A sermon preached by the Revd Richard Newton

Holy Communion  Harvest Festival  22 September 2019 St Saviour’s Hagley     

             1.         “When life gives you lemons . . .”

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

I came across that saying in a guidebook while we were on holiday this month.  We were visiting Limone (on Lake Garda) – a place known for its lemons – and the guidebook reflected on the place and on its history with those words.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

I’m going to come back to Limone a little later, but first of all let’s think about that saying.  It seems to me that there are two ways of reflecting on it, both of which are fruitful for harvest.

First, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is a saying that can mean making the most of the gifts that you’ve been given.  St Paul talks about each of us being given different gifts, and that we don’t each have the same ones as each other, but that we should use them for the good of all.  Whatever the lemons are that you and I have been blessed with, as it were, we should make the most of them.  We should make lemonade.

Another interpretation of the saying is to see it as being to do with turning something negative into something positive.  Lemons are sour and can be seen as representing life’s challenges, whereas lemonade is sweet. Making lemons into lemonade represents facing life’s challenges and turning them into something positive.

Harvest Festival is a time to be thankful for all God’s gifts to us – for lemons, oranges, grapefruits, pomegranates, for God’s gifts whatever they are – and it’s also a time to commit ourselves to use those gifts wisely and for the good of all.  As the Harvest Collect puts it:

‘Grant that we may use the fruits of the earth to your glory, for the relief of those in need and for our own well-being’.

When we were on holiday I was thinking a bit about this sermon – I try not to, but I can’t always help it! and I was also thinking  about all of you – so I bought a bag of tiny lemon sweets from Limone to share around.

I haven’t opened it – I hope you like them!   I’d like to invite you to take one, eat it, and, while I’m talking, reflect on what the lemons are that God has given to you, and on what use you make of them.


2.         Being positive

When I got back from holiday I looked up the saying about lemons on the internet, and (inevitably) I found all sorts of takes on it – some of which were negative, and some of which were positive.  For example, someone wrote:

“When life gives you lemons, throw them back until you get the oranges you asked for.”

Well, unfortunately you can’t do that with life.  St Paul talks of each of us being given some sort of “manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  It maybe the gift of wisdom, or faith, or healing, or prophecy, or whatever – but it’s the Spirit, in Paul’s language, who gives us those things – we don’t choose them ourselves.   

It’s no good me trying to be an athlete, or trying to do embroidery, or trying to memorise long passages from Shakespeare – those are gifts that I’ve patently not been given.    

If we’re given lemons rather than oranges, let’s be positive about the lemons.  That was one of many quotes.  Here’s another one:

“When life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade . . . and try to find someone whose life has given them vodka, and have a party!”

That’s much more positive.  It’s no accident, I think, that Jesus sends his disciples out (to do his work) in pairs – not just for the sake of companionship, but because we each have complementary gifts.

3.         Limone

Let me return to Limone – the place on Lake Garda known for its lemons. 

Actually, the name Limone has nothing to do with lemons.  It comes from the Latin word limes, which means a border, as for many years it was the frontier between Austria and Italy.

It was just pure coincidence that monks from Genoa brought lemons with them in the 13th century and found that they were particularly suited to growing in the temperate conditions that existed in and around Limone.  Having discovered that, for a long time the cultivation of lemons brought wealth and prosperity to the town.  So there was a real sense in which the saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” epitomised their life.  It was like a windfall on the lottery.  The monks, by chance, had brought lemons and that provided for the residents of Limone the ideal means of living.

However, that all came to an abrupt end in the 1860s with the formation of Italy when new regulations meant that lemons could be produced much more cheaply in Sicily, and suddenly lemons from Limone and Lake Garda were no longer economical to produce.  Hence the local lemon industry collapsed – and they probably looked at being given lemons in a rather different way as something sour and unfortunate.

Once again, though, that’s all changed around in recent times with the coming of tourism.  Because of the folklore of Limone being associated with lemons, they’ve found a market (with tourism) for selling anything to do with lemons, in huge quantities – whether they actually now grow them locally, or not.

If you walk along the narrow streets of Limone you’ll find:

Lemonade, limoncello, lemon soap, lemon candles, lemon cream, lemon nougat, lemon cakes, lemon marmalade, lemon air freshener, crystallised lemons, lemon-flavoured vinegar, lemon-flavoured olive oil, lemon biscuits, lemon sorbet, lemon sweets, and lemon chocolate, to name but some of the things.

You can buy cruets with lemons on, lemon squeezers, lemon-decorated egg cups, dishes and ceramics supporting lemons in every size and shape you care to imagine, lemon bags, lemon aprons, lemon tea towels, lemon fridge magnets, lemon-shape bottle openers, and house numbers and street signs.

They really have managed to take something they’d been given which had become completely negative and turn it completely around. Rather than lamenting what had happened to them with regard to lemons, they’re now able to celebrate their gift once again.  Everywhere you go locally is tinged with a yellow colour, which is a reminder of the heritage which has once again become a real part of their life.         

4.         Harvest time

            I’ve focused on lemons and on Limone today because I think it’s a real story which illustrates what harvest time is about.

First of all, harvest is a time to be thankful for all we’ve been given – hence the name “Harvest Thanksgiving”.  Our first reading reminded us that that was the case right back in the days when the Book of Deuteronomy was written.  Moses instructed the people to give thanks by taking the first fruits of the harvest and giving them to the priest who would then will set those first fruits before the altar.  That’s where the biblical injunction of tithing comes from and is the starting point for our giving and stewardship.  We give out of thankfulness for all that God gives to us. 

Whether we’re given lemons, oranges, grapefruits or pomegranates, harvest is a time to be thankful.

Secondly, harvest is a time to reflect on how we can be positive and creative.  After this service and over lunch we’re continuing with our 2019 Talents Challenge.  The challenge – based on Jesus’ Parable of the Talents – was to take a £10 note and see if we could each make it grow.  in Jesus’ story, two of the recipients of the talents were entirely positive – making many more talents – and one was entirely negative – simply burying it in the ground.  The two positive participants are praised – the negative one is heavily criticised.

There’s a clear message here, in the teaching of Jesus, about being positive and creative with the gifts that God gives to us – whatever those gifts may be.  Many of you have already done some fabulous things with your talents, since we launched the Talents Challenge.  I hope that as you suck on those little lemon drops today, and as we focus on all the wonderful gifts that God bestows on us so abundantly, you might each find a new way of committing yourselves to being positive and creative with the special and unique gifts that God has given to you.

5.         Conclusion

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Lord, as you send rain and flowers even to the wilderness, renew us by your Holy Spirit,

help us to sow good seed both in times of fortune and in times of adversity and to live to rejoice in your good harvest of all creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.