Eternal God, you crown the year with your goodness and you give us the fruits of the earth in their season: grant that we may use them to your glory, for the relief of those in need and for our own well-being; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Creator God, you made the goodness of the land, the riches of the sea and the rhythm of the seasons; as we thank you for the harvest, may we cherish and respect this planet and its peoples, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
1 O be joyful in the Lord, all the earth;
serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
2 Know that the Lord is God;
it is he that has made us and we are his;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and bless his name.
4 For the Lord is gracious; his steadfast love is everlasting,
and his faithfulness endures from generation to generation.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, 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. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, ‘Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.’ So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.
Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, ‘Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.’
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’
Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Sermon on Sunday, Harvest Festival
How often do we pray “for our own well-being”? – I think it is right to do so at this time of year, don’t you? At harvest when the largess of nature is gathered together so we can see just how fortunate we are. We praise God for the bounty of the world and more importantly for our well-being. This is such a satisfying time of year, perhaps even a self-satisfied time of year. In fact, when we gather all the harvest in, don’t we run the risk of becoming like that rich man from the parable who wanted to store everything in great new barns? Aren’t we in danger of fuelling avarice in our very selves?
If we take the OT reading literally, that may be where we are headed. All this talk of “possession” is a sign of it, don’t you think? “An inheritance to possess” and “you possess it” – these words do haunt all our dealings with one another, don’t they? After all, they say, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” However, the possession of this or that when it becomes one’s focus does not yield “well-being”, does it? We have all seen too many movies and read too many novels to believe so. Even in our own lives we have had intimations of that truth. So it seems, the love of money is, as Paul says, the root of evil. Or I would amend that to: “The love of any one thing is the root of evil.”
How very different is that lust for gold from desiring “well-being” – so, just what do you think we mean by it? If we turn back to our harvest, can we balance ourselves in its fecundity to find ourselves here before God, “just as I am”, as that famous hymn pleads.
What do we see when we observe the harvest? There is a lot of activity – fields are cut, the hay is stored, the grain is dried, the straw is stacked, the fruits of the field and forest have been processed in one way or another and they have all found their way into cans and jars, or into the freezer in the back room. There has been a great deal of activity up to this point. Now there is an emptiness in the fields but overfull storage areas. Although there is nothing in front of us when we look at the fields, when we look at the shelves indoors the evidence of abundance is there – the store-room is full, the cupboards are packed to overflowing. And we must admit that we have been eating so very well lately, haven’t we? Those marvellous fresh vegetables have been heaped up on the plate, perhaps some corn on the cob, all those beans of all sorts, then the fruit pies and compots. The list goes on …
The harvest is here. Let us rejoice that we have been so very fortunate. “When Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves,’” – is he speaking to us? Has our attention been turned to our bellies and not towards our neighbour when we consider the harvest we enjoy? I accuse myself with this question, for I do enjoy my food. After all, most of you have seen me have a second biscuit when we have coffee after worship, haven’t you? And my wife doesn’t understand where I put it all when we sit down to supper, or she simply cannot believe that I graze between meals. I have to ask myself, “Have I enjoyed the fruits of the land too much?”
I am not asking this question to accuse, but it does make us stop and think about what we concentrate on. What is the focus in our lives – is it ‘the goods of life’ or ‘the good life’? This question forces us to ponder, “the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give.” Jesus is asking us that question here and now. On what enduring food are we focussed?
That water the Samaritan woman heard about – isn’t that what we really to desire? The bread of life? From that ever-satisfying loaf? Surely, we all want something of eternal value, don’t we? It is just so confusing finding that object of proper desire, that subject of our most earnest wishes, that which will not rust nor be destroyed by moths. We plead, along with that crowd on the other side of the lake, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’
Jesus’ words, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,” appeal to our finer nature, the self which has not been corrupted by what the biblical writers, the monks and nuns of ages past and our more evangelical brothers and sisters call “the world”. I think we all agree with them, don’t we? Don’t we all want that sustenance which gives life? That life which our bishop has been leading us to, rich and full, abundant life, a life which is beyond the realities of “the world” as we all understand it. “The world” where love has been marginalised, where friendship is always suspect, where openness is a naivete to be exploited, where nothing has intrinsic value, only a cost in pounds, shillings and pence.
This harvest Jesus tells us is not “of the world” – is it? The harvest is the eternal verities, the fruits of the spirit, the pure heart, the affection of friends, the love of neighbours – our faith in the creating God of all generosity. What is the tithe we offer to God today? What do we place on the altar today as a symbol of our harvest? Is the can of soup I have given to the food bank all that I offer to God today? Or does that tin symbolise something far greater than the 83 pence it cost to buy from the shop? Am I signifying with this mite what I hope to offer to God in reality – a life dedicated to the love of neighbour, a life dedicated to the love of God? Does that tin of soup refer to all the good deeds I will perform in the future? Does it impel me into a life of faithfulness to my neighbours and my God? I wonder, when I place my tin of soup on the altar, have I made a promise to God?
Will I sustain the poor with donations of time, talents and tithes, just as we have prayed in our collect? We pray that our riches, from the fields and in our vaults will be used for the relief of the poor. How do we do that throughout the year? Do we donate time to charitable works? Do we donate our talents to someone who needs help? Do we give our money away to agencies of change in our society and throughout the world? These are just questions arising from the gifts of the creator God to whom we have ascribed the largess of the nature we have nurtured, and even the harvest which we can forage from the wild. The riches of the world should make us think about the well-being of the planet and all the dwellers thereon.
So many questions – and such gratitude – arise from the same source, don’t they? I have to give thanks because I am astounded at the cornucopia which lies in our cupboards here and now, and wonder how we can be generous with our lives.