Do not fear, O soil;
be glad and rejoice,
for the Lord has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
the fig tree and vine give their full yield.
O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing-floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again
be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again
be put to shame.
A Song of Ascents.
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,a
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
1 Timothy 6:6-10
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,a or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Sermon on Harvest
Harvest is a unique time during the year. It is not something we moderns are very much aware of really, are we? With our supermarkets and modern storage systems, everything is flattened out into a constant supply. I can get an apple in or out of season, or a banana from the equator, and strawberries in December. There are lots of examples, aren’t there?
The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, however, reflects a different time and sensibility, one that is in tune with the seasons and seasonality – we just have to look at the decoration of the church building throughout the year. At the moment everything reflects the growing season which culminates in this celebration, this feast of the harvest. It ties itself to an agrarian calendar and all that pertains to agricultural work, that fundamental supply of food to our tables. Today we are giving thanks for farmers and all the shops which supply our wishes. We have done this for years. We give thanks for farmers and the harvest. We depend on the farmers and how they store and present their produce on the shelves. We don’t have to battle the elements to provide food for the table. It all comes from storage somehow. We don’t normally go to the field to pick the produce for supper. We ourselves are not reliant on the summer sun and rainfall for our sustenance – just the shop. Our lives today are not dependent on anything precarious like the weather – or are they?
Lately, I hope that we have realised modern convenience relies on a great deal. We have to go to the shop, the shop buys its products from different suppliers, the suppliers rely on transport (as do we). This interdependency can be very complicated, and events on the news have proven this point. The web of human interaction has been highlighted by economic realities, hasn’t it? First, it was the shortage of carbon dioxide – we panicked about the possible shortage of food because of the use of CO2 in food production, let alone our drinks, then came the shortage of lorry drivers and the shelves in the shops seemed to have been affected. Finally, there was the lack of drivers delivering fuel, and the consequent panic buying at petrol stations, in spite of the fact that everyone said there was enough fuel – you may have passed by when there were cars snarling up the roads as they waited to fill up. And now the petrol stations stand empty waiting for deliveries, just like some of the shelves in the shops.
We should take heed of our dependency on each other. We should have learned this lesson from the pandemic. Unfortunately, “getting back to normal” actually seems to mean “selfishness” or “being greedy again” to ever so many people.
In our epistle we read, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.” I wonder whether we have thought about this sentiment at all during the isolation of lockdown, but especially now while we wonder about “getting back to normal.” The epistle goes on to describe the life of the discontent – it is not a very pretty picture, is it? When we think about our own lives, what do we imagine our lives to look like? The “great gain of godliness” – or are we so discontent that we want nothing to do with God? I wonder whether this discontent is the reason churches stand empty nowadays.
Being content – just what is that? Is it merely accepting whatever comes our way? Are we content with the way things are because we feel powerless to change the way those things are? Or are we too weak-minded to decide to change those bad things for the better.
This is not the christian way, though, is it? Christians have always hoped for something better, don’t we have stronger wills than the usual – we have always hoped for heaven, haven’t we? The social gospel is the embodiment of these ever-so-real aspirations. We believe passionately that salvation is for everyone, don’t we? So, I would say, we christians are never content. – We christians don’t blithely accept everything that comes our way. We intercede for others in prayer and in action, just like the good Samaritan. It may be just the encouragement a smile can give another person, or the full blown sacrifice of time and effort on behalf of someone else during our ordinary lives.
We christians are working toward heaven in every moment of our faithful lives. That is the “the great gain in godliness” – well, I think so anyway. The lives we lead which produce hope in the lives of others, isn’t that the source of contentment?
Farmers must feel the same as they work in the fields and with their stock so that the nation will be fed. That food in our belly allows us to have hope, don’t you think?
But at what cost? The environment has become a political football, and it is an issue which has had an impact on food production. Ethical behaviour in the provision of foodstuffs has come to the fore. The campaign for more vegetables in our diet is a case in point. More vegetables means a healthier life, but also more sustainable farming, less reliance on non-organic substances within the food chain. The husbandry of stock can be less intensive and more humane. The environment will win, and so will we, when the benefits of a new diet are felt. I am sure we know all these arguments – they have been on the media often enough, and our children are making the same points, aren’t they? Just like when we were young, we tried to change the world, now our children are acting as our conscience. Let’s listen. Let’s transform the earthly world into heaven. There is, after all, good theology to impel us in that direction.
Joel’s words are quite challenging, aren’t they? On the one hand Israel is in the midst of complaining about the harvest, but, on the other, the prophet tells us that the next harvest will be abundant. Joel’s words, “I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you,” echo the psalmist’s, “May those who sow in tears, reap with shouts of joy.”
If God can acknowledge his hurtful actions, in particular at the hand of his great army, all those insects which destroy crops, surely we should acknowledge our unbelief and begin a move toward God. –– We have touched on a great many things today, but harvest does touch every aspect of our lives, just as our faith should do. I hope we will see the network of all things that worship reveals today and every day as we intercede for the whole world and accomplish our good deeds in that world for the sake of others on this, our Harvest Sunday.