Autumn is without doubt my favourite season, and harvest celebrations one of the highlights of this time of the year. Blessed as were are to live in the countryside, we get a ringside seat as all around us work goes on to gather in the crops and the fruits of much work and effort. Given the rain this summer the sheer abundance of growth all around us, which may have caused farmers problems, has kept those of us who like to garden very busy. However many years one gardens it is still not difficult to be constantly amazed at the abundance of growth, the simple combination of light and warmth and water providing evidence of the powers of nature to provide us not only with food, but beauty in abundance too.
In religious thought there has long been a hesitancy to use the very obvious metaphors of the natural world around us, mostly because people feared that folks would confuse the works of God, with the divine itself. It was one of the many extraordinary things about Jesus how easily he used the natural world and the life of tending it as central ideas in his parables to teach deeper ideas to his hearers. And today when so much focus is placed upon the environment, the world’s ecosystems and the health of our atmosphere, oceans and soil, we seem to have woken up to the dangers of taking for granted this greatest gift of all, our home this amazing planet earth and the created world of plant, animals birds and fish. Never before in human history have we been so aware that we cannot simply take, that the resource is both amazing and fragile, and that we are both recipients of God’s goodness, but importantly stewards in our own time of the earth and its bounty, and that we are not separate from its health, indeed our own health and future depend on the decisions we need to take in this generation. The wonderful work of nature programs, and those who explore the science of the world’s interlocking systems are both fascinating and essential. And with that comes the sense that the bounty of the earth thought sufficient for all, is far from readily available to all equally. A healthy world, and healthy societies and communities is clearly not going to happen without our active participation, and without that we cannot be assured that the conflicts of the future will not centre on things like access to healthy growing conditions, clean water and sufficient resources. As the effects of climate change become obvious it seems unnecessary to argue over the why, but more important to concentrate and the how we can effect repair, stewardship, and care for all who are intended to benefit from its blessings. Without that peace and stability will be hard to maintain.
The OT lesson this morning has Moses and Aaron address the Israelites, holding out the hope to them of the promised land, where they will benefit from things they have not worked for, wells they have not dug, vineyards they have not planted and so on. There God will provide for their needs, and despite the strain and worry of their 40 year journey they will see God’s good intentions in the abundance of ways in which their needs will be met. And we can reflect that often we have behaved in history like those who reap but haven’t sown, where demand on resources has grown, choice has become a burden, and we cannot go on as those who choose not to see our own part in. the work of sustaining this great gift for future generations. Like so many lessons of history we have pressed on driven by profit and greed without standing back to reflect on the effects of our actions. It is a plain fac that a small number of the world’s people suffer from the effects of excess, while the majority of those alive suffer from need and want of the very basics of life itself. And given the fact that world has become smaller in terms of the speed of transport, and more transparent due to modern media, this cannot continue. The poor of the world have access to cheap phones and the internet and no longer can we live lives of plenty and expect others not to wish for the same, and to be driven to want to share in it.
St Paul writing to Corinth uses the metaphor of farming to encourage his readers to think of their lives and their witness to the Gospel in terms of sowing seeds, and he urges them to be generous, for those who sow sparingly reap sparingly. God in nature shows an almost reckless generosity and abundance, we should not do otherwise. And this sowing is not just in the spreading of the Good News of Jesus, but in the acts of love and charity that we owe to others as a means of showing gratitude to God for our own blessings by sharing that grace as best we can with others who need it. As we spread the blessings of God, then in turn that will lead others to do likewise, and as Paul says that will increase the harvest, so be generous on every occasion, making your thanksgiving to God.
St Luke though quotes Jesus’s parable of the rich and successful man who can’t see his blessings for what they are, but sees them as problems. His harvest being so great his first thought is where to put it, it will mean building new barns. So he does and then when he has stored what seems to him ample for years to come he relaxes and stops his efforts to make merry. But as Jesus reminds us in the parable we don’t know the length of our lives, or what is around the corner. So rather than presume we should live gratefully counting our blessings, because we cannot change the future, worrying about the material concerns of life won’t in the end make us either safer or happier. Look around Jesus says, nature teaches us that God blesses the creatures of the earth who cannot provide for themselves, and they are fed. So don’t get diverted by these things, for such won’t add an hour to your life. And look around the world is full of beauty and bounty, evidence enough of how much we are valued and loved. Jesus quotes a saying of his times when he says ‘ do not worry for tomorrow, let tomorrow worry for itself, each day has trouble enough of its own’. The point being of course that worry and cares prevent us from seeing the blessings, the good and the grace all around us.
For me the message of Harvest, of this time of the year, is still to marvel at the beauty, generosity and abundance of the natural world, but to do so with the Gospel’s command that we are a part of the whole. We cannot ignore the needs of others, the Gospel call to share God’s blessings, for they weren’t intended for us alone. And we need to think on that wonderful Quaker prayer that we should ‘tread gently on this dear earth’, how can we live a good life by taking less, sharing more, and tending rather than exploiting what we have been blessed to share in. And in this sharing the love of God gets shared, the grace of God gets spread, and there is still a very real chance that we can learn to live on this wonderful home of ours in a way that this can as God intends sustain itself into the future to the benefit of all He made and loves.