Family Service Sermon for Harvest 2004, by The Reverend Charles Royden
At Harvest time we thank God, for all of the gifts which have been given to us, and all of the opportunities made available to us from the world and its resources.
This year we thank God, remembering especially that we have not only the crops of the field, but also the produce of the mine and workshop and laboratory. We are mindful of the fruits of technology and science.
I have brought to church this morning a gramaphone. It plays 78rpm records and we are going to listen to Bill Hayley and the Comets playing 'Rock Around the Clock.' I guess that some of the children here this morning will not have seen one of these pieces of engineering, let alone heard one.
Now let me ask who knows how old the gramaphone and those records are ? I think that we can say between 1930 and 1940. It might actually only be 60 years old. When it was made it was magnificent, I think it still is, but now it is out of date and thousands of them have been destroyed. Today we can play music on an MP3 player, something smaller than a telephone, and we can play music on a telephone which can take pictures and send them around the world. Technology has moved on fast and it is gathering pace, not slowing down.
Once upon a time inventors made their discoveries in their part time, Einstein worked as a patent clerk in Berne in the first years of the new century, he was able to spend his spare time studying physics. Nowadays people are paid to work on new discoveries and to take technology further and further. Companies like Microsoft and Nokia has thousands of people designing software and hardware for the next big technological advances. The pace of discovery is obviously going to get faster, with more and more new things!
The problem is that this has not brought great satisfaction to our society. Ni matter how much people acquire, no matter how many material possessions, no matter how much money people have - enough is always a little bit more than they already have. The pursuit of happiness in the acquisition of things is always a road to dissatisfaction. What a paradox, the more we seek to be happy through such things the less happy we seem to be!
The Christian message is that pursuit of happiness through amassing things will only ever bring ruin. It is a curious fact that contrary to our wealth bringing happiness it brings impoverishment of the soul. Funnily enough the opposite is the case, the more we give to others the more happiness we receive ourselves. Giving to others is something which we learn from our Lord, Jesus. He had no possessions, he gave up everything he had and gave his life for others. It is his model which we seek to copy.
This harvest time our church has collected money for wells in Malawi. We sought to raise enough money to provide for 43 wells. We have done that and more. We now have enough money to pay for over 50 wells to be dug and to but crops as well. I know from speaking to some of you how much pleasure it has brought to you to give to others. Thank you. Amen.
The following is a quotation from Pelagius, a british monk from the fourth century who lost out in an argument with Augustine and ended up being made a heretic. Sadly his ideas were not all that bad and it has been said that the British are all Pelagians at heart. This reading speaks profoundly about the subject of the sermon, attitude towards possessions.
If you were besotted with the things of this world, would want to surpass all others in the luxury of your house, in the magnificence of your garments and jewellery, in the abundance of food on your table, in the splendour of the carriage which took you from one place to another. You would never be satisfied with what you possessed, but would always want more. And you would constantly be comparing yourself with others, looking with envy at those even richer than you. Your wealth would be like a spiritual prison; and your limitless desires would be the chains that bound you. Thus in giving up all these things, you have smashed the chains and broken free. You have little; yet you are satisfied with what you have. You are poorer than most; yet you feel no envy towards the riches of others. To you a simple tunic is like a royal robe; a tiny hut is like a palace; a bowl of porridge is like a feast; a pair of sandals is like a golden carriage
God has created all things for our enjoyment; and therefore physical pleasure is good. Yet the person who seeks perfection acquires more and more pleasure from less and less. The perfect person derives the greatest pleasure from the simplest food. The perfect person rejoices in a tiny hut with a few sticks of furniture. The perfect person sees beauty in every human being, so has no need to possess the beauty of a spouse. Contrary to what some religious leaders teach, perfection is not the denial of pleasure, but the enhancement of it.