Harvest Festival Reflection September 2020
Do the names Mercy Baguma and Jeff Bezos mean anything to you? They were both in the news when I sat down to write this Harvest Festival reflection. But by the time you read this you may have forgotten who they are even if you’d heard the names at the time.
Let’s start with Jeff Bezos. He is the man behind Amazon. And on 26th August it was announced that he was worth $200 billion. That is $200,000,000,000! To give you an idea of how vast that sum of money is, earlier this year a man called Humphrey Yang calculated that if one single grain of rice represented $100,000 of Bezos’ wealth, his wealth would weigh 26.3 kilograms!
But what of Mercy Baguma? On the same day as Bezos’ new fortune was revealed Mercy Baguma, a woman who was living in extreme poverty, and relying on charities and friends to buy food, was found dead next to her crying baby in a flat Glasgow. 34-year-old Mercy Baguma, was from Uganda. Her one-year old son was suffering from malnutrition and required hospital treatment. It is understood Baguma had lost her job after her limited leave to remain in this country expired and she had been relying on donations of food from friends and charitable organisations.
You may be thinking what have these stories got to do with Harvest Festival? Harvest Festival should be about celebrating all good gifts around us. Actually, these stories have a lot to do with Harvest Festival.
The Bible passages suggested for Harvest Festival in the Methodist Worship book include Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 12, Ruth 2: 1 – 23, 1 Timothy 6: 6 – 19, Matthew 6: 25 - 33 There is a theme of giving thanks of course – notably in Deuteronomy. It is right we should give thanks to God for the food we have.
But that is not the only thing that emerges from these Bible passages. In the two Old Testament passages we see that it is it right that we should give thanks for the harvest and the food we have but we should respond to the harvest by ensuring that others less fortunate than ourselves are provided for.
12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. Deuteronomy 26:12
And the whole theme running through the passage from Ruth is the same - care for someone less fortunate by ensuring something was left behind in the fields during harvest so that those in need would be provided for.
Most of us don’t have fields in which to leave something behind for others to help themselves – though I was touched recently when out for a wander on my scooter around Cepen Park South, to see a box of courgettes outside a house with a sign saying “Help yourself we can’t eat them all”. Most of us cannot relate to Boaz in the story of Ruth with his fields of corn.
But we can relate to the call of God for us to use what we have to help others. Which brings me to the passage from 1 Timothy. The main theme of this passage is the concern regarding the dangers of wealth and the attitudes of mind and habits of life that acquisition and possession of wealth encourage. Who ever the writer to Timothy was (maybe Paul, maybe not) he is building on themes that were already well known to the earliest Christians. We all know how Jesus talked about money and its dangers on several occasions.
Now unless you have very good accountants who manage to help you hide away your wealth, I doubt if anyone reading this reflection is in quite the same league as Jeff Bezos. And you may think “Why is David lecturing me on money?” It’s a fair question. But money poses a danger to everyone and it is worth reminding ourselves of that.
The Chinese tell of a man who dreamed day and night of gold. He rose one day and, when the sun was high, he went to the crowded marketplace. He stepped directly to the booth of a gold dealer, snatched a bag full of gold coins, and walked calmly away. The officials who arrested him were puzzled. "Why did you rob the gold dealer in broad daylight?" they asked. "And in the presence of so many people?"
"I did not see any people," the man replied. "I saw only gold." How often do we see it happen? People no longer see people; they see only gold.
Now we must be careful at this point. There is nothing inherently evil about money. Indeed, properly used, money can do much good. Until Jeff Bezos came along the wealthiest man in the world was Bill Gates – the founder of Microsoft computers. In recent years Gates and his wife Melinda have given away vast sums of money through their Foundation. In particular they have helped fund polio vaccination programs so that that disease is now eradicated in most parts of the world. (Though by any standards the Gates’ still have huge wealth.)
Nevertheless, the love of money is the scariest drug on the market, by Jesus' standards. It is addictive. It is deadening. It causes us to lose our sensitivity to others and to God. And most of all it keeps is from being part of God’s ministry to the world.
Dr. Thomas Lane Butts once put it this way: "One of the miracles of the organized church is that you can be busy at your daily tasks at home and at the same time be preaching the Gospel in Africa, feeding the hungry in Haiti, or helping the homeless in India. You can win some victory for humanity, wherever you are, by your tithe."
It is right then at Harvest Festival to think of our own money and how we use it to benefit others in the name of God. And it is right to think of how others use their money.
To close I come back to the two names I started this reflection with - Jeff Bezos and Mercy Baguma. What kind of world is it, what kind of country is ours, that lauds multi billionaires and yet allows a young mother to die next to her malnourished son?
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6: 17 - 19