Harvest is a time when we think of the abundance of God's provision for us. We join together to celebrate and give thanks that we have food to eat, clean water to drink, clothes to wear, fuel for our cars- the list of things we harvest from the created world goes on and on. In our affluent country we can count ourselves fortunate that all that we need is provided for. We should realise that in comparison with many areas of the world we are richer than their people dare to dream. And yet perhaps our society is falling headlong into a trap. The more materially wealthy we become, the more we run the risk of becoming increasingly spiritually impoverished.
In today's Gospel reading we hear the well-known story of a man who amassed a fortune, storing his treasures in vast barns and preparing to take it easy for a while. Jesus precedes the parable with a warning. 'Be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man's life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.' It is also often signs of wealth, the flash car, the posh house, the foreign holidays by which we assess personal success. To be successful means that you amass a fortune and enjoy spending it! Which was exactly what the man in the story was thinking to himself after having the good fortune of a successful harvest.
Fortunes run the great risk of colouring our perspectives, influencing our decisions, corrupting our faith and relationship with God. In Deuteronomy Chapter 8 Moses predicts the effect of the people of Israel reaching the Promised Land. 'When your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.' (13-14). As the story of the Israelites unfolds in the remainder of the Old Testament we see how true these words were to become. Nevertheless the majority of us if given the choice would jump at the chance of finding out what it would be like to have a fortune. Witness the incredible viewing figures of the ITV programme 'Who wants to be a Millionaire?’
In the epistle we read one of those much-quoted platitudes, embroidered by young ladies at Sunday school. 'God loves a cheerful giver.' More often than not we tend to interpret this as giving money to the collection or to charities. Churches seem to react to the subject of giving by talking of covenants, the fabric fund and running costs. Of course large amounts of money given to a church or a charity can be used for many purposes, helping with mission, with pastoral work and many other worthwhile things. Money can pay for things to be done, but it is not an alternative to giving of the one thing that God asks that we give. That is, giving of ourselves?
Many years ago families would stand round a piano and sing together, they would play games, talk, share in chores, listening and talking to each other. Communities would come together, sharing fellowship and joining in songs that all would get to know and love. The television has taken over as the main source of family entertainment, requiring little or no active participation and in many cases stifling conversation and interaction between those sitting on front of it. The advance of technology has to some extent depersonalised entertainment. If we are not careful we run the risk of becoming passive observers, giving nothing of ourselves and leading a rather flat existence.
In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians he uses an agricultural metaphor. The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (9.6) Thinking of this in the context of money we might soon become disillusioned. The prodigal son sowed bountifully with his money, but no one would say that this led to a bountiful flow of riches to him. He ended up eating pig food. But examining the metaphor in the context of giving of yourself things become clearer and make more sense.
As members of a choir we give of ourselves to each other and our audiences. Our voices become our spiritual channels, and by giving individually to the combined sound of each song we in return feel lifted and enriched. The more we give, the more we receive. As Christians, by giving ourselves to each other through fellowship and service we act as channels of God's love, and the more we interact the more that love flows back towards us. In the words of a children's song, 'Love is something if you give it away you end up having more!'
A good food harvest depends on man working in co-operation with God. Whilst God nurtures the seed with rain and sun, man must work to sow seed, look after livestock and process the foods he produces. Many years ago of course, especially in rural villages, there would be an involvement of all members of the community in that process. All would give of their labour and effort to gain the return of a good harvest to benefit everyone. As in entertainment the advances of technology mean that for many of us our participation in this process is far less active involving giving money, by buying the produce.
Paul's reference to sowing and reaping should be taken on a far more spiritual level. It is not possible for everyone to return to farm labour, reaping a living directly from the land. However participation in the spiritual harvest is far too important for us to be only passively involved. It is only by giving of ourselves to each other and to the service of God that we can experience actively for ourselves the harvest of God's love which nourishes us, uplifting us spiritually and strengthening us in faith.