In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Harvest Festivals are another of those minefields which confront your clergy: what should the focus be? Do we really want to encourage tins of spam and out-of-date jellies or do we try and take an oblique look at time and talents and wangle in yet another desperate appeal for your money?
This year, I want to dispense with all that and ask ourselves what Harvest is really all about, what it meant a hundred, two hundred years ago and what it means to us today. In this age, when strawberries can be purchased at all times of the year, flown in from exotic corners of the world (where, it might be noted, they take special pains to remove all the flavour in the process!), there is no concept any more of seasons.
The book of Ecclesiasticus says:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; (Ecc 3:1-2)
And yet, if you want it, you can have it at a price. You can have it, when there are people in sub-Saharan Africa which are still not over the failure of their crops a couple of years ago and still live a hand-to-mouth existence.
Harvest Festival is a distinctly English celebration which was linked to the cycle of the pre-jet age supermarket. It was a seasonal festival, and relied entirely on the August and September weather. At the end of a month of hard slog, with the grain in the barn to tide us through the dark winter, the people of rural England genuinely had something to be grateful for. That is why Harvest is not on a fixed date – because the Harvest finished at different times in different places each year. And this is the crux of the celebration – thankfulness. And not merely thankfulness to God for the chance to limp through another year without starvation.
In an age when biology had not reduced our food to amino acids, there was still a genuine awe and wonder about the process of growth, the cycle of the seasons, the transformation of the seed into what was on your plate. The wonder of God’s creation should not be lost on us, and as you step out of this church, I want you to pause. I want you to look around you at that churchyard and see God’s wonder in all its variety – those trees, that grass. Look beyond at that sky; and be filled with a sense of child-like wonder.
Do you, or I, or anyone know – how as the child’s rhyme says: oats, peas beans and barley grow?
Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow,
Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow,
Can you or I or anyone know
How oats, peas, beans, and barley grow?
There is a harvest which is still relevant to us, not as consumers but as producers – a harvest which we ourselves are called to gather. Like most harvests, it requires an investment of effort and a commitment on our time.
The Psalmist writes
Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psa 126:5-6)
And this harvest may cost us many tears. It may take some hard work, but as the Psalmist says, hard work is rewarded with God’s goodness. This is the harvest of mission – and the sheaves which we are all called to bring in are people.
Many of you came yesterday to the Harvest Barn Dance up at Lee Moor. I thank you for that. But how many of you brought someone else there? How many of you said to someone this weekend “come with me this morning to Church?”. How many of you suggested that being in Church might have been the right place for someone? That coming into the presence of God might help them, support them, give them joy.
Any why? Are we ashamed of all this? Are we embarrassed by this little habit of ours? Is that why we only come on a Sunday morning when all the respectable people are still tucked up in bed or out on the car boot sales? This is something so good, that it should be shared.
We are called to be evangelists. We are called to harvest for the world. Am I asking you to stand on a street corner and harangue the passers by? You and I know that this is not effective mission, because all it does is highlight the difference between where people think they are and where they think God and his Church is at. How many people have said to you “I’m not good enough to come to Church!” How many people say even in this congregation “I am not good enough to come to this altar rail to share in the body of Christ”.
But this community exists because it is God who makes us worthy, and invites us into him. He does not want us to preach in obscure or remote terms about an invisible God, but to do something much more within our own experience.
Recall from the book of Mark where Jesus heals a demoniac.
As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
Everyone marvelled, because the man did not go out and tell them about Jesus, but he told them about what Jesus had done for him. In the same way, we need to tell people of what Jesus Christ does for us, the who, what, how and where will come later; share what Christ does for you, and people will want more.
This is not shoving it down people’s throats, because you are only sharing of yourself. It’s only when you stand apart and speak of Christ as some impersonal idea, rather than the relationship that you have with him then it becomes an imposition.
I know of a man who had spent time in prison, who looked to all intents and purposes like someone you would cross the road to avoid. His walk with God began when he met another who looked even harder and more embittered than himself in the Gym, muscles and tattoos – you get the idea – but this second man exuded such calm and inner peace, the sort of calm that can only come through Christ, that this formerly dangerous man thought “I’ll have some of that” and he was transformed.
Each and everyone of you has the power to do that. To take your relationship with God – even if it feels at times a bit weak, tired, shaky or fledgeling –and to share it with others, this is the work of evangelising I ask you to do.
So, the harvest is rich. The labourers are – well, growing, but still few. Go out into the harvest field – the mission fields of Glenholt, Wotter, Bickleigh, Shaugh Prior, Lee Moor, Woolwell, Belliver and Roborough and bring back into our buildings a harvest of people, a sheaf of souls.
So, who will you invite next week?