Today we are thinking of harvest: – firstly, of the annual harvest of the fields and hillsides, and of those who work so hard to achieve it, in our own parish. Then there is the harvest of the hedgerows – bushes laden with hips and haws and elderberries, trees yielding nuts and acorns, nourishment for the birds and small creatures of the wayside, all ‘looking to God for their food’. But there are other kinds of harvest, a point made by the popular harvest hymn which we have used at the start of our worship today.
Although we are told that Jesus was by trade a carpenter, making ‘easy’ yokes for oxen rather than ploughing with them, it is clear that he had a deep and abiding love of nature and of the earth. Much of his teaching draws on images taken from farming or animal husbandry – sowers and reapers, shepherds, vineyard labourers; situations familiar to his audience. And he often speaks of that part of his own ministry, which involved telling the good news of the Kingdom of God, in terms of sowing and harvesting.
Speaking of his work for the Kingdom, Jesus tells his disciples: ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’ (Matthew 9:38)
The parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3) tells of the gracious abundance of God’s providence, whether in material or spiritual gifts – seeds scattered far and wide, with the assurance that harvest will come, although it will be a harvest of varying richness, according to the response of those who hear the Word. And as Paul tells us, in that verse from 1 Corinthians, this response to the message of the Kingdom, though that message is spread by human agents like Paul and Apollos, depends on God’s grace.
The parable of the weeds (Matthew 24-30) forms the background to the popular harvest hymn which we have used today. Rejoicing in the abundant harvest of the farmer’s labour, it yet warns of another harvest to come at the end of the age. Good and evil will grow together, as in this world they do, but only God, the just judge, knows the truth of the human heart, and only at the end of Time will the true extent of the Kingdom be revealed.
The parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16) tells of the man who, on reaping a bumper harvest, thought only of how he would enjoy his own wealth, and not at all of the poor in the land. What sort of harvest would he show when his soul was required of him? What will the Judge say to those who enjoy plenty, while their fellow human-beings go hungry?
Our reading of the short parable from Mark’s Gospel might be said to summarise much of the teaching of Jesus about the growth of the Kingdom. An evangelist – whether preacher or ordinary Christian – plants the seed of the Word – sometimes deliberately in known soil, sometimes not even knowing where it has landed. Then he leaves it to the soil and the weather – that is, to the providence and mercy of God. He may see the plant grow and flourish – or he may never know the effect of the seed he planted.
William Barclay tells a story about a man who attended the funeral of an elderly neighbour, whom he knew to be without family. He expected to be the only one at the graveside, but to his surprise a stranger, a soldier, was there. After the funeral he learned that this man was no ordinary soldier, but a brigadier. The officer explained his attendance at the funeral. In his youth he had been wild, and this old man, now in the grave, then his Sunday School teacher, had attempted to put him on the straight and narrow -without, at the time, much apparent success.
But the boy he had tried to help never forgot his old mentor, or what he had tried to teach him, and in time did grow up to be a fine and fruitful human being. So he had come to pay his last respects.
Jesus tells us that the Kingdom is like that – the seed is sown, but the increase comes in God’s good time, not in ours. This teaching would have been comforting to his followers in the late first century, as they did not live to see the anticipated Second Coming of our Lord, but experienced instead increasing persecution for their faith. They might not see the growth of the Kingdom; but grow it would.
Perhaps this may be a word for us in our time, when on all sides Christians worry about falling church attendances, and an increasingly secular society. If the farmer does his work faithfully, then God gives, and knows, the increase. So may it be for Christ’s Kingdom today. Amen.
Great God, our gracious Father, we have so much to be thankful for. We have food to eat, clothes to wear, homes to live in, friends and family to love and support us.
Hear our prayers for those who have none of these things:
For those stricken by famine, or disease, or violent upheavals
For those who have lost family, or job and income, due to the effects of corona virus and lockdown
For all who are ill, whether in hospital, or suffering delays in treatment
For all who are isolated and lonely
For those who bear the responsibility of government in these difficult times
For countries divided and torn by civil strife.
Hear our prayers as we silently name before you those known to us in special need of your blessing ………
A prayer for the farming community
Loving Father, we thank you for our farming families
And for all the hard work they do in growing our food, and caring for livestock.
We ask your blessing on them and on their work;
Keep them safe,
grant them the reward of work well done, in good crops and healthy animals,
and the satisfaction of knowing that in working the land kindly,
in partnership with nature,
they are being good stewards of your world. Amen.
We gather all our prayers in A Collect for Harvest
God of faithfulness, your generous love supplies us with the fruits of the earth in their seasons. Give us grace to be thankful for your gifts, to use them wisely, and to share our plenty with others; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Hymn CH3 620
May God bless and keep us; may he give us light to guide us, courage to support us, and love to unite us, now and always. Amen.