Harvest is a great opportunity to remember all the good things that God has given us; it’s also a fairly unthreatening thing to invite people to. We combined our harvest celebration with Back to Church Sunday and it was great to welcome people to it!
For the sermon I used the sermon notes written by Bishop Steven Cottrell for Back to Church Sunday. I also used Wallace and Gromit ‘A Close Shave’, which people seemed to appreciate!
Welcome again to our Harvest thanksgiving. We’ve just heard two readings about sheep, which does of course continue our harvest theme. We’ve also given thanks for all the good things that God has given us and said sorry for the ways that we take that for granted. The problem is, we might not feel that sheep are immediately relevant to our own lives and we might not be terribly impressed about being compared to sheep. So, I thought I’d show you another story about sheep.
Hopefully many of you have seen Wallace and Gromit in A Close Shave. For those of you who haven’t, Wallace, the inventor, and Gromit, the dog and brains of the outfit, have stumbled across a sheep rustling conspiracy. Shaun the sheep has escaped from one attempt to capture him, but needs help to save him and his flock. I don’t think it’s really giving anything away to say that eventually Wallace and Gromit manage to rescue them all and unmask the mastermind behind the conspiracy.
Wallace and Gromit put themselves in danger to help out the sheep and keep on working until they have been safely rescued. And that’s the same sort of picture that we’re given in our two readings, of God who cares for us, who puts himself in danger for us, who works hard to rescue us.
“This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them” complain the religious people who should have known better. And that complaint really sums up all that Jesus was about. Everyone is welcome. We are welcome not because of our goodness, or worthiness, or even our faithfulness. We are welcome because God invites us. God invites us to be with him, to walk with him, to party with him, to come and eat with him, and to celebrate with him. That’s what churches celebrate every week up and down the country, around the world. That’s what we celebrate every week here at Emmanuel church. And the name Emmanuel means ‘God with us’. It reminds us that not only are we with God, but that he is with us, and was with us before we even recognised it or realised that we needed him.
And we do need him. Have you ever thought ‘I wish I hadn’t said that’? Have you ever wanted to be able to rewind your actions and do it again in a different way? Have you ever said ‘I really wish I’d thought of that sooner’? I know I have. We all fall short of our own standards, let alone the standards of God. Falling short of what we are supposed to be and do is called sin. It is when we are less then we could be or should be. Jesus ate with sinners because he knew they needed help, and because they knew that they needed help. That was the real problem with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They didn’t think they needed help, they didn’t realise they were lost.
But, God invites us to be with us, God welcomes sinners and eats with them. Because whoever you are and whatever you’ve done you are welcome at Jesus’ table. And more than welcome, because God is actually looking for you. God thinks that his party is incomplete until you’ve arrived. That’s why the shepherd in this story goes looking for the one lost sheep, and then rejoices when that sheep is found. God rejoices when we come to his party. That’s why in the reading from Ezekiel God says “I myself will tend my sheep”. Because even though life can sometimes be dark, dangerous and difficult, the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ is a loving shepherd who seeks out the lost.
And many of us, sooner or later, and in all sorts of different ways come to know that we’re lost. Lost in relationships where we are misunderstood or taken for granted. We can feel lost in work when it is dis-spiriting or unsatisfying. We can feel lost in unemployment, without hope or worth. Sometimes we can just feel alone, ‘lost in the crowd’. We need someone to help us, someone to lean on.
We were reminded of that very powerfully at the Olympic opening ceremony. I’m sure many of you saw that and I know that many people were moved by it, particularly by the sung tribute to all those who had died. Here’s a little bit of that.
The hymn was Abide with me, which I’m sure many of you know, not least as it’s often used at funerals. So, it was an appropriate way to remember those who had died in the 7th July bombings, the September 11th atrocity, the wars that have been fought and those we personally mourn. And it’s also a powerful reminder of, at least when we’re at our lowest, we really do want someone to be with us, to abide with us, to help us.
Both the readings are about God welcoming us with open arms, about God longing to help us. Which was of course more than the ‘religious’ people were willing to do in the reading we heard from Luke. And that’s the challenge for all of us. God’s welcome is for everyone. The church is still a bit too good at making that mean ‘everyone who’s a bit like us’. If you’ve been on the receiving end of something like that, I’m sorry; that’s not what God is actually like. God celebrates with us and welcomes each of us to celebrate with him.
The reading from Ezekiel gives us a much better picture of what God is like: God says ‘I will search for my sheep. I will look after them. I will rescue them. I will gather them together from all nations. I will give them every good thing they need.’ At harvest we celebrate all the good things that God has given us in creation. And we can celebrate that God longs to give us many more good things and welcomes us all to his party.
So, we’d love to welcome you to come and sit and eat with us. There’s a buffet lunch after this service. Do please come along. If you haven’t been here for a long time, or if you’ve never been here before, there’s some welcome booklets. That just gives you a bit more information about what happens here at Emmanuel church. And if you’d like to fill in your details then we can stay in touch.
But, for all of us, whether we’ve been coming here every week for the past 60 years or whether we’ve never been here before, the important thing is that God welcomes us, God’s party is incomplete without us, and that God asks us to his everlasting party and asks us to extend his invitation to all of our lives and to those people around us. This harvest, as we celebrate all the good things that we have been given, let’s take up that invitation and celebrate with God. Amen.