Sermon for Harvest, 24 October 2021 (Year B).
Readings: 1 Timothy 6:6-10; Matthew 6:25-33
One of my highlights this week was a spontaneous invitation to visit the Little Acorns Nursery for their Harvest Festival. With all the joy of Harvest (and the excited cries of “That’s my mummy!”) The children acted out the story of the enormous turnip. The story goes like this:
A farmer planted a turnip. The turnip grew and grew. It grew to be the enormous turnip. The farmer started to pull the turnip out of the ground. He pulled and pulled, but couldn’t pull it out. So he called over his wife.
The farmer’s wife took hold of the farmer, the farmer took hold of the turnip, they pulled and pulled, but couldn’t pull it out. So the farmer’s wife called over their daughter.
The daughter took hold of the farmer’s wife, and she took hold of the farmer, the farmer took hold of the turnip, they pulled and pulled, but couldn’t pull it out. So the daughter called over the dog.
The dog took hold of the daughter, the daughter took hold of the farmer’s wife, she took hold of the farmer, the farmer took hold of the turnip, they pulled and pulled, but couldn’t pull it out. So the dog called over the cat.
The cat took hold of the dog, the dog took hold of the daughter, the daughter took hold of the farmer’s wife, she took hold of the farmer, the farmer took hold of the turnip, they pulled and pulled, but couldn’t pull it out. So the cat called over the children playing nearby.
The children took hold of the cat, the cat took hold of the dog, the dog took hold of the daughter, the daughter took hold of the farmer’s wife, she took hold of the farmer, the farmer took hold of the turnip, they pulled and pulled –and finally–out came the enormous turnip!
In our reading from Matthew, Jesus tells us “Do not worry” – but as many of us will know, being told not be worry or be anxious is perhaps the least helpful advice can give to someone struggling with mental health issues.
And the reality of our world is that lots of people are struggling with their mental health: whether because of the pandemic, the pace of modern living, or a whole multitude of other factors. Many of us here to day will be familiar with this ourselves, or know someone who is living with a mental health problem: it is estimated that a minimum of 1 in 6 people each week will have experienced a common mental health problem – a number which will have grown during the pandemic.
So why am I talking about mental health on harvest?
Harvest is a time of celebration, joy that the crops seeded were successful, that there will be food for the winter – that we don’t need to worry about this very basic of necessities. But the reality is that many in our communities will be worrying about food this season: as we enter half term, there will be parents worried if they will be able to feed their children without free school meals; with disrupted supply lines, there will continue to be limited stock in supermarkets; and the financial cost of the pandemic will mean that many are having to stretch their budgets further and further.
All of this, compounded by everything else happening in the world, means that many will be struggling with poor mental health this season – in some it will be obvious, but for many it will be hidden.
Jesus says “do not worry”, but for me this is less of an instruction, and more of a destination to which we must work towards together.
The children of Little Acorns Nursery were on to something with the story they told. In the story of the enormous turnip, it takes the whole community gathering together in support to overcome the problem. This is an image of the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God we do not need to worry, because we are coexisting in mutual support with one another: when one is struggling, the rest of the community gather to support them.
There are practical ways to do this: we can give to food banks and other support programmes; notice when someone is struggling or isn’t behaving quite like themselves and asking “are you ok?” or “can I help?” (the charity Mind have some useful ideas about how you can support someone going though a period of poor mental health); we can listen to one another creatively – listening beyond the surface level and paying attention to how we really are; we can be generous with each other – not just through practical gifts and support, but also through generosity of spirit – allowing the people around us to be who they are, hold difficult behaviour in love and ask “what might they be going through that I can’t see?”; we can give each other permission to take a break and lay things down, to rest and recover… and I’m sure there are many other things that we can do to support each other. Perhaps over the weeks to come, we can share these ideas with one another – reach out and build those links that will keep us strong in times of trouble.
This too can be our Harvest, a celebration of the fruits of our mutual care and support for one another.
And if, inside, you are having a lean harvest – if you are finding the world more clouded than bright, more grey than colour, more anxiety than joy – please don’t suffer in silence.
This can be our covenant with one another: when I am struggling I will reach out to you, and when you are struggling you can can reach out to me.
Jesus calls us to be part of the Kingdom of God, to be part of a community that supports each other. There is no shame in asking for help and, for me – today, Jesus’ invitation is this: not just “Do not worry”, but “Do not worry alone”.
1 McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016) Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. Leeds: NHS Digital. Available at: http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB21748/apms-2014-full-rpt.pdf [Accesed 5 October 2016]
2 Read more about mental health statistics here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/#References