Church of St Paul & St Margaret (1866)
Town Street, Nidd, N.Yorks, HG3 3BN
10.30 Prayer Book service every Sunday
for occasional moments ....
Suddenly the horse tripped, throwing the stranger to the ground.
As he brushed himself off, he saw that the horse had stumbled over a rock sticking out of the ground in the middle of the road. He walked over to it and dug it out of the earth so that it would not trip anyone else. It was a splendid rock, almost perfectly round and smooth. The stranger liked the rock, so rather than throw it away, he put it in his saddle bag, climbed up on his horse, and continued into the village.
As he rode past the first houses the village people stopped their work to stare. He waved to several of them, but no one waved back. He got off his horse and approached a woman standing in front of a small house. "Good evening," he said cheerfully, "Could you spare a bit of food for a hungry man?"
The woman began shaking her head almost before he had finished his sentence. "We have had a poor harvest here. We are very worried that there is barely enough food for our family. I am sorry." And she walked into her house and shut the door.
The man continued to the next house where a farmer was working on his wagon. "Do you have a place at your table for a hungry traveller?" he asked.
"It didn't rain during the last month before harvest," the farmer said. "What little we have is needed for our children."
At every home the stranger heard the same sad story: The harvest had been poor, there was not enough food to make it through the winter. Everyone was very worried about themselves and their families.
Discouraged and very hungry the man sat down under a tree in the village square. "Poor people," he thought, "in a few weeks they will be as hungry as I am." Suddenly an idea hit him. He reached into his saddle bag, took out the stone and addressed the villagers. "Gentle folk of the village", he shouted, "Your worries are over. I have in my hand a special stone that will help take you through the long winter. This is a magic stone. With it you can make stone soup."
"Stone soup?" an old man repeated. "I have never heard of stone soup."
"The wonder of stone soup," the stranger continued, "is that it not only feeds hungry people, it also brings people together. Now who has a large empty pot?"
Quickly a huge iron pot was found, and delivered to the stranger in a wheel barrow. "The kettle is barely large enough, but it will do," the stranger said. "Now we must fill the pot with water and start a fire."
Eager hands carried buckets of water and firewood. Soon the pot was placed over a roaring fire. As the water began to boil the stranger dramatically raised the magic stone above his head, and then he gently placed it in the kettle.
"Stone soup needs salt and pepper," the stranger announced. Two children ran to find salt and pepper. After the water had boiled for few minutes the stranger sipped the brew. "This stone makes an excellent soup, but it would be better if we had a few carrots." "We have a few carrots that we're willing to share," a farmer replied. Immediately his daughter ran home and returned with an apron full of carrots.
"Its too bad the harvest was so bad," said the stranger. "Stone soup is always much more tasty when we add a cabbage or two."
"I think I know where to find a cabbage," a young mother shouted as she dashed towards her home. When she returned she was carrying three large cabbages.
The stranger was busy slicing carrots and cabbages with his hunting knife. "The last time I made stone soup was at the castle of a rich man. He added a few potatoes and a bit of beef."
Several people talked quietly, "A bit of beef and we can eat like rich people", they whispered. They went home and soon returned not only with beef and potatoes, but some brought milk, onions and barley too.
By the time the soup was ready it was almost dark. It was the most delicious soup that they had ever smelled and to think, it all came from the magic stone. The stranger finally declared that it was done and invited everyone to have as much as they could eat.
After everyone had eaten their full, some folk brought out their fiddles. Everyone began to sing and dance - and they continued into the small hours of the morning. Never had the village people had such a wonderful party.
The next morning the whole village gathered to say goodbye to the stranger. As he mounted his horse a small child called out, "You forgot to take your magic stone!"
The stranger smiled. "I am going to leave the stone with you as gift of gratitude for your hospitality," he said. "Remember, as long as you make stone soup, you will never have to worry about being hungry."
As he rode off a grandfather put his arm around the shoulders of his young granddaughter and said, "Do you remember the other bit of magic that the stranger promised when you make stone soup?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, "the stone brings people closer together."
At Harvest we celebrate the goodness of God in providing to us the bounty of earth, sea, and sky - the goodness of God who grants to us both seedtime and harvest, the goodness of God who shares with us the love that is in his heart and calls us to likewise share.
Some facts I would like you to think about today.
It concerns a variety of the blessings we have received in this most special land in which we live. It goes like this:
If you own just one Bible, you are abundantly blessed. One- third of the world does not have access to even one.
If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the millions who will not survive the week.
If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people around the world.
If you attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed that almost three billion people in the world.
If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.
If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish somewhere, you are among the top 8% of the worlds wealthy.
If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful, you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.
If you can hold someone's hand, hug them or even touch them on the shoulder, you are blessed because you can offer God's healing touch.
If you prayed yesterday and today, you are in the minority because you believe in God's willingness to hear and answer prayer.
The story of Stone Soup is a story about sharing and caring when blessings seem scarce. The stone brings people closer together, and feeds those who are hungry.
It reminds us that everyone, no matter how poor they may seem, has some gift or contribution they can make for the betterment of all. A gift for which we should give thanks. A gift which we, who may be rich as the world counts riches, should not slight or ignore - no matter how small that gift may seem to some.