28th of the Year, Harvest, 10th Oct 21
Once upon a time there were three bears who lived in a cottage: Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear and Baby Bear. They went out for a walk one day and left the door to their cottage in the woods open. While they were out a young girl called Goldilocks goes in to the cottage and discovers there three bowls of porridge. (I’m giving you the abbreviated version of this story!) She tries all three but only the last one is just right and she eats it all up. Needing a sit down with a belly fully she sees three chairs and tries each one. She can only get comfortable in baby bear’s chair, which is just right. And she breaks it by mistake! Feeling slightly embarrassed she goes up stairs for a lie down and behold, three beds. And yes, the last one she tries is just right and she falls asleep. The bears return to discover someone’s been eating their porridge and someone’s been sitting in their chairs and low and behold once they go upstairs they discover the person who’s been sleeping in their beds is still there. Goldilocks wakes up and dives out of the window never to be seen again.
If there is a moral to the story, it’s about the need for privacy and respecting what belongs to other people and this is important for us to live out. However, the point I really want to draw to your attention to about the story is the fact that the bears know someone is there because they see her effects: the porridge has been eaten, the chair has been broken and then when they get upstairs they see who it is, the naughty Goldilocks. This is also the whole point about the world whose fruits we celebrate today at our Harvest Festival. We need to ensure the world continues to be ordered so as to reveal that God made it otherwise we will make it harder for people to know He exists.
This truth is revealed to us in Scripture. In the Psalms, we read, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork,” (Psalm 19:1). It’s a great cause of celebration. A few weeks ago in our Study Group on Zoom we looked at St Paul’s Letter to the Romans and there are paper copies of the notes from the sessions available on the piano at St Mary’s and by the door at the Good Shepherd: do take one. There in the first chapter, Paul also articulates that people have been told about God through the wonders of His creation “What can be known about God is plain … because He has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things He has made,” (Romans 1:19-20). And this is perfectly logical is you think about it: for us to be happy on earth we have to know God and it would be unfair of God to make a world in which it was not possible for people to work out He had made everything.
I think we see this primarily in the very fact of our being there. I’m no scientist but as I understand it the scientific community continue to label how the world was made as the Big Bang. Some of you will perhaps know more about this than me, if so do let me know. This big bang is a collision of matter and anti-matter but the presence of this, the original stuff of the world has never been explained or given any cause. It must be God, the unmoved mover, as theologians call Him sometimes, the first cause of everything and everyone.
But it’s more than simply knowing God has created everything, we can see something of who God is: let me give you some examples. St Patrick lived one thousand five hundred years ago, born in England and who went to Ireland to preach the faith there. Famously he took a shamrock, a three leafed clover and it became a key part of his iconography and celebrations to this day. It’s one leaf with three elements to it and he used this to explain the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, that we believe in one God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons equal in glory and majesty. And we believe this isn’t a random coincidence that we perceive something of God in parts of creation: God has intentionally placed these clues to His existence.
We see something of God’s generosity in that we have enough to create food and fuel to live life well on this planet. Human beings have been living for generations and generations and we’ve not run out of the stuff we need, we’ve not had to start importing stuff from other planets even though the earth’s population is huge. When we ponder this we are reminded that God is generous and merciful and compassionate in the way He has ordered the world. Fr Faber in one of his hymns we sing sometimes wrote, “There is grace enough for thousands of new worlds as great as this.”
We have to be careful in all these discussions because we don’t believe that the world and God are the same thing. We don’t think that tree hugging is going to be the answer to all our problem, though we can all have hobbies according to our own choice! Rather, God is beyond the world, greater than the world and beyond our comprehension while we remain here on earth. We learn this, I think, if we think about the atmosphere beyond the world, where quite literally millions of meteoroids hit the earth’s atmosphere every day and we’re completely unaware of it. There’s a whole galaxy out there of which we know so little. It’s exciting that scientists are discovering more and more about it. It should blow our minds and if that is true of the world, it’s even more so of the world God has created. We see this also in our first reading reading where the pursuit of Wisdom is a realisation that it is beyond ourselves and beyond our reckoning.
Not only do we discover about God through our pondering of the world He has made, but we also discover more about His Church and what our vocation is to be as members of it. One thing we learn is the immensity of the Church. When God tells Abraham that he’s going to be a father of many people, He tells him to look up at the stars, impossible to count. “So shall your descendants be,” God says (Genesis 15:5). Abraham, as Paul says in Romans 4:16, is our father in faith, we are heirs to the promises made to Him. As Abraham was counted righteous through faith, so the faith of the Church of which we are members through Baptism, justifies us.
The Church is not just meant to be huge with an impossible number to count as members of it. St Bonaventure, writing some eight hundred years ago, considered the moon and it how it has no light of its own. It is not a great ball of light in the sky. Rather, at night when we see the moon shine it is simply the reflected light of the sun. So it is to be with the Church: we have no glory of our own here, it is a call to humility, but we are called to be glorious because we should be reflecting the glory of the Father.
Celebrating Harvest Festival must not be seen as a celebration of material goods: we must’t turn our thanksgiving in to greediness. Hear again the words of Jesus in the Gospel that were proclaimed earlier. He says to the person who is kneeling before Him, longing for eternal life, and who has been keeping the commandments steadfastly: “There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven.” In other words, it is not what we have that is going to save us. It is not that we find beauty in what we possess, rather the challenge is to find beauty in what we do not possess: in our local community, in what other people own, in what is shared. This is the beauty we are to seek, one not controlled by us.
My friends, we have to be careful when looking for God in the world. We mustn’t think the dead come back as butterflies nor that there’s any Christian symbolism around having doves at funerals or weddings. But we are to be good stewards of this planet so that others can see it was made by God and discover more about Him. We also learn of the vocation of the Church, to reflect His glory and to have as many members at the stars of the sky. As we celebrate Harvest Festival let us pray that everyone will realise God has made this planet and they should worship Him at Mass, with the simple gifts of bread and wine, with which He has ordered He should be glorified. Amen.