. “Can you drink the cup I will drink, or be baptized with the baptism I will undergo?” “We can,” they answered. “You will drink the cup that I drink,” Jesus said, “and you will be baptized with the baptism I undergo…  In this rebuke to James and John, who are seeking the highest place by Jesus’ side in heaven, Jesus connects both baptism and the drinking of a cup with suffering. It sounds awfully like Baptism and Holy Communion are deeply and inextricably intertwined with suffering, both in the life of Christ and in the life of his followers, since they are key markers of our belonging to him.

In the early church, when many of those new to the faith, who had just begun their journey towards full membership of the church, were martyred before they could be baptised, the church began to teach that their martyrdom was a ‘baptism of blood’ – the blood shed at their death stood in for the water of baptism and united them fully with Christ. It’s possible that Jesus’ references to a baptism of suffering were the early church reading their own experience of martyrdom back into Jesus’ own teaching. It’s a powerful image, and a powerfully hopeful one for a persecuted church.

In today’s gospel there is no cup of suffering, but there is something else: ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!’  The phrase that sprang immediately to my mind, hearing these two images side by side in the reading, is the ‘baptism of fire’ that John refers to in Matthew 3.  It may refer to a purging fire, or perhaps more likely to the fire of the Spirit at Pentecost.  But the way we use the phrase now is as a way of talking about a difficult start, a challenge for which we may not be prepared, but which may test us and allow us to rise to it, proving us capable of facing whatever may come next.  Oddly, given the reference to baptism, it is near-equivalent in meaning to ‘in at the deep end’ – an first challenge that reveals whether we will sink or swim.

If a baptism by fire is  difficult (or at least challenging) start, then it is the start of something new, something that is (hopefully) going to be ongoing, something which we will (hopefully) survive, and through which we will ultimately thrive and grow. Think of the fire that Moses encountered on the mountain – the bush that burned but was not consumed. Think of how his new vocation emerged from this fire, overwhelming him but not destroying him, ‘burning’ him into being the person God was calling him to be.  Think of the fire of Pentecost, both the birth and the baptism of the church, terrifying, yet full of joyful power, enabling the few to grow to thousands.

Fire, in the gospel, is at once destructive and regenerative. It demands our absolute attention right here and now, in the present moment, when it may inspire terror, awe, wonder, fear… and yet it’s orientation is towards the future, towards what it will give birth to, what it will enable. The wound that is cauterized is for the sake of life and health; the forest is managed by controlled fire in order that new growth may replace old; the ore is refined in the flames to bring out the gold.  The references to fire (and even to the weather at the end of the reading) are about the relationship between what is happening now, or about to happen, and the ultimate, more hopeful, trajectory in the future. Suffering, purpose, vocation, life and death, hope and judgement – all of these are bound together, woven together, in this complex and richly allusive (and elusive) gospel.

But what of us?  The two central rites of our membership in Christ – baptism and Eucharist – are both connected by Jesus to his passion. When we are baptised, when we welcome others in baptism, when we share the bread and the cup, we participate in Christ, we are his body on earth, sharing in his death and resurrection, his suffering and his glory. This is our baptismal and eucharistic vocation. And it’s our life’s work to work out what that looks like in real life, and to do it. The hard fact of today’s gospel, much as it pains me to admit it, is that being good does not make for a quiet life free from suffering or from argument. It is in the nature of sin to battle with the good, both between us and within each of us.   Dante, in his Divine Comedy, reserved a special place just on the outskirts of hell for those who ‘lived without praise or blame’ and had therefore ‘never really lived’ at all. These, in Dante’s mind, were presumably those who had lived out their lives in denial of the reality that living in the world and truly engaging with it in a meaningful way will involve making decisions, working out what to believe and then standing up for it, and being willing, once standing, to be counted. Even (or especially) if you stand up and are counted for the sake of truth, justice and righteousness, you will make some enemies and piss a lot of people off (sorry about that). The prophets of the Hebrew Bible, and Jesus himself, are testament to that.

When we read the ‘signs of the times’ (ie what’s happening now, in the church, in our own local community, in the nation, in the world), we are confronted with a question: what sort of Christians, what sort of church, is required? Who do we need to be in response?  What does it look like when we (individually, communally, ecclesially) fulfill our fiery baptismal vocation to be Christ’s presence in the world?

I don’t have an answer for you, but if it is any consolation, I shall take away the same questions for myself.