Harvest is a time when we celebrate and give thanks for the abundance of God’s provision for us. We are thankful for all the good things, all the necessary things to keep us alive, healthy and happy. Our food, shelter, clothing, our education and even our money, all these things with which we are provided, work together to sustain and enrich our lives.
The custom of bringing produce to our place of worship, presenting to God the best of what he has provided for us, is thousands of years old, and in celebrating the ‘worth-ship’ of these contributions we join with countless generations of people all over the world. We, with them, remind ourselves of the special relationship we have with our creator God and we don’t take things for granted.
The people of the Old Testament with Moses in the wilderness had good cause to be grateful to God. On the point of starvation God sent down bread from heaven. ‘What is it?’ they asked each other, in Hebrew ‘Mannah?’ The name stuck. Elijah also had good reason to be thankful, alone in the desert with his food brought by ravens. Such miraculous provision of food is, however, rare and, though we wonder at it, it is not to my mind the essence of our harvest celebration. Food itself is only part of what we are grateful for. Of course we are very grateful for what we are provided with but we also celebrate and give thanks for the work and witness of those who toil and nurture the growing seed, those who have reaped and gathered the wheat, ground it to flour, baked the bread, wrapped it, delivered it, marketed it and bought it. Even if the little red hen did find those seeds lying about she was well aware that they were not going to turn miraculously into bread without a lot of work. Harvest then is as much a celebration of how we are able to participate in God’s provision as of what we receive from him.
Not so long ago in rural communities everyone was involved in the gathering of the harvest. In Kent, where I was born, it was hops, apples and all kinds of fruit, in other areas the reaping and gathering of wheat, and so the festival came at a time of the year determined by the ripening of the produce. Nowadays when all manner of produce stares at us from the supermarket shelves all year round, the nearest many of us get to harvesting is to load it into our shopping trolleys. Although we are sharing in the produce of the harvest of many different countries we find ourselves rather like the dog, the cat or the pig, standing at the side not getting involved. Of course, as a Christian the little red hen would have shared her bread! But even so there’s no dispute in my mind over who will have enjoyed that bread most. She had a far better idea of what her harvest was worth. Harvest is about expressing our appreciation of a sense of ‘worth’ in what we receive, all that we eat, all that we see, all that we have.
So what of us? What of our harvest? How do we get our food, work for it, develop our appreciation of what it s worth? Some of us no doubt grow our own vegetables, fruit trees, maybe even exotic foods in a greenhouse, tomatoes or melons. There is much to be appreciate in eating our own produce, but usually we get the majority of our food by swapping it for money, buying it.
In fact for many of us our harvest; that which we work for, carry out our daily tasks for, our return for our employment, is money. In a sense when we put our collection in the plate or in the basket every Sunday we are doing exactly what the Deuteronomist was urging the Hebrews to do.
‘You must bring the first fruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.’ (Deut 23.19).
The fruit of our labour is often, but not always, the money that we earn; money that puts food on the table, clothes on our bodies, a roof over our heads and brings so much more that enables us to live healthier and happier lives.
One of the greatest mistakes of our time is to mistake the amount of money earned as an indicator of a person’s usefulness to society, a measure of their success. It does not follow that you are worth the money you earn and as a child it would be ridiculous to suggest that just because you get less pocket money than your friend at school your parents love you less! We are all far too precious to God to even think of valuing ourselves in terms of money. There just isn’t enough in the world, and never could be. We are not worth what we earn, but at the same time we do need food to live and to be a part of our society we also need money.
Jesus, in today’s gospel reading, tells us not to work for the food that perishes, that we should not be concerned with where our next meal is coming from, or how to pay for it. Whilst I’m sure he does not mean us to starve, what he is saying is that we should not tie our life’s aims and ambitions into eating or amassing as much money as we can. Don’t worry about food and clothes, he said, set your hearts first on his kingdom. Paul echoes this. ‘Do not be anxious about anything, …but with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God’.
It is then with thanksgiving that we celebrate the efforts of farmers, labourers and all who are concerned with food production. It is with thanksgiving also that we celebrate and reflect on how we ourselves are able to contribute to the community and fellowship in which we live, how we earn our money if we are in employment, what gifts and talents we have that we can contribute to family life, but in doing all this we must centre on how we can nurture the seeds of our own lives that god has planted in us.
When we pray about our collection, out offerings to God, we remember that ‘All things come from you, and of your own do we give you’. And alongside the money in the collection, the food of our harvest produce, we also offer up ourselves, our skills, our gifts, our own growth process in the faith of Christ.
In planting the harvest of ‘the food that perishes’ we reap what we sow, wheat from wheat, apples from apple trees, cabbage from cabbage seed, but it depends on how much we nourish and tend the growing seed as to the quality of the harvest we gather. Looking at the harvest of our souls we must also consider how we nourish, nurture and encourage our own spiritual growth. Paul prompts us about what we need to consider in that growth.
‘Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’. (Phillipians 4.8)
By God’s grace, truth, honour, justice, purity, pleasure, worthiness and excellence is planted in each one of us. How then can we ensure that what God has planted in us will go on to bear fruit in the kingdom of God, fruit worthy of his harvest? It is by looking at ourselves, recognising, attending to and celebrating all these parts of our nature that we can nurture them, helping them to outshine those aspects of our characters that we are less proud of. We need to seek out these qualities, that lead to the kingdom of God, we need to be open to those people who can reveal them to us. To our teachers that recognise and encourage those talents, to our priests, our parents, our children, to our fellowship here at St Mary’s and then through prayer and mutual support allow these qualities to grow in us, fit to bear fruit in the kingdom of God. This is an active process, and worthy of our effort.
A vicar was passing a garden at the end of his village. He stopped to admire the immaculate borders, flourishing roses and verdant lawns, the general beauty of a well ordered and lovingly tended garden. Seeing the gardener leaning over his gate he went over to him and said, ‘What an excellent job you and God have made of this garden!’
‘Sure!’, came the reply, ‘but you should have seen it when God had it to himself!’