On a recent pastoral visit I was having coffee with a couple in their home and as we chatted one of them said:
‘The problem with today is that it is an attitude of me first.’ Now such statements are sweeping generalisations of course but there is a part of us that agrees with what they said. But we do have to be careful that we don’t think everything was better in the past (it wasn’t) or that people are more selfish than before. I doubt that is true but I do think the culture we now live in is dominated by consumerism which feeds this ‘me first’ instinct in us. As the old American Indian story goes, in our hearts there are two dogs fighting and the one that wins is the one we feed. Advertising, a ‘my rights’ culture feeds the selfish ‘me first’ dog all the time. Which is why Harvest is such an important festival for us to celebrate and enjoy because if celebrated properly it makes us stop and think of someone else first rather than ourselves.
Harvest thanksgiving puts God at the centre and allows us a space to acknowledge all that he gives us and helps us be thankful. Now thankfulness is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ and should be for every Christian the default setting of our hearts. Thankful for what God has done for us in Christ dying on the cross, our sins forgiven, the promise of his Holy Spirit, and a new eternal kingdom. We have much to be thankful for in our spirit. But we also have much to be grateful for in the real world. The daily life of all of us should have as foundational thankfulness.
We all spend too much time looking at the faults and mistakes of what is around us or what we don’t have rather than being thankful for what we do have. Certainly there are many things that need to be done better: the running of the NHS, our education system, our democracy and how we can help everyone feel included. But there is much to be thankful for. Many things have improved beyond all measure. A number of years ago Channel 4 broadcast a TV series called ‘The Mill’. This drama was based in a cotton mill in the early 19th century and showed the gruelling work day experience of children in the factory. I am extremely grateful that neither I nor my children have ever had to work in such conditions. Of course there are still places and situations in our world and in our country that need to be changed but we mustn’t lose sight of the many good things that are better and for which we can be thankful.
Christians should be known as thankful people. As the Psalmist puts it in Psalm 100:
‘Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
Come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his, we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him and praise his name
For the Lord is good and his love endures for ever,
His faithfulness continues through all generations.’
But it isn’t easy is it? As we are bombarded by images, messages that say it’s all about you because you’re worth it we don’t hear the still small voice of God telling us that we are to live another way. Perhaps here is one small practical thing we can all start to do or continue to do every day and that is to always say a thank you before we eat a meal. We can do that out loud or silently and we can do it everywhere. It is such a simple thing yet do we always do it. By saying thank you to God for his provision for us we are living out a life that is not me first but rather God first.
To go against the prevailing culture of me first is not easy but Christianity is always the opposite of what we take as the norm. A man called R K Hughes summarised Christianity like this: Last is first. Giving is receiving. Dying is living. Losing is finding. Least is greatest. Poor is rich. Weakness is strength. Serving is ruling.
I would add one more: Thankfulness is joy. Harvest at St John’s this year is 29th Sept at 10.30am Do join us as we give thanks.