03 December 2008

Harvest Festival - Sermon

Harvest Thanksgiving 2008

St. Luke’s Church

5 October 2008

Preached by Stuart Pike

Well, it’s about the economy! The markets have been going crazy, the US is in recession, many think that we are to follow. Both countries are having their elections. The future appears uncertain. People seem jittery when they listen to the news. It is as though we believe that will not have enough. And in the midst of what seems like a desolate time, we gather together to worship God with the bounty of the harvest decorating our Church.

So, I thought I’d like to tell you the story of Stone Soup.  It is a story which my father told me probably 40 years as.There are many versions of it around.  My version goes like this:

Once upon a time a stranger rode his tired horse down a back country road on his way home from a long journey.   It was late afternoon and the man was tired and hungry.  Ahead he saw a small village.  "I'll get something to eat there and find a place for the night," he thought.

Suddenly the horse tripped, throwing the stranger to the ground. As he brushed himself off, he saw that the horse had stumbled over a rock sticking out of the ground in the middle of the road. He walked over to it and dug it out of the earth so that it would not trip anyone else.  It was a splendid rock, almost perfectly round and smooth.  The stranger liked the rock, so rather than throw it away, he put it in his saddle bag, climbed up on his horse, and continued into the village.

As he road past the first houses the village people stopped their to stare.  He waved to several of them, but no one waved back.  He got off his horse and approached a woman standing in front of a small house.  "Good evening," he said cheerfully, "Could you spare a bit of food for a hungry man?"

The woman began shaking her head almost before he had finished his sentence.  "We have had a poor harvest here.  We are very worried that there is barely enough food for our family.  I am sorry."  And she walked into her house and shut the door.

The man continued to the next house where a farmer was working on his wagon.  "Do you have a place at your table for a hungry traveller?" he asked.

"It didn't rain during the last month before harvest," the farmer said. "What little we have is needed for our children."

At every home the stranger heard the same sad story:  The harvest had been poor, there was not enough food to make it through the winter.  Everyone was very worried about themselves and their immediate family.

Completely discouraged and very hungry the man sat down under a tree in the village square.  "Poor people,": he thought,  "in a few weeks they will be as hungry as I am."  Suddenly an idea hit him.  He reached into his saddle bag, took out the stone and addressed the villagers.  "Gentle folk of the village", he shouted, "Your worries are over.  I have in my hand a special stone that will help take you through the long winter.  This is a magic stone.  With it you can make stone soup."

Stone soup?" an old man repeated.  "I have never heard of stone soup."

"The wonder of stone soup," the stranger continued, "is that it not only feeds hungry people, it also brings people together.  Now who has a large empty pot?"

Quickly a huge iron pot was found, and delivered to the stranger in a wheel barrow.  "The kettle is barely large enough, but it will do," the stranger said.  "Now we must fill the pot with water and start a fire."

Eager hands carried buckets of water and firewood.  Soon the pot was placed over a roaring fire.  As the water began to boil the stranger dramatically raised the magic stone above his head, and then he gently placed it in the kettle.

"Stone soup needs salt and pepper," the stranger announced.

Two children ran to find salt and pepper.  After the water had boiled for few minutes the stranger sipped the brew.  "This stone makes an excellent soup, but it would be better if we had a few carrots."

"We have a few carrots that we're willing to share," a farmer replied.  Immediately his daughter ran home and returned with an apron full of carrots.

"Its too bad the harvest was so bad," said the stranger.  "Stone soup is always much more tasty when we add a cabbage or two."

"I think I know where to find a cabbage," a young mother shouted as she dashed towards her home.  When she returned she was carrying three large cabbages.

The stranger was busy slicing carrots and cabbages with his hunting knife.  "The last time I made stone soup was at the castle of a rich man.  He added a few potatoes and a bit of beef."

Several people talked quietly, "A bit of beef and we can eat like rich people", they whispered.  They went home and soon returned not only with beef and potatoes, but some brought milk, onions and barley too.

By the time the soup was ready it was almost dark.  It was the most delicious soup that they had ever smelled and to think, it all came from the magic stone.  The stranger finally declared that it was done and invited everyone to have as much as they could eat. 

After everyone had eaten their fill, some folk brought out their fiddles.  Everyone began to sing and dance  and they continued till the wee hours of the morning.  Never had the village people had such a wonderful party.

The next morning the whole village gathered to say goodbye to the stranger.  As he mounted his horse a small child called out, "You forgot to take your magic stone!"

The stranger smiled.  "I am going to leave the stone with you as gift of gratitude for your hospitality," he said.  "Remember, as long as you make stone soup, you will never have to worry about being hungry."

As he rode off a grandfather put his arm around the shoulders of his young granddaughter and said, "Do you remember the other bit of magic that the stranger promised when you make stone soup?" he asked.

"Yes," she said, "the stone brings people closer together."

Today we live in a time and place where so many of us have so much more stuff than we need, while there are so many who do not even have enough to eat.

Today’s lesson from Deuteronomy underscores the fact that it is God who provides everything we have, and that means we who have plenty simply have the stewardship of it. If you leave out the pomegranates and fig trees and olive trees and add apples and peaches and pears, then this lesson describes our own land. We are not to think that it is by our own might that we have wealth, but it is God who supplies our wealth and our ability to get it.

Too often we are like the nine lepers who don’t even think to stop and be grateful for God’s blessings. Perhaps what we need to appreciate what we have, is simply an opportunity to share, to be brought closer together and to give thanks for all of God’s grace in providing what we need. Amen.

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