"And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." (Luke 11.9)
At harvest festival we ask for the continuing provision of God's grace, and give thanks for all the wonderful and abundant things we have to keep us alive and well. Traditionally it is a time of marrows, loaves of bread, home grown produce, fruit and vegetables, visible and edible reminders of the ability of God's creation to sustain and nourish us. We do indeed have much to be thankful for, and it is right to express our gratitude, not only in our praise and worship, but also in our daily lives. The television brings almost daily news of situations in which we see people deprived of some of the life sustaining food, clothing, shelter that more often than not we take for granted.
Of course God's provision for us doesn't just appear on our doorsteps. The supply of food, the growing of it, the harvesting, transportation, distribution and marketing require the intervention and cooperation of all mankind. We rely on a huge network of human beings, particularly in places where space and opportunity for homegrown produce is limited. And of course the chain of provision doesn't stop at the front door. Food must be prepared, cooked and served by mums, dads and members of our families, maybe even by ourselves; and the skill with which it is prepared, and the love with which it is shared out is as important to remember and give thanks for as the nutritional value of the food itself. And so we give thanks for our food, for the skill needed in preparing it and the ability to do so, for the love of those who share with us, our friends, our companions. The word companion means one who shares bread with us. Our ultimate companion, who shares bread with us each week at communion, is Jesus.
In today's reading Jesus gives a lesson in asking God for his continued provision for us. At the beginning Jesus has set aside time to pray 'in a certain place' and not until he had finished at prayer did he turn to his disciples. We must also learn to set aside time to reflect on what we have away from the distractions of T.V. or general business of life. We begin then to appreciate more of what we have. Secondly he asks us to begin our prayers by remembering our Father, the creator and provider, and look for the coming of his kingdom on earth. To be aware of the source of our nourishment, and to reflect on the possibilities of life in a world where the hope we have in Jesus is realised in our everyday lives here on earth. Strengthened by the acknowledgement of God's power in our lives, and the hope of life under His plan we can then go on to ask for the daily sustenance we need in order to work for those goals. Sufficient food for each day, one day at a time.
Jesus tells us that we cannot live by bread alone. The next part of the prayer he gave us is still talking about things we need for healthy lives, and as such talks of things we must also be thankful for, things vital to our existence. The thing we require most, being human in every sense of the word, is forgiveness. It is forgiveness that allows us to learn from our mistakes and grow closer to God. It is forgiveness that frees us to start afresh in the relationships that shape our personalities and character that make us who and what we are. It is the lack of forgiveness that binds us and warps and twists us, making us perhaps bitter or depressed, angry or fearful. As good food is produced in good soil, spiritual fruits, just as vital to us, need to grow in a medium of forgiveness and regard for the common good.
As a human race we have become quite good at the production and distribution of the physical fruits of the earth. Arguably we have the capability to provide everyone with enough basic provision not to be hungry, but with our system of sharing driven by money and the market we know that many people do go without. When it comes to harvesting the spiritual fruits we are perhaps even less successful. It is no accident that Jesus ties together bread and forgiveness in the same sentence. In the same breath that we acknowledge our own need for forgiveness we are of course reminded that we are to forgive others. In a translation of the Lord's Prayer from Syriac Aramaic, the language closest to that Jesus was believed to have spoken, the lines read like this. "Loose the cords of mistakes binding us, as we release the strands we hold of other's faults." Bad feeling that is perpetuated by lack of forgiveness is like chains and bonds that restrict our spiritual growth. We can also see that the chains and bonds are attached at both ends, restricting both the unforgiven and the unforgiving. Failing to forgive others leaves us just as paralysed spiritually as, if not more so than, those we need to forgive.
So this harvest let us give thanks for the ability of man to harness creation in the provision of the food, shelter and clothing we need to survive. But let us also give thanks for the ability, given to us through the death of Jesus on the cross, opening up our relationship with God by true forgiveness, to become spiritual farmers gathering a rich harvest of the love, joy, peace, gentleness, self control, patience, kindness and goodness that will allow us to bring His kingdom closer to our daily lives.