Text: 2 Corinthians 9:10-15 (harvests of justice)
Harvest 2018 has been underway for weeks, and cold and wet weather has meant it has not always gone smoothly. We pray that the weather may yet allow most of the crop to be gathered in, and we give thanks for the efforts of farmers.
In today’s reading for Thanksgiving Sunday, Paul writes about harvests of justice. Other translations of his original Greek yield the phrases harvests of good deeds, harvests of righteousness, and harvests of fully-formed lives; and I appreciate all the translations.
Paul is saying that when we throw ourselves into serving others – as parents, as engaged citizens, and as members of a community of faith – we receive more than we give. The seeds of love that we sow yield the fruit of fully-formed lives, of being right with God, and of justice.
Nothing is more worthy, Paul argues, than losing ourselves in the service of the community in the name of love. Planting seeds of love yields rich harvests, which move us to offer thanks and praise.
When a family conflict ends in understanding, respect, and reconciliation, we give thanks. When a social movement overthrows a tyrant, we rejoice. When a church stewardship campaign brings new energy to outreach projects and makes the coffers overflow, we are pleased.
Unfortunately, we don’t always get the results we desire. Family members sometimes suffer despite our best intentions. Churches don’t always flourish even when we pour our hearts and souls into them. People go to bed hungry every night despite our outreach efforts.
So, what happens when the harvest is not successful? Do we sell the farm? Do we stop trying to grow in love with our family? Do we close the church and find something else to do with our Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings? Do we yield the floor to bullies and abusers?
To be frank, sometimes we do step back. Sometimes creating family peace becomes impossible. Sometimes confronting poverty feels like banging one’s head against a wall. Sometimes, movements for equality and freedom are derailed; and at such times, we may need to take a break.
Perhaps you’ve been there. I certainly have. In my family of origin, there have been times when I distanced myself from my siblings. Happily, this hasn’t been permanent. As our parents aged and then died, I am glad that the five of us have been able to reconnect. But the periods of distance seemed necessary at the time.
The struggle for justice has also been tough for me. In this world of woes and wonders, I have put a lot of effort into working for peace, equality, and freedom.
In university, I threw myself into left-wing causes. But in my early 20’s, I decided to write off the years of blood, sweat and tears I had devoted to them. My crisis was about feminism. I had experienced a measure of healing from feminist ideas and actions. So, I was confused and disheartened when the group in which I was active decided to oppose feminism. Cutting myself off from it was painful.
But happily, within a year, I had found a new group of friends who were working for peace and solidarity in Central America and who seemed saner than the people I had hung out with in university. My new friends included a few people from the United Church of Canada whom I remembered fondly when I finally found the sense to stumble back into church 17 years ago.
Happily, during our lifetimes we have rejoiced at many harvests of justice – the end of apartheid in South Africa, the spread of gay rights across much of the world, the alleviation of deep poverty in much of Asia, the overthrow of despotic regimes in places like Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Then there are days like yesterday. For some of us, yesterday may have about ordinary Saturday tasks and enjoying beautiful Fall weather at the start of a long weekend. But for others of us, yesterday also contained a painful defeat.
Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court despite the credible charges of sexual misconduct against him and despite how he behaved in the hearings.
For millions of people, the melodrama of Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court has stirred up memories of abuse and trauma. I had hoped that the revitalization of feminism in the #metoo and #timesup movements meant that the era of male dominance and the rule of bullies was ending. Yesterday’s vote illustrates how today’s culture still has a long way to go.
The pain of our trauma is amplified when powerful people imply that it doesn’t matter. So, yesterday was a tough day for many of us.
Nevertheless, the failure of a harvest of justice that doesn’t invalidate the struggle. We don’t know how far we can stretch the boundaries until we try. And win or lose, the work itself gives us gracious opportunities to live into our sacred values.
Once we have been grasped by the beauty of the struggle for love and justice — whether in family, neighbourhood, or world – many of us are impelled to find ways to join it.
This might involve finding new ways to listen and share with family members. It might involve participating in outreach efforts like The Bread Run or Clothing Bank. It might involve working for reconciliation with Canada’s First Peoples and supporting the rights of other oppressed people to live free from discrimination.
When these efforts yield fruit, it is easy to give thanks. But life is about the journey more than the destination, I believe. So, even when our efforts don’t yield hoped-for results, the work helps us to live fully-formed lives closer to the God who is Love.
I am grateful that I met left-wing activists in university. Despite our difficulties in staying grounded, I am glad I accepted their invitation to join their campaigns. I learned a lot and I was brought into contact with feminist ideas and people that helped heal some of the wounds of childhood and youth.
I am grateful that I made friends with people who worked in solidarity with Central America in my 20’s. Despite our inability to stop U.S. intervention in Nicaragua and El Salvador, I am glad I accepted their invitation to join this work. I experienced a Spirit of Love that shines bright in Central America, one whose beauty has guided me ever since.
I am grateful that Kingston Road United Church was a going concern when I stumbled into it in my 40’s. Despite the criticisms I sometimes express about the leaders of our denomination, I am thankful that the United Church invited me to join a path of faith, hope and love. There, at long last, I accepted the Grace to walk the Way of Jesus. This has given me a vocation of loving service, one which deeply feeds my spirit and soul.
You know, in times of defeat, we may need fellow pilgrims even more than when the wheels of justice are turning towards the light.
This week may be one in which those of us with memories of abuse may need a sympathetic ear more than ever. This Fall may be one in which the kindness we offer to clients of the Food Bank may be especially appreciated. This year may be one in which our need to comfort one another about the difficulties in achieving climate justice may be especially acute.
It is easy to give thanks when our efforts are successful. But even when they are not, we give thanks for the values that guide us and for family members and fellow pilgrims with whom we work to realize those values. We don’t always get the harvest we want, but we have each other and the presence of God in Christ who walks with us on joyful days as well as painful ones.
Mill Woods United Church invites us to follow the light of God’s love as best we can. Regardless of outcomes, our actions of loving service help us stay awake to the perfect Love and justice that is our Source and our sure destiny.
This Thanksgiving, I pray that we will be filled with gratitude for our connections to each other and to God. May we respond to God’s invitation to work for love and justice and so help us cope and thrive through all of life’s harvests.
Are we winning? Are we losing?
We are loving, and in the end that is all that matters.
Thanks be to God. Amen.