It’s really nice to be celebrating Lammas but I’m conscious that you may not all know much about me – I was here with your Vicar for a few services last year, but that seems a long time ago. I have been a part of the benefice for the last four years and have attended St. Andrew’s, Kegworth in that time. I live in Derby and have been a city girl for most of my life, apart from one year where I lived in the Peak District with my family before secondary school. I am about to embark on ministerial training in a very rural and small village, much like Diseworth. The college community is not really like anything I have experienced before, simply because of the way people depend on one another. People are very generous with their time, their food and their possessions – it isn’t like that in the city! It made me think about how dependency can positively transform the nature of social relations. I’m sure we are all painfully aware though of ways in which it can have the opposite effect and become negative and exploitative.
One such example has been in the news this week where there has been a focus on farmers’ dependence on the ethics of big supermarket bosses and consumers. Farmers can be understood as being the hidden victims of supermarket price wars. We have over 10,000 dairy farms in the UK who supply milk to a range of dairy company processors, who in turn supply to shops and food industries. A reduction in international demand has led to supermarkets, in competition with one another, reducing the price which has meant that a pint of milk now costs the consumer less than it was produced for. Naively I would have said that we were dependent on producers, in this case, farmers, for the food and drink we consume. With the milk crisis it would seem that neither the consumer nor the famers are in control…but supermarkets are. Petitions have begun, stating that people who sign would be willing to pay more for their milk, but even if we did, where would that extra money go – to the farmer or the supermarkets? This speaks of the complex, and inter-related nature of dependency, and shows how apparently small changes in circumstances can lead to a shift of who is in control.
As I am sure you will know, better than me as a city girl, our Lammas service marks an ancient celebration and tradition of acknowledging that dependence on God for our daily bread. We heard in our Old Testament reading about an aspect of the law given to the Israelites regarding acknowledging God’s provision of the first fruits. The Israelites were instructed to take the first sheaf to a Priest who would wave it before the Lord, and an offering of a lamb, mixed flour and oil roasted with flames and wine would be made. Clearly we do not stick with all of these rituals today, but we have taken the main message of that passage, which is to come before the Lord and offer/show him what we have produced…but why?
What is it that we are still dependent on God for in our fast-paced, highly advanced society? With bread, or the farming of wheat first, what could go wrong to prevent a good crop? (Perhaps too much rain at certain points in the growth process? Or not enough rain?) How would this impact on us? I see bread as a staple part of our diet – as well as cake and biscuits – which without flour we would also not manage to make! We would be losing a dominant part of our standard diet, a part which supplies a significant chunk of nutrients, particularly those which are rich in energy. As well as that though, a much more sobering though is the impact on people’s livelihoods. You will know better than I of the many generations who have farmed and provided for their families in this way. The agricultural changes that have happened in that time are huge, but the dedication required and the simple fact that we all need to eat still remain. This is a important way of life and tradition that is integral to so many aspects of life – we need to protect it our communities and societies.
In our gospel reading Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” Through the passage we see that the people questioning Jesus were talking about actual bread and being physically fed, and yet Jesus was sort of bypassing this need and talking about an understanding that would lead people to eternal life. They still did not understand and asked for a miraculous sign, like the time when God fed His people manna from heaven each day as Moses led them to the promised land.
The work of farmers, and the harvesting of their first fruits, is a miraculous sign, or reminder that we have a great God who provides. Working the land seems to me on the outside as a way of life which requires you to listen to the heartbeat of God through the wind, rain and sunshine and have faith that you are responding appropriately. As well as showing God what has been produced, and offering it up to Him today, I believe we are gathered here to show Him his workers and offer you up as you continue to work hard in partnership with God, depending on Him as these crops are gathered.
I was struck this week by an image illustrated in the Guardian of what dependence on God might look like. The article was about the migrants in Calais and the writer, Giles Fraser, a Church of England priest, had been to visit the camp and makeshift church that the migrants were inhabiting and making use of. He had sat and observed people coming in to church to pray and worship God and he wrote of their faith and hunger for God; they took their shoes off as they entered the church even though these were a precious commodity in the camp and they flocked to pray, take Holy Communion and to meet with God in this holy place. Even in times of such need, these people are desperately searching for Jesus as the bread of life, and trusting that he will provide; they are completely depending on him.
Perhaps as you eat some bread over the next few days, think about how important it is as one of our staples, and recognise it as a sign of God’s provision – allow it to remind you to think about what He has provided you with this week. Let us also remember to thank God for the hands that worked to produce it, and allow it to serve as a reminder for us to depend on God more, and ourselves less.