Psalm 67; Matthew 25:31-46
Harvest Festival (8am)
St Barbara’s 13.10.2019
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Our first reading completes our series in the Psalms. On this day when we are celebrating harvest, it is an appropriate psalm to use, a psalm that reminds us to give thanks to God for his goodness to us.
But harvest time is also a good time to remind us of the needs of others. In the last couple of years we have focused on the needs of those in Kenya and Burundi, and this year we are focusing on the needs of those within the UK, for those for whom life is a real struggle, for whom going to bed hungry at night is a regular occurrence because they can’t always afford to buy enough food.
At out harvest service we will be doing a quiz and I didn’t want you to miss out.
1. How many people in the UK struggle to meet their basic needs because of poverty? In other words, how many struggle to pay their food or fuel bills, or have to watch every penny they spend; or have no money set aside for emergencies, so if the cooker breaks they’ve got no funds to help them. Is it:
1 in 20
1 in 10
1 in 5 – 14 million people
1 in 2
2. How many children in the UK are estimated to be living in poverty?
1 in 10
1 in 7
1 in 5
1 in 3 – 4 million children
3. How many over 65’s are estimated to be living in poverty?
1 in 12
1 in 9
1 in 6 – 2 million pensioners
1 in 3
(This has dropped significantly in the last 20 years, but in the last 3-4 years has begun to rise again).
4. How many people with disabilities are living in poverty?
1 in 10
1 in 7
1 in 5
1 in 3 – 4.2 million people
5. How many 3-day emergency food supplies were given out by Foodbanks last year?
1.6 million (19 % increase in last year; 73% increase in 5yrs)
6. What is the most common reason for people needing help from Foodbanks?
Income not covering essential costs – 33%
Delays in receiving benefits – 20% universal credit
Changes to benefits
Rising food prices
7. How many families say they will have to cut back on food so that they can pay fuel bills this winter?
1 in 8
2 in 8
3 in 8 – 3 million family households
4 in 8
8. How many over 65s say they will have to cut back on food so that they can pay fuel bills this winter?
Some of these figures are quite shocking. 3 million families will be making choices this winter about whether to keep their homes warm or buy enough to eat; 1 million over 65s will be doing the same. Maybe you can identify with that. If so, you are not alone.
And one of the major problems that accompanies poverty is debt. Just to make ends meet, people borrow. But that leads to further debt, until it spirals out of control, and people are left trapped.
And its a big problem in the UK. Here are some figures from the Children’s Society:
2.4 million children live in families with problem debt (ie debt that is spiralling out of control).
A further 5 million children live in families that are struggling to keep up with debt repayments
And the impact is huge:
Children in families with problem debt are more than twice as likely to be unhappy at school and be bullied because they aren’t able to have the same things as their friends.
Over half of children living in families with problem debt are worried about money and say it causes arguments at home; and 90% of such families have had to go without essentials such as food, clothing or heating to keep up with repayments.
Well, how should we respond?
In Old Testament times, debt was a real problem too. If there was a bad harvest small farmers would not be able to grow enough food to live off.They had to buy food, and to get enough money to do so, they would have to sell some of their land. But that meant the next year at harvest time they had less land so had grown fewer crops. They needed to sell a bit more land. In the end they ended up losing all their land, and the only way to survive was to sell themselves as slaves to big farmers.
God made it clear that this was not how he wanted his people to behave. He told the people of Israel that every 50 years they were to declare a Year of Jubilee. All debts were to be cancelled, and everyone was to be given back their land. God wanted to make sure that everyone was given a chance to start again.
Jesus continued with that message. When he began his ministry in Nazareth he stood up in the synagogue and announced: “The Spirit has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the Jubilee, the year of the Lord’s favour”. In other words, Jesus came to break the chains of poverty and debt.
The church around the world has continued with that message too.
Jubilee 2000 was a movement of churches that successfully campaigned for and persuaded governments to cancel billions of pounds of unpayable debt that was owed by the world’s poorest countries.
The Church of England have been at the forefront of setting up of Credit Unions that help people to borrow money on fair terms and challenging companies such as Wonga who charge excessive interest.
And at our 10am service we will be hearing about the work of Christians Against Poverty, who as part of CTEC we will be supporting over the coming months in the appointment of someone to work with people in addressing their debt issues.
Our Gospel reading reminds us that whenever we care for others, whenever we help others have enough to eat, or whenever we give those who are lonely a welcome, or whenever we make sure people have the essentials of life – clothes, food; whenever we care for people who are sick. Whenever we do these things, we are doing them for Jesus. Equally, when we don’t do them, it is as if we are ignoring Jesus among us.
This harvest let us take action to serve Christ in our midst. Amen.