Harvest Festival Sermon

Sermon from Eucharist Service held on Sunday 27th September [Harvest Festival] at St Frideswide's Church, Osney - Revd. Professor Martin Henig

aSt Frideswide’s Church, Osney


Eucharist  on Sunday 27th September [Harvest Festival]

Revd. Professor  Martin Henig

 Joel 2:21-27;  Psalm 126; 1 Timothy 6:6-10; Matthew  6: 25-33.


Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield.[Joel 2:21-22]


+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


 This weekend our thoughts and our prayers in our parish have been focussed on the Natural World, that is on God’s Natural World for as Christians we should never forget that it is his world, ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. Yesterday we celebrated a Bee Friendly festival here in St Frideswide’s church and churchyard, expressing our concern for the continued flourishing of bees and other insects, increasingly imperilled by the problems of climate change, habitat loss, pollution and poison (i.e.pesticides); without bees we would have very few flowering plants and no fruit. Today is Harvest Festival, the summation of the Agricultural year - at least in Northern Europe, as further south in the lands of the Bible all the great Jewish festivals, Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles (which actually starts this very evening) were linked to particular in-gatherings of crops through the warmer months of the year.


 Humans are inveterate speciesists.[1] Consider the usual aims of church concern and mission as expressed in the Church Times and in Diocesan and parish magazines and which are, inevitably, the themes of our weekly prayers and intercessions. Yes, they are indeed all about adequate food for all (‘our daily bread’), health for all,  justice for all, care for the poor, care for the vulnerable, care for the old, care for the young, and of course we all pray for world peace (thinking at this time especially of the plight of refugees), though in every case this compassion is apparently limited to human beings; the targets are all very, very worthy though they seem to me to miss the larger picture. Indeed, too many texts in the Bible are only concerned with humans, and too much theological speculation on them, might selfishly encourage us simply to think of ourselves, so that at Harvest Festival we give thanks for our honey, our wine, our olive oil, our cereal crops and our fruit. By extension we might add to the list and sometimes do, our animals, and a neighbouring church (but not ours) has advertised its ‘animal service’ as being about our animals, in that instance of course referring to companion animals sometimes wrongly called pets, although this manner of thought can easily and dangerously  lead to considering domesticated animals as opposed to ‘pets’ as mere commodity. It will be no surprise to anyone in this congregation that I find that approach deeply disquieting. In Psalm 50 God, indeed, reproves us for such unthinking arrogance:


I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds.

For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.

I know all the fowls of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are mine.

If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof.[2]


   However, today’s texts should serve to pull as back to basics, reminding us that everything comes from God, the plants which delight the eye or feed our bodies, the birds of the air and even the swarming locust which in Joel, God has sent to punish the people of Judah. The interconnectedness of creation is, of course,  the scheme of  life on earth as envisaged in the first chapter of Genesis and which is taken up in a number of psalms most especially my favourite psalm, 104, the great psalm in praise of salvation which the Hebrews may have adopted from Akhenaton’s Egypt.[3] St Francis of Assisi, whose festival falls on 4th October and who we will properly honour next week, indeed, viewed the whole of creation as reflecting the glory of God. He was no sentimental ‘animal lover’ and in fact discouraged his friars from keeping ‘pets’ because that implied an ownership which was God’s alone. Rather he took a holistic view seeing us all as part of that creation whether humans or other animals, and so seeing us all as his brothers and sisters.


  Those of us deeply concerned with animals often have to counter the completely irrational charge that we cannot be concerned with humans. It is irrational because of course humans are animals, they-like the bee, the parrot and the porcupine- have the breath of life in them. So let us return to that list of  concerns  : adequate food for all (‘our daily bread’), health for all,  justice for all, care for the poor, care for the vulnerable, care for the old,  care for the young, and of course world peace. I hope they are concerns for us all. When applied to other creatures, most of them are embraced by protection and care for the environment and a desire not to harm other creatures. Economic growth which so often means concreting over so much of the earth and despoiling what belongs to God, hunting and widespread cruelty to other creatures through a reliance on animal products on land and sea should, at the very least give us severe moral qualms. Warfare is in a category of its own, a wicked indulgence by humans but other animals are also primary victims of war.


 These are very large themes every one of which deserves extensive treatment which it has, in many cases, received and is receiving for example in the works of  the Revd Professor Andrew Linzey and the large number of publications put out by the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. And of course our readings today remind us that such concerns sit well with the Gospel, and with fundamental Christian teaching as propounded by Pope Francis in Laudato Si.[4] Jesus’ teaching about the sparrows can too easily be dismissed as simply showing his disciples how much more important they are than the birds, but it has always seemed to me that the examples he chooses are designed to cheer up the rather infantile young men (the Apostles) gathered around him, just as one might tell an infant who has fallen on the ground and is crying that s/he is the most important person in the world. Is it not enough that God cares, God who suffers for creation is, through  the incarnation, ever present in all creation, and will save all creation. God does not have favourites.


  This is harvest festival, so we need to think about what this means for life in the British Isles. The grain harvested from the fields provides us with ‘our daily bread’ through the winter but there will hopefully be seeds from the borders of the field -and how many farmers leave the edges ungarnered and unploughed as the Bible demands.[5] There is a wealth of berries and nuts on trees and bushes. Hopefully  we can help a bit at least in towns to add to this store through the winter by feeding the birds which rely upon us. Thanks to the bees we are enjoying a good harvest of fruit, blackberries on the brambles and apples, pears and plums in the orchard. We have few vines in England, but there are still wonderful cider-apple orchards in the West Country and in Suffok , and perhaps we have to make do with rape-seed oil (and the bees love the golden rape flowers) rather than the wonderful olive trees of the Mediterranean. But it is not just us who benefit from nature’s abundance. I watch the squirrels garnering nuts and know that the fieldmice and voles are also busy. Harvest is a time of rejoicing, a time to give thanks for the year that is past and look forward to the following year. It is of course about praise, not of ourselves but of God.


  In the words of the Benedicite the great canticle we sing at Mattins:


Bless the Lord, all works of the Lord,

Sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.[6]


 + In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.



[1] A word originally coined by my friend Dr Richard Ryder

[2] Psalm 50:9-12

[3] J.Day, Psalms(Sheffield 1992),41-2

[4] A special edition of  The Ark (Autumn/Winter 2015) published by Catholic Concern for Animals discusses this very important document.

[5] Leviticus 19:9-10

[6] Song of the Three 35

Other Services

Sermon - Animal Welfare Sunday - 4 Oct 2017 - Revd Jennifer Brown - Nottingham Service

Evensong on Sunday - Evensong on Sunday June 25th 2017 Trinity 2 Revd. Professor Martin Henig - St Margaret’s Church, Binsey

Evensong Sermon - St Margaret's, Binsey and then at St Giles,Oxford

Evensong Sermon - Evensong on Sunday 9th April 2017 [Palm Sunday], St Margaret’s Church, Binsey

Eucharist - Eucharist on Sunday January 8th 2017 at St Fridewide's, Osney - Revd Professor Martin Henig

Twentieth Sunday after Trinity - Parish Eucharist sermon by Lay Preacher, John Clements in The Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Botley in North Hinxey Parish. Text - Psalm 111 and the Gospel Luke 17:11-19

Animal Welfare Sunday 2016 - Sermon at St Cross, Winchester by the Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS

Trinity 16 Service - Sermon by Revd Prof Martin Henig - ASWA Vice President

Service for Animal Welfare - Sermon by Revd Mandy Young, Curate, All saint's Snodland Kent

Passion Sunday - 2016 - St Frideswide’s , Osney Eucharist on Sunday 13th March 2016 [Passion Sunday] - Revd. Professor Martin Henig

ASWA Annual Service 2015 - Sermon from The Right Reverend James Jones former Bishop of Liverpool

Animal Welfare Service - Watford 31 May 2015 - Animal Welfare Service - Watford

Ecumenical Animal Welfare Retreat - Ecumenical Animal Welfare Retreat, Penmaenmawr in North Wales from Monday 18th May to Friday 22nd May 2015

Sermon from Harvest Evensong - The Harvest is for the Animals too! Sermon from Revd Professor Martin Henig

Sermon for 2014 Annual Service - The Sermon given by the Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS at St Woolos Cathedral, Newport accompanied by Intercessions from Revd Professor Martin Henig

Sermon at St Margaret's, Binsey - A sermon from Revd Professor Martin Henig

Animals, God and Human convenience - A sermon delivered at St Mary’s Church, Ewell, Surrey by Revd Professor Martin Henig

St Michael & All Angels Watford - Reverend Professor Martin Henig - Watford

CCA Ecumenical Retreat Spring 2014 - Wales - The first of two Sermons presented by Revd Professor Martin Henig

CCA Retreat Spring 2014 - Wales 2 - The second of two sermons presented by the Revd Professor Martin Henig

Dominion - A sermon preached Reverend Jennifer Brown (ASWA) at St Mary’s, Kidlington, Oxfordshire

Eucharist for Advent II - Revd Professor Martin Henig, ASWA vice president - "They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.."

Sermon for 2013 Annual Service - Sermon by Reverend Hugh Broadbent, ASWA Committee Member, at ASWA Annual Service on Animal Welfare Sunday

The Groans of Creation - A Sermon preached by the Revd. Professor Martin Henig - Vice President of ASWA

Whitsun Creation Service - Revd. Professor Martin Henig at St Frideswide’s , Osney

Whitsun Evensong - Revd. Professor Martin Henig - St Margaret’s, Binsey

Sermon for Lent IV - Sermon for Fourth Sunday in Lent by Revd Dr Martin Henig - Vice Chairman of ASWA

Sermon from 2012 Annual Service - Chelmsford - Sermon by Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell at ASWA Annual Service on Animal Welfare Sunday

Eucharist & Evensong Sunday 7th October 2012 - St Margaret’s, Binsey Revd. Professor Martin Henig

Animal Welfare Sunday Sermon - Sermon - St Mary’s, Kidlington on Animal Welfare Sunday - Reverend Jennifer Brown

Eucharist - Dogs & Cats - Sermon from Revd. Professor Martin Henig - St Frideswide’s, Oseney.

The birds of the air: From Holy Ghost to fall - The Birds of the Air: From Holy Ghost to fallen sparrow - Revd. Professor Martin Henig

A Sin against the Holy Spirit - Sermon for Trinity 1 by Revd Dr Martin Henig - Vice Chairman of ASWA

Sermon for Lent II - Sermon for Third Sunday in Lent by Revd Dr Martin Henig - Vice Chairman of ASWA

Sermon for Lent - Into the Wilderness - a Sermon from Martin Henig - one of a series during Lent - 29.02.12

Lent Sermon - Salvation for All - Sermon by Reverend Jennifer Brown - Sunday 12th February 2012

Sermon from 2011 Annual Service - Sermon by Rt Revd Richard Llewellin, ASWA Chairman, at Kings Norton

Ecumenical Animal Welfare Retreat 07.05.11 - Address from Ecumenical Animal Retreat May 2011 by Dr Martin Henig, ASWA Vice President, run by Catholic Concern for Animals

Sermon - Creation Sunday, Oxford - Sermon from our Vice President, Professor Martin Henig - Creation Sunday 2011 - St Frideswide's, Oxford

Sermon from Gloucester Cathedral 20.11.10 - Sermon from Evensong at Gloucester Cathedral 20th November 2010 Revd Dr Martin Henig, ASWA Vice President

Sermon from 2010 Animal Service - ASWA President, Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS delivered the Sermon at St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb

Sermon for Animal Welfare Sunday 2010 - Sermon preached at St Mary's Church, Kidlington by Reverend Jennifer Brown

Sermon from 2010 Animal Sunday Wokingham - Revd Dr Martin Henig spoke at Wokingham Parish Church

Sermon from 2008 Annual Service - Sermon delivered by Bishop Michael Nazir Ali at the 2008 Rochester Cathedral service

Sermon from 2009 Annual Service - Durham Cathedral Saturday 26th September 2009 Steven Shakespeare

Sermon from 2007 Annual Service - Sermon delivered by Brother Samuel at the 2007 St Michael’s Church, Watford service

Lambeth Conference - ASWA attended the Lambeth Conference with a fringe meeting on Wednesday 30th July.

Dr Tony Campolo Service 2007 - Dr Campolo speaks on Christian responsibilty for the Animal Kingdom.

Sermon from 2002 - Liverpool Cathedral - Rt Revd James Jones's Sermon from the ASWA Annual Service in 2002

< back to Sermons main page