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Giving of yourself

At this time of year I visit a lot of schools for their harvest festivals. We gather in the Hall where there is a display of harvest offerings – you know the usual, baked beans, pasta, teabags … and later this morning at our harvest festival we will make a

similar display our harvest offerings ... baked beans, pasta, teabags…Because we associate harvest with giving something away – usually food - usually in a tin or a packet. So far, so good. I’m all for giving stuff away. And fortuitously our reading this morning is also about celebrating harvest by giving stuff away. Here in Deuteronomy the people of God are asked to bring an offering of first fruits. 

First fruits means the cream of the crop, the very best of what they have: which is a bit different from whatever is at the back of the cupboard or a 2-4-1 from Tesco. Another thing about first fruits offerings (which is not mentioned in this particular text) is that they traditionally included the produce native to the land –   they were specific and particular –   reflecting the unique ways in which the people had been blessed. All of which got me thinking about our own offerings – are we giving of what is precious to us? And are we giving of what we have been particularly and uniquely blessed with? 

I suspect that if we are being honest there is nothing less precious to us or less reflective of the unique and particular blessings that we have received than a tin of baked beans – except perhaps a tin of spaghetti hoops. So what can we give that is both precious and unique? The most precious and unique thing we have to give is ourselves. And the commodity we value most in our particular time and place is time. 
There are members of our congregation who give generously of this most precious asset.  Volunteering for Ace, prison work, school work, leading Sunday school, organising the fete.

One of the things that we have been involved in recently is the Robes homeless night shelter.  I’ve been very proud of our little church which punches way above its numerical weight in terms of the number of volunteers we send: People to set up beds, to cook supper, to chat to the guests and play scrabble, to wash up, clear up, do the laundry, to make breakfast.  Ordinary people who instead of giving baked beans or money, give time, give themselves. Something happens to a giver when they give in this way. When I’ve talked to volunteers – especially first time volunteers – I have always been struck by how the experience has changed them, transformed them.

There is a recurring theme of a sense of connectedness. People who may never have had a conversation with a homeless person before, who may have been quite fearful of the prospect, over the weeks and months, get to know individuals, their names, their stories, they learn that they are not so very different after all. They often speak of a sense of “there-but-by-the-grace-of God-go-I” an understanding of our shared human vulnerability.

This understanding of our connectedness, of our shared life, is at the heart of harvest. And our reading gives us guidance on how we create it. The people of God living in relative plenty and security in the promised land were asked to remember: to remember their history, where they came from, to remember times when their people had nothing, were strangers in the land, were homeless. To remember when they too suffered hardship and hunger, when they were entirely and utterly dependant.  Having so remembered their past they could truly appreciate that  - no matter how hard they worked for their goods, how proud they were of their skills,  no matter how impressive all that they had achieved – all they had, all they were, all they could offer – was in truth a gift, a gift from God.

A gift they could now give heartfelt thanks for and a gift they could share. Not at a distance – but up close and personal – hen they celebrated their plenty – they were to do so together with the strangers who live among them; the widows, the orphans and the foreigners. Recognising that they were essentially the same, they were all equally dependent upon the gifts of God. Baked beans are a gift from God and I really hope that we get plenty to go into the Ace of Clubs store room this harvest. But I also hope that we take time to reflect upon who we are and how we got here and what we have been blessed with that is special and unique and precious and how we can share that the needy and the stranger in our land.

RBT - 13-10-13