This may, or may not surprise you – but when it comes to Harvest Festival I can be a little contrary – a curmudgeonly Vicar. Because everyone loves Harvest Festival. The decorations, the leaves are changing, the conkers are falling – we feel the movement in the season and we come together to celebrate the growing and harvesting of the food we eat – and it’s great, right? Come ye thankful people – we plough the fields and scatter. I mean look at all this food – and think of all the help to others it will be, what’s not to like?
But I worry. I worry that we are patting ourselves on the back for giving a tin of beans, and then we will go home feeling very pleased with ourselves and eat a lovely roast beef dinner. I worry that at Harvest we teach our children not just about the growing and harvesting of food, not just about generosity, but about the normalising of food banks in our culture. It is good that they know to give, but are we teaching them to build a world where so many don’t need to rely on food banks?
Harvest is a time for us to dwell on our relationship with creation and the creator.
It is a time to remind ourselves of God’s abundant goodness in providing for us – and to act with corresponding generosity in response to that abundance.
It is a time for us, as a community whose working lives have been or are far from the plough and the field, to consider too the work of our hands, the harvest of our labour – to reflect on all it provides and give thanks for God’s goodness made in and through each one of us.
Two weeks ago we heard our young people share here the story of creation from Genesis and we reflected together on our care for the environment. We are reminded today in Deuteronomy that the land we stand on, the earth from which God crafted humanity and the dirt from which our crops are yielded is God’s good earth.
Not only are we bound to our God through our creation, we are reminded that the very land we stand on is something gifted to us by God, that our presence on that land – the freedom we have to shift for ourselves, is rooted in the liberation of God’s people from slavery.
And then this passage speaks of two truly beautiful things. The first – giving the first fruits to the temple – not what is left over, not the surplus, not what we meanly and fearfully think we might be able to spare when we decide we have enough for those people we really prioritise.
God’s provision is not mean or fearful. It is generous and abundant and outward looking – so when we share it we are told we should celebrate with our community, with the temple workers (isn’t that great – the curmudgeonly vicars still get to share in the celebration?) and with those who aren’t like us, visitors and strangers – the aliens who reside among us. Isn’t that beautiful? Even as we celebrate God’s goodness and the share we are given in it, our celebration should embrace those we don’t know.
Last week I spoke of generosity – of giving as part of our Christian culture. Giving of ourselves and our resources isn’t something we should be avoiding if we can, and giving grudgingly only when asked by another embarrassed church member or the clergy. Such an outlook leaves the church – leaves those in need – leaves the ministry God has called us to together in this place – stood like what was once unkindly labelled a chugger – a charity mugger – a person in a shopping arcade with a clip board whose eye you don’t want to meet.
Today, because it is Harvest, we have given and given from the heart. We have attempted to express in some small way – in tinned and dried goods, in toothbrushes and shower gel – our care for those in need and our gratitude for God’s abundant giving in our own lives.
This is truly wonderful. But we are reminded in the Gospel that the kind of generosity we are attempting in our small way to respond to is huge. Like the difference between the bread that perishes and the bread of life.
God does not give just once a year. God is our daily bread, the true bread from heaven. Here in the church we are called to work together for the food that endures for eternal life – and we can only do that if those who gather here do not avoid the necessity of regular, committed, generous giving.
Lastly this morning I invite you to consider at a very personal level what your Harvest is. I have never worked the land. I can only imagine what the harvest might mean to someone who has invested almost every daylight hour in backbreaking labour for it. I can only imagine how sweet the fruit and how nourishing the bread. I can only attempt to imagine what it would feel like if the muscles and sinews of my arms and legs, the callouses on my hands, were the evidence in my own body of my collaboration with God in creation.
Such hard, hard work, but still the spark of life which animates and enables that labour to be more than a workout – that is of God – God working in and with and through us in creation.
We do use our bodies, our minds, our learning – our hard work, to create a harvest though. Our labour has fruits. Be we working, unemployed, retired – we work, we volunteer, we help others. We apply ourselves to the business of living, and remember as we do that God made us, God loves us, and God’s abundance in creation overflows to us and through us.
I invite you as our service continues to hold before God your harvest. – and remember that this tin of beans is sacramental. This tin, the noodles, some money in an envelope for the Welcome Centre, your online donation, whatever it was you added to the pile – these things are an outward and visible sign of you committing your working at the business of life to God’s glory.
It is food for the hungry.
It is gratitude for the creation we share in and steward.
It is our small reaching towards acknowledgement of God’s abundant generosity.
It is a symbol that all our work is rooted in God and the fruit of our labour, our harvest, is given from God, that all might thrive.