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Sermon for Harvest 2007 Year C

The Reverend Dr Joan Crossley

Last Sunday when I was on the Oxford/Wiltshire border with the walking group I witnessed two very contrasting services. The first was the eight o’clock communion in the village church, with the 1662 prayers, and we doubled the congregation when six of us went. The second service was within the stone circle on a hill at Avebury. One of us had run into a woman with a small child who mentioned that she was having a naming ceremony up there. So, being nosy, the five of us trooped up there and attached ourselves to a circle of people who looked a bit like extras from a Harry Potter film, lots of cloaks and scarves and layers and interestingly coloured hair.

An American woman began to speak and though her voice was taken away by the wind, it emerged that she was talking about a honey bee. Assuming this was the name of the baby, I was further mystified when she asked everyone in the circle to name a quality of honey bee. They went around the circle shouting out words like “dancing”, “joy”, “community”. Then she asked all of us to form a huge circle and perform a dance like a bee. At that point we made a dignified exit. Anyway I met her later and in turned out that she was the noon service that day (it gets very crowded with pagans on the Autumn solstice) and that she had come over from her home in Arizona to pray for the fate of the poor old English honey bee. Which was very kind of her. It turned out that the pagans, being a laid back sort of people, hadn’t quite got it together for the naming ceremony, which is why we went to the wrong one. Although I am betting that some Hollywood actress has named her daughter honey bee.

Much intrigued I read the website of this small lady from Arizona whose middle name is Heartstar and she led me to a series of links with other pagans. Not to be confused with Black magic, the pagan religion seems to draw on a wide range of beliefs: astrology, numerology, crystals, fairies, ley lines, and much more. But at the heart of the belief seems to be respect and love from nature. Beyond that they believe that natural things have a spiritual energy which humans can tap into. This is from the “paganlinks” website. “When you first go to a tree that you’ve never met before, touch it very lightly. Say hello, introduce yourself, stroke the tree, and show it respect and affection. Ask what it can teach you or do for you, because every tree has its own special knowledge to share. Then thank the tree, kiss it goodbye, and leave. Stay at a tree until you feel it’s time to go. Your first visits to a tree will probably be longer than subsequent visits, since once the tree knows you it doesn’t take it long to tune your feelings.”

Now I have no problem with people kissing trees although I do wonder about them frittering their money on crystals or believing in fairies. But what is clear is that for a significant number of people, and Avebury was full of them last week: they find that our modern version of Christianity, post reformation religion is too urban, too rational, too cut off from nature. Before we mock them for wanting to commune with trees we might pause to ask ourselves if our religion is sometimes too much to do with words and ideas. From the Reformation onwards Christian rural rituals were dismissed as superstitions, and surgically removed from the church calendar, little rituals like blessing the plough, bringing the first lamb into church, bringing the first sheaf of corn. All of which tied the Creator God to the cycle of the natural world and invited him to bless the work of farming. I think these are very natural impulses: when we stand looking at a gorgeous sunset, walk through a wood in Spring, we sense God’s creative power. Now some assign that sense of power and meaning to spirits and fairies and even the trees themselves. But I believe what they are finding is a sense that the whole world was made by God, that God is part of Creation and that they feel the urge to thank him.

Almost the only time, in Church, we properly notice how much a part of God’s creation we are is at Harvest. And that was a service which was only revived in the twentieth century. Perhaps at Harvest we should extend the way we look at the rest of the created world. Stop seeing it as a giant supermarket from which we can select the stuff we want and casually discard what we do not . Even the rich and urban Western world is gradually seeing that we need to respect the planet. That we don’t just live in an urban bubble immune from rain, sun, animal diseases and other old-fashioned country matters. We Christians can help the process of regaining reverence for Creation but reminding ourselves and everyone else that God made the world and saw that it was very good. So this Harvest we do not just give thanks for the getting in of the grain and the fact that there will be bread in the shops this winter. We won’t just say thank you for the pretty bits of creation: we will say a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for its complexity and profundity, in which God is to be found in every part.