This weekend I led a Harvest Thanksgiving service in a nearby church. These services have changed over the years. Today harvest displays are mainly comprised of tins and packets rather than fresh fruit and vegetables. This is more practical when the harvest gifts are distributed because the food lasts longer. The food at the service I led was given to the local Foodbank. Such gifts give a boost to the Foodbanks around the country and provide much needed food for poorer families.
In the Western world today we are less conscious of the importance of the harvest than we were. Throughout the year our supermarket shelves are filled with a massive variety of different kinds of food from all parts of the world. Most of us don’t know, or even think to ask, whether the farmers have had a good harvest. The people in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, however, are experiencing severe food shortages because of a sustained drought. People are dying because the harvest has failed.
The Earth is a tiny planet in a vast universe and is, as far as we know, unique. We have an abundance of water and much of the land is fertile and can be cultivated. Enough food is grown every year to feed all the people in the world, but there is an unequal distribution. Many have more than they need and others go hungry. The World Food Programme says that one in nine people in the world don’t have enough food to lead an active and healthy life and the number is growing. Children, women and rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia are in the frontline of hunger.
It is important to remember God and to give thanks to him. He is the One who created the earth and the abundance of good things that sustain our lives. In the Old Testament the people were told, “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. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” One of the best known harvest hymns says, “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love.”
A project in Staffordshire which gave foodbank vouchers to some shoplifters has been suspended after the police and crime commissioner intervened. The commissioner ordered a review and said it was “absolutely not acceptable” for it to appear criminals were being rewarded for stealing. During the 5 months the project has been running just 7 vouchers have been given to people who had been caught shoplifting. The vouchers entitled the people to receive an emergency supply food from a local foodbank. A recent report said that one in five British households is now borrowing money to buy their weekly food.
The first food bank was established in a garden shed and garage in Salisbury in 2000. There are now more than 300 foodbanks nationwide run by churches and communities. In 2011/12 they gave emergency food to over 128,000 people. The Trussell Trust, which coordinates the foodbank project, is concerned that people in crisis should not go hungry. They prioritise families with children under the age of 16 and people over 65.
The film Les Misérables tells the moving story of Jean Valijean who was sent to prison in 19th century France for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. When he was released on parole his life was changed when a Bishop offered him food and shelter and graciously intervened to stop him being sent back to prison again. Because of the Bishop’s kindness Jean was a transformed man. He tried to find freedom and a new life, but spent the rest of his days in constant fear of being discovered, all because he stole a loaf of bread to feed his wife and children.
In the book of Proverbs Agur prays, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.” Agur was a wise man who knew that poverty may bring great pressure on us so that we do things we know to be wrong. But he knew also that riches are a greater danger. Jesus said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Kindness and compassion can transform lives in a way that self-righteous condemnation never does.