Sunday, September 27, 2015

Caring for God's World - making connections for Harvest

Welcome and Call to Worship

283 All things bright and beautiful

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

It’s wonderful when things all connect up together!  Janet Brown’s brother shared it with Janet.  Janet shared it with Jean Gregory, our Ministry leader for Mission and Outreach, Jean shared it with the team of Ministry Leaders, who proposed it as the charity to support alongside our own Highbury mission for our Harvest collection.  Mary Michael wrote up a piece for September’s Highbury News which David and Sheila Mitchell read!  How wonderful, they thought and gave me a ring to say so!  When they ran a bookshop and music shop in Oban one of the regulars who called in was Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, the man behind Mary’s Meals!!!  Passionate about his Christian faith he wanted to do something to make a difference.  What began as Scottish International Relief, became Mary’s Meals in 2012 and now is a global movement supported by people from many walks of life and different backgrounds committed to the vision that “every child receives a nutritious daily meal in a place of education. “  And next Sunday afternoon at 2-30 who should be speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, but Magnus!  Do support our Harvest appeal in our collection today.

So … round two of Only Connect – this time there are four things that are connected – you have to work out what the fourth in the sequence is.   If you guess what the fourth is when you see the first one you get four points, after the second one three points and after the third one 2 points.

1.      A Bean
2.      A Bean Plant
3.      A Runner Bean
4.      A Bean
I bought a pack of runner beans about five years ago.  In the summer the runner beans are beautifully green and lovely to eat.  But as the Autumn came the pods began to die off.  They became all wizened and brown and rubbishy.  But inside was a big bean.   I stored them all and the next Spring planted the bans.  I have done that for about fivv years ago – I haven’t bought any more runner beans.

Isn’t it wonderful!

Something wonderful happened in my garden this summer too.

During our sabbatical Felicity has been researching her family history and it’s been really interesting.  At the same time we have been celebrating a little bit of my family history.

I studied for the ministry in Coleg Bala-Bangor – Bala-Bangor theological college – a funny name.  It started off in Bala.  Then it moved to Bangor and came to be known as Bala-Bangor – sadly it is no more – which is why I am so passionate about the course we have put together in our churches.

About 160 years the then principal, Michael D Jones had a vision that he shared with great excitement of setting up a Christian community where people could be equal and where they could speak in their own language and conduct all their affairs in their own language, Welsh.;

It was 150 years ago in 1865 that       people who had caught the vision set sail from Liverpool docks in a tea-clipper just like the Cutty Sark you can see in Greenwich, called the Mimosa.  It was a long and gruelling journey across the Atlantic Ocean, across the Equator to the coast of Patagonia.

They had been promised a land lush with green valleys … they arrived in what was virtually desert.  Thjey stayed a while on the coast and then made a trek towards the Chubut valley where there was a river.  It wasn’t long before they were able to plant some of the grain they had brought with them.   And there was great excitement when the first harvest came.

Twenty years later my Great Great Grandfather’s brother emigrated to Patagonia.  He and his children and his grandchildren and his great grandchildren kept in touch with my family over here.  And then in 1997 Owen Tydur Jones, my Great Great Grandfather’s brother’s Great Great Grandson won the coveted first prize for poetry in the Patagonia Eiseddfod, he won the Chair.

His poem was addressed to his Auntie Susie, asking her why she had not visited him in Patagonia as he had visited her.

When he won he wrote to tell her of his triumph only to find the letter returned, not known at this address.

That very week the relative he knew as Auntie Susie had died.  And that Auntie Susie was my Auntie Susie.  He wrote to her sisters, of whom my mother was one, only to have his letters returned, not known at this address.  For they had all died.

I wrote from my Auntie Susie’s address book to another member of the family: I had no response.  It turned out he too had died.

It was about five or six years ago that I had an email from Owen … and ever since we have been in touch.  And the only language we correspond in is Welsh as he speaks no English and I speak no Spanish.

You can imagine, therefore, that it was very exciting joining in the celebrations at the National Eisteddfod in Wales this year and then in Anglesey tracking down the graves of my Great Great Grandfather and of the sisters of his brother’s wife!

Earlier in the summer, Felicity and I had been to a wonderful theatre production in, of all places, the Royal Opera House Stores in Aberdare  where every set for every Royal Opera House production is stored in an enormous warehouse on the site of a disused colliery.  It was appropriate that it was there that the National Theatre of Wales, Theatr Cymru and S4C collaborated in telling the story of the beginnings of the Welsh community in Patagonia because more than 50 of the original settlers had come from Aberdare.

As the production unfolded we became aware that we were following a woman who was beckoning us on.  Towards the end we found ourselves sitting around massive tables.  Dancers came with grain and they poured the grain into our hands … and Felicity and I put the handful of grain into our pockets.

Then the woman we were following beckoned us on, the great rollover door in the side of the warehouse big enough for an enormous lorry pulled up and we could see the woman beckoning us on into the beautiful green valley, lit in beautiful shades of green and purple as the sun was setting.


When I got hom I thought, why not, and planted the grains in the garden.

Just before we went on holiday I noticed they were beginning to grow.

On holiday at the Eisteddfod we found they had moved the big tables on to the festival site in the corner where the theatre productions were on – we went to another play about the Mimosa which was afterwards going over to Patagonia.

And there in the gaps of the tables we saw the grain sprouting.

What would it be?

A couple of weeks ago  I went into the garden and spotted – it’s barley!  The first time I’ve grown such a crop.

What a wonderful picture of a grain, a seed, coming to new life.

That’s the picture Jesus chose of dying, death and resurrection.

It’s a wonderful picture.  To my mind the most exciting of all his pictures of dying, death and what’s beyond in resurrection.

Reading:  John 12:20-26

Some Greeks were among those who had gone to Jerusalem to worship during the festival.21 They went to Philip (he was from Bethsaida in Galilee) and said, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”22 Philip went and told Andrew, and the two of them went and told Jesus.23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory.24 I am telling you the truth: a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains.25 Those who love their own life will lose it; those who hate their own life in this world will keep it for life eternal.26 Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where I am. And my Father will honour anyone who serves me.

Leave a seed on a shelf and it remains just a seed.  Bury it so that it seems to die and it comes to life – and the new life that comes is a whole new plant.

That’s an exciting picture that was taken up by Paul in that wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians 15.

But someone will ask,
‘How are the dead raised?
With what kind of body do they come?’
[Remember the seeds that you sow in the ground:]
What you sow does not come to life unless it dies
And as for what you sow,
you do not sow the body that is to be,
but a bare seed,
perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.
But God gives it a body, as he has chosen,
and to each kind of seed its own body.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead.
What is sown is perishable,
            what is raised is imperishable.
It is sown in dishonour,
            it is raised in glory.
It is sown in weakness,
            it is raised in power.
It is sown a physical body,
            it is raised a spiritual body.

A Hy-Spirit song

Our Harvest Offering
Shared between our Highbury Mission Project and Mary’s Meals

Activities for all over 3

It’s been exciting this year exchanging emails with Owen ac Eurgain, his wife, as we have been sharing in the celebrations.  It gives you a sense of belonging to a community far, far away.

There are about 20,000 who would think of themselves as Welsh and of those about 5,000 speak some Welsh and in the last twenty years there has been a resurgence of Welsh as strong links have been built between the Welsh Assembly government and the Welsh Community in Patagonia.

But the story is of course more complex.

When the 160 on the Mimosa landed they expected a green and lush land as they had had in Wales.  It really was a desert kind of place.  There were no houses for them to move into.  They started living in caves.

There were people there – and the relationship with the Native American Indians is something you are very conscious of today – the book I purchased telling the story in pictures and in Welsh, English and Spanish starts with a section on those peoples and their relationships with the Welsh settlers.

The trek across to the Chubut Valley was a desolate one and many were inbclined to give up their dreams.

If you look at the area on Google Earth, and its satellite photographs you can see it is all beige.  This is the Argentinian Pampas, a region of steppe-like plains almost bare of vegetation with a covering of shingle.

There wasn’t even any vegetation around the Chubut River … and then one of the women came up with an idea.   They made a simple but very effective mechanism that would lift the water from the river into channels and they began a process of irrigation.

Trelew is the main town – Tre the Welsh for Town and Lew from Lewis Jones, one of the founders of the community.  And then over to Gaiman, where Owen ac Eurgain live, and Dolavon – there are chapels and Welsh tea rooms, and farms – a lush green.

Shortly after my great great Grandfather’s brother arrived they pushed West in search of better pasture land … and found it 500 miles away in the foothills of the Andes – they called the area they found – the Lovely Valley, Cwm Hyfryd.  They built a rail road … and a big mill, just like the corn mill in Tewkesbury, and so they called the town there Town of the Mill – Trevelin.  Next to one of the Welsh chapels this year they are building a new Welsh school.

That picture is a very powerful one.

Of the green and the desert land.

I’m glad we still mark Harvest, even though we are in the town.  I think it’s a reminder that we are dependent on the sheer hard toil of those who provide us our food.  Last Sunday afternoon I shared the thoughts I am sharing today in a harvest service in Longney.  A couple were there who have a farm – not around Longney – the farms there have been amalgamated into a massive 2000 acre farm managed by a couple of people, and the houses, one next to the chapel, once lived in by those working on the land are well beyond the pocket of local people and so lived in by people commuting to Gloucester and beyond.

His farm is the land around the Hatherley Manor hotel.  Mixed farm, but no longer a dairy herd.  There are only three dairy herds left in that part of the county, he said.  What’s happening in our farming communities is something we should be aware of.  If the price of milk is lower than the cost of producing it … we won’t have milking cows in our fields and the countryside will change.

It’s important to reflect on what we do with the land.  The need for us to be concerned and to have a care.

More than that – harvest directs us to the glory of God’s creation … but also the challenge we have as people to look after that creation.

For me the Christian year starts at Harvest with a celebration of God’s creation, then moves to Christmas with the coming of Jesus Christ, to Easter with the death and resurrection of Jesus, to Pentecost with the outpouring of the Spirit that gives us the strength we need for the living of our lives … and so round to harvest and the glory of creation again.

I go back to the most wonderful pieces of poetry in the Bible, a passage filled with immense truths.

Genesis 1:1-5 and 26-31

In the beginning, when God created the universe,2 the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water.3 Then God commanded, “Let there be light” — and light appeared.4 God was pleased with what he saw. Then he separated the light from the darkness,5 and he named the light “Day” and the darkness “Night”. Evening passed and morning came — that was the first day.

Evening passed and morning came, the second day, the third day, the fourth day, the fifth day

Then God said, “And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us. They will have power over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small.”27 So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female,28 blessed them, and said, “Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals.29 I have provided all kinds of grain and all kinds of fruit for you to eat;30 but for all the wild animals and for all the birds I have provided grass and leafy plants for food” — and it was done.31 God looked at everything he had made, and he was very pleased. Evening passed and morning came — that was the sixth day.

And on the seventh day … God had a sabbatical!

What a good idea!  A sabbatical every week!  But just for a day!

How true that ancient poetry is … human beings have a remarkable power …

“They will have power over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small.”27 They will live “all over the earth and bring it under their control.”  They will be “in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals.29”

It is part of the tragedy of creation that humanity has abused that power.

The words are intriguing words.  They are perceptive down the centuries – it is a reality that human beings have a remarkable power they can use for good or for ill.

They will have power … bring it under their control … be in charge of …

If you step back and see how this is the start of a big story told in the bible … the tragedy of humanity is that people do not use the power they have for good .. instead they use it for ill.

No sooner has this great responsibility been identified but another story is told – of the mess that human beings make as they do not exercise their power in the way God wants, but in a way that cuts against God and damages and destroys.

There’s always the potential for new beginnings – new dreams … of a new way of ordering creation – glimpsed in Isaiah of Babylon – respect for life, care for the world, enough for all  in Isaiah 65.

That care for God’s planet is God’s will for his world.  An overarching way of thinking of the world is maybe worked out best in poetic language.

We don’t just sing our praises to God – we sing words that help us get our mind round the big things in our world.

I have chosen two hymns that may be new to us for harvest today, though they are not new hymns.  It’s perhaps not inappropriate that the first is set to a passion tide hymn, my song is love unknown.  There is a wistfulness, a longing in the music.

There is a powerful understanding of our place in creation … the hymn starts with the visions of Isaiah 65 and the new earth and the new heaven – this is God’s will in heaven  – and if God’s will then a model for us in seeking to do his will on hearth

1          Lord, bring the day to pass
            when forest, rock and hill,
            the beasts, the birds, the grass,
            will know your finished will: 
            when we attain our destiny
            and nature lives in harmony.

Then the hymn comes to recognise our abuse of the power that has been given us …

2          Forgive our careless use
            of water, ore and soil -
            the plenty we abuse
            supplied by others' toil:
            save us from making self our creed,
            turn us towards each other's need.

Then coomes a prayer that when we exercise rule, dominion we should do it in a servant way of rule as Christ has modelled for us.  It is telling that the Greek translation uses the word ‘Lord’ that in the

3          Help us, when we release
            creation's secret powers,
            to harness them for peace,     
            our children's peace and ours:
            teach us the art of mastering
            in servant form, like Christ our King.

And finally the hymn draws in imagery that Paul uses of the creation groaning and looking with longing.

4          Creation groans, travails
futile its present plight,
            bound - till the hour it hails
            God's children born of light:
            that we may gain our true estate,
            come, Lord, new heavens and earth create.

Ian Masson Fraser (born 1917)  ©1969 Stainer and Bell Ltd
CCL Licence No. 3540   Tune:  Love Unknown

We need to recognise the responsibility we have for the planet we have been given … that is a responsibility each of us has to fulfil.

A time for reflection … and for sharing … what is it that you feel we can do?

A time to share

1          God in such love for us lent us this planet,
            Gave it a purpose in time and in space:
            Small as a spark from the fire of creation,
            Cradle of life and the home of our race.

2          Thanks be to God for its bounty and beauty,
            Life that sustains us in body and mind:
            Plenty for all, if we learn how to share it,
            Riches undreamed of to fathom and find.

3          Long have our human wars ruined its harvest;
            Long has earth bowed to the terror of force;
            Long have we wasted what others have need of,
            Poisoned the fountain of life at its source.

4          Earth is the Lord's: it is ours to enjoy it,
            Ours, as God's stewards, to farm and defend.
            From its pollution, misuse, and destruction,
            Good Lord deliver us, world without end!

Fred Pratt Green 1903-2000
© 1973 Stainer & Bell Ltd.  CCCL 3540
Tune: Epiphany

Prayers of Concern

It’s in that second part of Isaiah that there is a vision of how things might be – of a world properly cared for … and it’s from the end of Isaiah 55 with its wonderful vision that our next song comes …

Song: You shall go out with joy

Words of Blessing

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