Trinity 16: Harvest
29 September 2019
Revd Dr Nicky von Fraunhofer
Jesus asks the crowds, ‘Do you not say, four months more, then comes the harvest? …But look around you, and see the fields are ripe for harvest…The reaper reaps their wages and gathers fruit for eternal life; the sower and reaper rejoice together.’
Today we celebrate Harvest Sunday and I am delighted join with you to give thanks for the ‘gathering in’ of produce from land and sea. In our Gospel passage, Jesus talks of fields ripe for harvest and the rejoicing of sower and reaper. As an observant Jew, Jesus would celebrate Harvest in his day with the festival of sukkot. This festival forms the basis of our Christian harvest festival and is still marked by Jews during October. The name sukkot comes from the temporary sukkah (pl. sukkōt) or booths which were built by farmers whilst they gathered in the crops. Orthodox Jews still build shelters or sukkōt, as part of their Harvest festival celebrations to this day.
But the food of harvest and the Harvest shelters, like many things in the Bible, have a double meaning. The sukkōt remind us of God’s people wandering in the wilderness of the Exodus, journeying towards the Promised Land, carrying with them a tabernacle, or shelter: the tent of God’s presence.
They journey towards the Promised Land; the place where God’s people will eat bread without scarcity which, through Jesus, becomes our bread of the communion table.
For God’s provision for God’s people is first and foremost a spiritual harvest. The gathering in that Jesus refers to as the fruit of his work, is a harvest for eternal life.
So, Harvest is a celebration of spiritual provision, but also physical nourishment. Our first reading in Deuteronomy recalls that God’s provision for God’s people is also food: the manna of the wilderness and the wheat, vines, figs and pomegranates of the Promised Land.
In Biblical times, the same as now, growing food is a perilous business. People might swing from feast to famine because the quality or size of harvests varies, from year to year.
So, at Harvest we still give heartfelt thanks for enough food, safely gathered in, to see us through the winter. These days, after we have exhausted our own resources in the UK, we don’t have to think about sowing times or reaping schedules, because we live in a global world where it’s always the growing season somewhere. We can easily reach for apples from New Zealand, mangoes from Asia, green beans from Africa or avocados from South America from our supermarket shelves, even in the dead of winter, when there is snow on the ground.
Our world is an abundant gift from God and the Bible emphasises God’s love for all of creation. We are told in the Genesis story that God sees what is made and sees that it is good (Gen. 1:31).
The Bible provides instruction for care of the world, through a day of rest, not only for humans, but also for fields and animals (Exod. 23:12 and Deut. 5:14). And, once every few years, God’s people are commanded to leave land fallow for a whole year, just as organic farmers do, today (Lev. 25:2-5; Exod. 23:10-11). The New Testament shows us that God cares as much for tiny sparrows, as the whole sweep of creation (Lk. 12:6; Matt. 10:29).
Harvest festival reminds us that we are stewards of the world and that our ethics should be as much about actions, as attitudes.
‘Do you not say,’ Jesus asks the crowd, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest?’
Jesus prepares us for a coming spiritual harvest, but he also gives us a warning: what kind of harvest do we reap, when we fail to heed the signs of our age: the rising temperatures and melting glaciers, the burning of forests and erosion of top soil, or the pollution of our waters?
‘You have stolen my dreams’ says Greta Thunberg at the UN Climate Summit, challenging the hypocrisy of politicians who mortgage our future, for the sake of greed and gain today.
Our world, this precious gift is ‘on loan’ from God, and something we should steward with care. So, what are our dreams and plans, this harvest time?
Now, I think it’s important to say at this stage, I don’t think God necessarily wants the whole congregation to arrive here on bicycles, even if you could. But I do know that you hope to make your church greener, using renewable energy, such as solar panels and that you already have a silver ‘Green Church’ award.
We are all trying to ‘green up’: carrying bags with us, recycling more, using energy efficiently, planting trees, and generating less waste.
Stewarding the environment is one area where many people making small gestures adds up to a big difference. Preserving the planet, like any moral action, is about habits, rather than single actions; an attitude of mind, rather than one-off, dramatic gestures. Everybody doing something helps, when we all contribute to the solution.
The Psalms say that all creation offers praise to God and God’s law of love for others also means love for the world. Giving thanks for the gift of our planet includes taking care of the environment, and not taking the world for granted.
So, this Harvest time, let us join that hymn of universal praise through our actions for the environment.
The fields are ripe for harvest! When the reaper gathers fruit for eternal life, then the sower and reaper can rejoice together.’
So, may we rejoice and bring hope for future generations through our thanksgiving that we demonstrate in our actions for the environment.