Sermon preached at the British Guild of Agricultural Journalist‘s Service of Thanksgiving for Harvest 2020
“Don’t worry,” said Jesus. And there’s plenty to worry about. Harvest yields round our way are about a third down on last year, after the wettest February on record that tried hard to turn Hereford into an island, three big storms and the driest Spring since 1961. Stock up with straw now if you can: it’s going to be scarce, which will hit those raising livestock. And all that’s before COVID and all its complications. Or Brexit.
“Don’t worry.” But of course we do, and the agricultural community as much as any, though their famous self-reliance means it can be hard to sense danger, until disaster strikes. The NFU, YFC and chaplaincy here set up a scheme for voluntary labour to support isolating farmers. There was little take-up. But suicide rates in the county’s farming community were already higher than average, and nationally 81% of farmers under 40 believe that mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today.
So how do we help ourselves, and others, not to worry? If ever there was a sermon theme that cuts through the platitudes that has to be it, whether you are a farmer or a journalist, or a bishop in retirement. I’m preaching to myself here too.
“Consider the ravens,” says Jesus. What an odd place to start. Consider how to shoot them, I suppose, if you’re an unreconstructed sheep-farmer. Or break out the Irri-Tape and Terror Eyes if you’ve seen the light. Who thinks up these names? Agricultural journos making a bob or two on the side, I suppose.
But, consider the ravens, consider the lilies – we’re getting onto safer ground now – consider just what an amazing natural world we’re set in. Looking at a canvas like that our own worries, however dark, can become part of a bigger pattern of light and shade, part of a bigger story. And getting perspective, even if you can’t quite bring God into it, is a serious step towards mental health.
As is looking at and giving thanks for the other people around us, even on Zoom. Yes, I know. They’re a dismal bunch. And they’re thinking just the same about you. Except they’re probably not. Most of us succumb to the “grass is greener” syndrome and assume that everyone else is much better than we are, which is sort of depressing until you turn it round and think that by the same token that means that everyone else is rating you as better than them. Touché: and another step towards mental health is taken. Jesus got there first of course: “Of how much more value are you than the birds!” You’re worth it, even if you don’t use l’Oréal.
And then, finally – because I am all that stands between you and a party – what is all that worrying going to do for you anyway? It won’t just fail to add a single hour to your span of life, it’ll probably shorten it. So if by now we can find enough perspective to see beyond those feelings of threat that fry our brains, let’s switch on the little grey cells and do what the Good Lord suggested instead: put some energy into doing the things that build the sort of society that he called the kingdom of God and you can call what you want, but one in which any of us and all of us can find fairness and happiness. And what do you know, we may just find that not only do the beastly worries shrink back into the shadows, but life itself starts to feel worth living again.
Look up, at the world around us in all its beauty; look round, at your family and friends in all their worth; and look out, and help build a better world. It’s got to be worth a go.