The Rev. Steven Paulikas
November 18, 2018
In the last few days, I have been so moved by the words from today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews: Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
This so perfectly describes what it is that people who strive to know Jesus do in their lives. They capture what it means to be a church, the living, moving, shining Body of that same Jesus in the world. This is the picture of a faithful people, a hopeful people, a community of people who encourage one another and lift each other up. It’s the description of a group that I want to be a part of. And luckily, I am—and so are you.
Today is Harvest Sunday at All Saints’ Church, when we give thanks for the blessings in our lives and offer the first fruits of what we have to God—the same God who has given us all that we have. It’s a time to step back, look at the amazing things that happen in our lives, and give thanks. I firmly believe that the foundation of the Christian life is gratitude. Jesus lived a life of thanks, and even on his last day, he gave thanks to God the Father before breaking bread at his last supper. Today is a time to follow his lead and offer up a great thanksgiving for the bounty in our lives—and to make our thanks complete with an offering back to God.
The fact is that there’s always something to be thankful for. Always. When times are good, it’s not hard at all to find that thing that makes you thankful. But it’s in the more difficult times that an attitude of gratitude can be the real life saver. That’s when you have to take some time, dig deep, and maybe even find that one thing that makes you thankful. The blue of the sky. A single kind word from a friend. Maybe even a word in a prayer or a note in a hymn. The fact is that we are constantly floating in blessings, and they’re always tapping on our shoulders, begging to show us the beauty of this life we have been given. To be a grateful person is simply to let those blessings do their work, to acknowledge them, and then, if you are able, to add to them with your own gifts. That’s a life spent in gratitude. That’s the kind of life Jesus spent. That’s the attitude of an open and joyful person.
On this Harvest Sunday, it’s important to note that some of us grew up in a time and place when the literal first fruits of the land were offered to God in the sanctuary. Those lucky people among us saw the whole cycle of the farming year, from the sowing to the reaping. They have seen the earth yield her increase, as the psalmist writes. I’m sad to say that here in Brooklyn, our farms are less fertile. Jesse keeps a container garden in front of the rectory, and every year he plants one decorative sweet potato. I’m always excited to see what it looks like at the end of the growing season. He sent me a picture of it yesterday when he pulled it up: one knobby purple tuber, about the size of a child’s fist. So that’s our harvest this year. But hey, that thing I said about gratitude? I’m actually really excited about it. You could even say I’m grateful.
You see, even here in Brooklyn we have a harvest. All your hard work in the past year has yielded you a bounty. The work of prayer. The work of faith. The work of healing and teaching and peacemaking and justice demanding. The work of mourning and mercy and yes, even suffering. In these holy acts of sowing, you have cast the seeds of the Spirit into the fertile earth. With your patience and humility, you have nurtured the tender stalks as they rose from the soil. And now it is time to gather the scythe and reap the harvest.
And just what are the fruits of this harvest? We heard about them all just now in that passage from Hebrews. Hope without wavering. Love. Good deeds. Encouragement. And clarity of vision as we see the Day approaching. This is a rich harvest indeed! It is a bounty that can hardly be counted. Thanks be to God!
There is something amazing that happens when people come together around Jesus. All the divisions and the prejudices from the outside world melt away. Spiritual isolation—that great affliction of the modern world—is no more. Our hearts open up to God and to one another. We realize that so many of the things we thought were important actually aren’t at all. This is when the field is tilled and ready for the planting.
As we grow in love with Jesus in our midst, the crop grows too, and the harvest becomes ever richer with time. Just as the author of Hebrews says, the community of the faithful holds fast to the confession of hope. Friends, in a time such as this, how many places really and truly are holding fast to a confession of hope? I don’t mean a cheap kind of hope. I mean the real, living, abiding, life-changing kind of hope. The hope that there really is a power greater than us, a God whose nature is to love, a hope so great that even the grave has no power over it. That’s the hope of Jesus, and it’s his hope we confess in our words and actions.
The crop ripens, and according to Hebrews, the gathering of the faithful is moved to provocation. The letter says that we come here to provoke one another to love and good deeds. This is the sign of a true Christian church. I would be willing to bet that there isn’t a single person here—even if this is your first time at All Saints’ Church—who hasn’t been provoked in some way or another to love. To love more deeply. To love differently. To love more fully. To love God. To love your neighbor. To love yourself. I bet there isn’t a single person here who hasn’t been provoked to do something good. To move the needle of goodness in the world even just a little bit forward. That’s what a church is supposed to do. That’s the harvest we’re talking about.
When we meet together, we encourage one another in these things. Because God knows it’s not easy. It’s not easy to love in a world full of so much hate. So much darkness. So much…coarseness. There’s just so much out there that is trying to reduce us to our meanest selves. We need the encouragement of one another to keep moving forward, to keep walking toward Jesus.
These are the fruits of the harvest. In a few minutes, we will offer our pledges of financial support for this ministry in the coming year. As you place your pledge card in the offering plate, I encourage you to say a prayer of thanksgiving. The Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver, and it’s true. It is a blessing to be able to give. This year, I pledged 10% of my pre-tax salary to support All Saints’ in 2019. This is the eleventh year I have tithed my income to my church, and with each passing year, I feel myself formed more fully into the person God created me to be. I become more open, more generous, and yes, more grateful. I am more able to allow God’s blessings to flow through me, because I know through my actions that the holy abundance that feeds me is infinite and never-ending. There’s nothing like the act of putting your money where your mouth is to make your values clear to yourself and everyone else. What a blessing!
Yesterday, Michael Curry, our Presiding Bishop, preached at the 150th anniversary celebration of the Diocese of Long Island. He did it in a tent. That’s right, a tent. And as if that weren’t enough, that tent was set up in a parking lot next to the Nassau Coliseum. That’s where he wanted to speak to us. Not some grand and fancy church building, but a place where we could hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us. He gave us a word about witnessing. He reminded us to be witnesses to Jesus, to His mighty power of love that can heal all wounds and divisions. If you couldn’t be there in that windy suburban parking lot yesterday, we’ll share the sermon online when it gets posted. And it’s worth watching. Because if you’re looking for direction, if you’re looking for an answer, if you’re looking for some higher meaning in your life, there’s no one better than our Presiding Bishop to remind you: we were put here by a loving God to love God and one another, and even ourselves.
That love is both the seed and the harvest. That love will feed you when you are hungry and it will never stop. It’s worth the effort. It’s worth the sacrifice. Because that love…is nothing less than God. Amen.