Whose World Is It?

Below is the text of Revd. Talisker’s Harvest address on Sunday 27th September at St Mary’s Buckland.

Whose world is this anyway? Reading endless news stories about the various arguments and wars and political clashes, the fights over this or that right or resource, I sometimes just find myself pondering this very simple question.

Whose world is this?

Who owns it?

And that’s a very different question to “who has been entrusted with the care of it?”

Today we celebrate harvest and give thanks for all the gifts of the earth – especially the food we eat. I think it would be fair to say that most of you listening to my words today are far removed from the reality of growing enough food to survive the winter – but we are still dependant on the earth for its abundance so that we can eat and thrive and enjoy our lives.

And that brings me back again to my opening question. Whose world is this?

I am quite sure there are many answers out there, but for people of faith – any faith – there is only one: God. However you may understand or express the concept of the Divine, this world was created by, is sustained by, and ultimately belongs to, God.

And within faith communities, generally humans are described as having stewardship, or responsibility, to look after the planet and its inhabitants, and to co-exist peacefully with them.

And whilst the Traditional King James Bible (and sadly many others) have translated this as dominion (with all the connotations of “absolute power” that word conveys), Stewardship is a better translation and description.

For stewardship is about caring for something, seeking the highest good of what it is you have care for, having free use of the resources during the period of stewardship, but ultimately always remembering that as steward you will eventually pass this on to the next person appointed. In the case of humanity, passing the habitation of the Earth to the next generation.

Now this may sound like a very modern issue – and in a sense it is. But you know, what’s just so amazing here is that it was clearly a hot topic back in 30AD when Jesus was an itinerant rabbi in Galilee and Judea. And it was a hot topic back about 600 years before that, in the 7th Century BC when the book of Deuteronomy was written, likely in the reign of King Josiah.

Deuteronomy – like Jesus in Luke’s account – speaks of the abundance of the earth and its harvest and resources. But – and the BUT is HUGE:

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God … Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and … your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud, and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

There’s a really important point here – don’t ever forget your roots. No matter how high you climb, how successful you become, don’t forget where you came from. Or how you got from there to here – and how God helped you along the way. Don’t forget your ultimate fragility.

Because when we forget our roots, when we forget our humble origins (or those of our ancestors) and where we came from, then we become proud, and risk becoming the oppressor, forgetting that once we were the oppressed. And if we follow the big overarching narrative of the Old Testament, this is what Israel does, repeatedly, time and time again.

But somehow, despite the prophets and the scriptures, despite the experience of being a nation in slavery in Egypt, the point just didn’t sink home. Maybe that’s collective human nature – I don’t know.

But Jesus felt the need to remind his hearers of this with another of his stories.

A rich man’s land yielded an incredible harvest. Too much – he had nowhere to put it all! So he decided to increase his storage facilities and hoard it all up, so that he would have abundance beyond his wildest dreams to support him in luxury for the rest of his life.

At no point does this rich man utter a word of praise and thanks to God for this abundance. He does not acknowledge at all where this gift – and it is a gift – has come from. In the face of this incredible wealth, he has become arrogant and expectant, and the concept of sharing or a sense of stewardship does not even appear in this story.

And God demonstrates the futility of this attitude – the man died that night. Not in retribution (that is important), but because it was his time, his fate. And what then? Where are all his riches now?

For the earth is the Lord’s and all that dwells therein.

We are but stewards; this world has been entrusted to us – collectively. Some are rich, many are poor. A very few have wealth – and power – beyond the wildest imagining. But all of us will one day leave it all behind and will be stripped of everything we have accumulated. Nothing goes with us through the gateway of Death into the next stage of our life – not even our bodies!

And in the end, whilst we have enjoyed the abundance of the earth whilst we live upon it, in time we will hand it on to those who come after. For we don’t own the earth, or its resources, or the creatures or people who live upon it. And in the end, we can’t actually control Nature either.

Harvest is more a symbolic festival now for many of us here than it was for previous generations in these rural villages. I doubt many of you listening to me today are directly dependant on the food you grow to get you through the winter. But Harvest shows just how interconnected and interdependent we all are – and that is vital for us to realise.

Without the rains and the sun, the crops cannot grow. Without the labour of the farmers, the seed is not sown or harvested. The animals are not cared for and reared.

 And this year we have all learned in a very visceral way just how interconnected and interdependent we are on one another for the most basic of our daily needs.

So perhaps this year, even more than most, we should pause and give thanks to God. To acknowledge that we are the stewards and not owners of this world. To admit our inherent frailty and need for one another, and for the incredible abundance of Nature on which we completely and totally rely for our very existence.

And when we give thanks to God for all this, let us also take time to give thanks to one another for all the benefits we enjoy. To those who continue going out to work despite the health risks, enabling others to stay at home. To those who put themselves at risk for the sake of others. To those who bring love, help and comfort as well as practical assistance – because our spiritual and emotional wellbeing is every bit as important as our physical health.

I feel that this year, we have been taken back to our roots in a new way. We have been forced to realise how powerless we truly are in the face of Nature. We have learnt who the key workers in our society really are; what really is important for all the things we used to take for granted in our daily lives here in the UK. And that is perhaps writ on an even grander scale in those places where they are battling other issues such as wildfires or floods in addition to Covid.

Like all our ancestors who survived challenging times, we will survive, though perhaps not as we have been used to do. So much has already changed, and it has now been publicly admitted there is a very long road still to travel.

But in the end, whose world is this? Not ours. We are but stewards, entrusted to look after – and enjoy – it and each other whilst we are here. This Harvest season, let us remember to be thankful in all things – both to God and also to one another – as we enjoy the gifts that this world offers to us.