Where do blackberries come from? Was one of the questions I asked at an Assembly at Austhorpe School last week. One little boy with his hand up replied “The supermarket.” Thankfully a good many more knew that at this time of year blackberries are quote “in the bushes”.
The humble blackberry is one of the joys of this time of year, something we can all harvest and take home for our pies and crumbles. Yet as I went on to tell the children the blackberry is not a cost free fruit.
The bramble on which it grows is prickly and if you pick them you’ll acquire a few thorns along the way too. The blackberry the fruit that makes us glad. The prickly picking that elicits the cry “ouch.”
And there lies the connection with our Gospel. At its end we heard ‘Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ whilst being commanded not to worry. The fruit- the kingdom of God. The prickly stem – the worry, the struggle to keep that kingdom in our minds amidst our daily lives.
And how we worry. We worry about small things. We worry about big things. We know, intellectually at least that worry cannot ‘add a single hour to our span of life’ and yet we do it anyway.
Jesus though also invites us to strive first for the kingdom, to not lose sight of the main thing, of the fruit which makes us glad. And so at this Harvest Thanksgiving when we give thanks that all is safely gathered we’re also reminded of how seeking the kingdom of God; and the thanksgiving that flows from the Harvest are bound together.
Living thankful lives, not just for the food we enjoy but for everything does help lessen the hold that worry sometimes has on us and also in some small way anticipates the coming kingdom.
The German mystic Meister Eckhart famously wrote ‘If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is thank you. It will be enough.’
So what might this thankful life look like?
Here again the bramble and blackberry is also a helpful symbol for us today because it is all around us “in the bushes” as one of the children beautifully put it. And thereby reminds us that we don’t have to look far to find those things for which we to be thankful. Just rewind a bit this morning and remember how we are;
Thankful for the opening of our eyes after sleep this morning
Thankful for the feel of the carpet when our toes touch the floor.
Thankful for the electricity that powers the kettle that makes your morning cup of tea.
Thankful for the light which appears instantly when you flick a switch.
Thankful for the smell of an autumn day as you came here.
Thankful for simply being here, where we meet Christ and each other and so on and so on.
Now if you think this sounds simple then think again, keep a thanksgiving diary for a week and you’ll see how challenging it is not least because there’s a bit of us that quite likes being grumpy, rather enjoys worrying and having a good moan.
That’s why this Harvest Thanksgiving is so important, an annual reminder to prick our consciences to be thankful in all things.
And being thankful does produce good fruit in us, try it and see what difference it makes. You might even have glimpsed it in others and have noticed what an attractive trait it is. I can think of a number of examples of peoples whose lives, outwardly a least seemed diminished and yet they embodied this spirit of thanksgiving of which I speak.
I can think of little Gladys in her two up two down in Barrow. She really was a beautiful person. She hadn’t had an easy life and yet her life was one framed by thanksgiving I can hear her voice now quietly saying ‘Thanks be to God’. She thought she was pretty hopeless, housebound and coming towards the end of her life. However whenever I spent time with her I was changed.
I think too of Brother Eldridge Pendleton of the Society of St John the Evangelist, who lived with such a spirit of thanksgiving that even when he was in a nursing home he had ‘such a sense of joy in his heart that if he could he would get down on his hands and knees and kiss the floor.’
Two lives that radiated the beauty of God, who through their thanksgiving sought first the kingdom of God. And that is what Jesus invites us to do too.
So my friends as we celebrate our Harvest Thanksgiving, consider not the lilies of the field but this bit of bramble, with its beautiful fruit at the end. May we in savouring the fruit, give thanks for it and think of the thorns of the bramble which help remind us that thanksgiving isn’t just for today but for every day.