Reflection – 10 October 2021

Here’s my reflection for our Harvest Service on Sunday 10 August.

If you’d like to join in our Zoom sessions follow this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84890359132

The service starts at 11.00 British Summer Time.

Mark

Call to Worship

The world is filled with the glory of God, and we say,
Thank you!
The hills and valleys are filled with colour, and we say,
Thank you!
The vines and trees are filled with fruit, and we say,
Thank you!
Our tables are overflowing with food, and we say,
Thank you!
Our life is filled with love of family and friends, and we say,
Thank you!
We fill this house of God with our voices, saying,
Thank you!
May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts
be acceptable to you, O God,
as enter into this service of thanksgiving and praise.

Opening Prayer

Creator God, for daily bread
and all who work
to bring your harvest home
we bring our thanks today.



Forgive our ingratitude
we who have so much
yet waste what you have given.



For those whose harvest is poor,
whose crops have withered,
water tainted, children starve,
help those who bring relief
and bestow on us
an unaccustomed generosity,
that all might share from your garden
and all might sing your praise.



Creator God, provider of all
we bring our thanks today.
And we bless each other
that the beauty of this world
and the love that created it
might be expressed though our lives
and be a blessing to others
now and always.

Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Let’s have a hymn the traditional Harvest hymn Come ye thankful people come.

Come, ye thankful people, come, 
raise the song of harvest home; 
all is safely gathered in, 
ere the winter storms begin. 
God our Maker doth provide 
for our wants to be supplied; 
come to God’s own temple, come, 
raise the song of harvest home. 

All the world is God’s own field, 
fruit as praise to God we yield; 
wheat and tares together sown 
are to joy or sorrow grown; 
first the blade and then the ear, 
then the full corn shall appear; 
Lord of harvest, grant that we 
wholesome grain and pure may be. 

For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take the harvest home; 
from the field shall in that day 
all offenses purge away, 
giving angels charge at last 
in the fire the tares to cast; 
but the fruitful ears to store 
in the garner evermore. 

Even so, Lord, quickly come,
bring thy final harvest home; 
gather thou thy people in, 
free from sorrow, free from sin, 
there, forever purified, 
in thy presence to abide; 
come, with all thine angels, come, 
raise the glorious harvest home.

If you’ll excuse me I’d like to show you a brief video clip now – it’s from a Wallace and Grommit film. Watch it up to 1:55

Perhaps not entirely the most appropriate use of prayer by the vicar there – trying to make sure his vegetables win first prize and bribing God with the Harvest produce.

But there is biblical backing for church leaders doing well out of harvest – in  Numbers chapter 18 there’s a section headed ‘The share of the priests’ where it records God saying to Aaron the chief priest:

“I am giving you all the best of the first produce which the Israelites give me each year: olive oil, wine, and grain. It all belongs to you. Every member of your family who is ritually clean may eat it.

So on behalf of Martin and I thank you for all the food you’ve brought for us today!

Today we are celebrating the harvest. One way and another people have probably been doing this for as long as there have been people haven’t they? Before science explained how plants grew people would have been impressed by the miracle of the tiny seeds they planted growing into huge plants that they could eat.

But actually harvest is relatively recent. There have been human beings, our species, Homo sapiens, for around 300,000 years but agriculture started only about 12,000 years ago – before that we were hunter-gathers – finding or catching the food we needed. The invention of agriculture is probably the single biggest contributor to the development of human civilisation there has ever been. After Netflix of course.

Today there are over 7 billion people on our planet – and there’s no way they could all be fed by everyone going out and gathering nuts or hunting deer or wild boar. Effective agriculture is more necessary than ever.

There’s an old joke that I want to retell now.

The story goes that the preacher was driving down a country road when he came upon the most beautiful farm he’d ever seen in his lifetime spent traveling rural roads. He could only compare it to a beautiful painting. It was by no means a new farm, but the house and buildings were well constructed and in perfect repair. A garden around the house was filled with flowers and shrubs. A fine row of trees lined each side of the white gravel drive. The fields were beautifully tilled, and a fine herd of fat dairy cattle grazed knee-deep in the pasture. The site was so arresting the preacher stopped to drink it all in. He had been raised on a farm himself, and he knew a great farm when he saw one.

It was then he noticed the farmer, on a tractor, hard at work, approaching the place where the preacher stood beside his car. When the farmer got closer, the preacher hailed him. The farmer stopped the tractor, idled down the engine, and then shouted a friendly “hello!” The preacher said to him, “My good man, God has certainly blessed you with a magnificent farm.” And then, there was a pause as the farmer took off his cape and shifted in the tractor seat to take a look at his pride and joy. He then looked at the preacher and he said, “Yes, He has, and we’re grateful. But you should have seen this place when He had it all to Himself.”

The fact is that while we’re right to think about God’s bounty at Harvest time we must also recognise the role we human beings play in raising the crops. It’s reflected in the words of another harvest hymn:

We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land,


But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand

Well yes – to a point but sometimes we need to give a hand with the feeding and watering too! The tomatos in my greenhouse wouldn’t have done very well without my watering can and fertiliser.

Let’s have our bible reading now. This is from the Old Testament and it’s God giving Moses very detailed instructions about religious festivals. It’s from

Leviticus 23:1-22

The Religious Festivals

23 The Lord gave Moses the following regulations for the religious festivals, when the people of Israel are to gather for worship. You have six days in which to do your work, but remember that the seventh day, the Sabbath, is a day of rest. On that day do not work, but gather for worship. The Sabbath belongs to the Lord, no matter where you live. Proclaim the following festivals at the appointed times.

Passover and Unleavened Bread

The Passover, celebrated to honour the Lord, begins at sunset on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day the Festival of Unleavened Bread begins, and for seven days you must not eat any bread made with yeast. On the first of these days you shall gather for worship and do none of your daily work. Offer your food offerings to the Lord for seven days. On the seventh day you shall again gather for worship, but you shall do none of your daily work.

9-10 When you come into the land that the Lord is giving you and you harvest your grain, take the first sheaf to the priest. 11 He shall present it as a special offering to the Lord, so that you may be accepted. The priest shall present it the day after the Sabbath. 12 On the day you present the offering of grain, also sacrifice as a burnt offering a one-year-old male lamb that has no defects. 13 With it you shall present four pounds of flour mixed with olive oil as a food offering. The odour of this offering is pleasing to the Lord. You shall also present with it an offering of one quart of wine. 14 Do not eat any of the new grain, whether raw, roasted, or baked into bread, until you have brought this offering to God. This regulation is to be observed by all your descendants for all time to come.

The Harvest Festival

15 Count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath on which you bring your sheaf of grain to present to the Lord. 16 On the fiftieth day, the day after the seventh Sabbath, present to the Lord another new offering of grain. 17 Each family is to bring two loaves of bread and present them to the Lord as a special gift. Each loaf shall be made of four pounds of flour baked with yeast and shall be presented to the Lord as an offering of the first grain to be harvested. 18 And with the bread the community is to present seven one-year-old lambs, one bull, and two rams, none of which may have any defects. They shall be offered as a burnt offering to the Lord, along with a grain offering and a wine offering. The odour of this offering is pleasing to the Lord. 19 Also offer one male goat as a sin offering and two one-year-old male lambs as a fellowship offering. 20 The priest shall present the bread with the two lambs as a special gift to the Lord for the priests. These offerings are holy. 21 On that day do none of your daily work, but gather for worship. Your descendants are to observe this regulation for all time to come, no matter where they live.

22 When you harvest your fields, do not cut the grain at the edges of the fields, and do not go back to cut the heads of grain that were left; leave them for poor people and foreigners. The Lord is your God

Here’s another harvest hymn – perhaps not as familiar as the first one but you’ll know the tune – It’s called Praise God for the Harvest. The lyrics will appear on the screen so you can sing along if you like

Praise God for the harvest of orchard and field,

praise God for the people who gather their yield,

the long hours of labour, the skills of a team,

the patience of science, the power of machine.

Praise God for the harvest that comes from afar,

from market and harbour, the sea and the shore:

foods packed and transported, and gathered and grown

by God-given neighbours, unseen and unknown.

Praise God for the harvest that’s quarried and mined,

selected and smelted, or shaped and refined:

for oil and iron, for copper and coal,

praise God, who in love has provided them all.

Praise God for the harvest of science and skill,

the urge to discover, create, and fulfil:

for plans and inventions that promise to gain

a future more hopeful, a world more humane.

Praise God for the harvest of mercy and love

from leaders and peoples who struggle and serve

with patience and kindness, that all may be led

to freedom and justice, and all may be fed.

Talk

I want to talk about 3 things today

I’ve already alluded to one of them and it’s not relevant just to harvest. That’s the partnership between humankind and God. We’ve already thought about the fact that agriculture is a human invention. Nature does provide food of course and for millions of years that’s how things worked – plants grew, and animals ate plants. Then some animals ate other animals.

If there was a drought and the plants didn’t grow then the animals that depended on those plants died. If the plant eaters died then the carnivores couldn’t eat either. But in times of plenty there was enough food for everything. The competition for scarce resources was the driver for evolution and, ultimately, for the arrival of human beings like you and me.

But it’s not like that anymore. Food supply is dependent on the success of human agriculture. Of course the weather and, more and more, the way the climate is changing has a bearing on food supplies. And we need to recognise that if we’re not going to have climate change causing crop failures, hunger and refugees then we can’t just say “we’ll pray and leave it to God to sort out”. I’m sure the God of the Harvest wants it sorted out – but it’s down to us, his partners in the Harvest, to do it.

Secondly let’s go back and look again at one of the verses from our reading. Leviticus 18 verse 22 says this:

When you harvest your fields, do not cut the grain at the edges of the fields, and do not go back to cut the heads of grain that were left; leave them for poor people and foreigners. The Lord is your God’

There’s a clear instruction there that at the same time we are giving thanks for the harvest we must also be aware of the people who can’t afford to eat. This verse is about leaving unpicked grain – but the same principle applies in our modern food economy. We all have enough to eat. It could be argued looking at the shape of me that we have too much food to eat. But not everyone has. That’s so important for us to remember.

And when we think about the poor and the hungry we aren’t just thinking of people in poor countries, in Africa say. Shamefully we are talking about people in this country too. During the pandemic it took a footballer to persuade the Government that families that usually rely on free school meals needed help when the children weren’t in school. And in the year to March 2021 a record 2.5 million emergency food packs were issued by the Trussell Trust who run most of the country’s foodbanks. That’s over double the level from only 5 years ago. The Trussell Trust say:

Hunger in the UK isn’t about food. It’s about a lack of income.

The fifth richest country in the world and we have millions of people relying on charity handouts to be able to put basic food on the table. Can that be right? I’m sure the God of the Harvest doesn’t want that.

I hope that one day soon there won’t be any need for foodbanks – but in the meantime it’s right that we are supporting them and it’s great that we’ve shown our generosity in giving this mountain of food to our local foodbank.

Like the vicar said in the Wallace and Grommit film about the harvest produce – it is for the needy after all.

The final point I want to touch on is wastage of food.

Here are a few things to think about

  • Fruit farmers leaving vast amounts of produce unpicked due to labour shortages;
  • Current stories about 100,000 pigs being killed and burned due to a lack of abattoir workers and butchers;
  • In the UK about 10 million tonnes of food are wasted each year. That’s the equivalent of 15 billion meals, or enough to feed everyone in the country 3 meals a day for 11 weeks.

And in a world where (according to the United Nations) 811 million people don’t have enough food this isn’t a little local problem, it isn’t about it being a shame that we might not have enough pigs in blankets at Christmas, it’s tantamount to a crime.  I’m think the God of the Harvest is crying out in anguish at it all.

So it’s right to remember with thanks today the provision that God has made for us and that in our Stewardship we have developed so that it is possible to feed a world of nearly 8 billion people. And it’s right that so many of us (isn’t it great to see so many people joining us) will be eating together in celebration. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are very far from God’s kingdom where Jesus would have us all live life in all its fullness and the work we need to do as Christians to help bring this about.

Time for Prayer

Let us offer our prayers to God for the life of the world

and for all God’s people in their daily life and work.

God, the beginning and end of all things,

in your providence and care

you watch unceasingly over all creation;

we offer our prayers

that in us and in all your people your will may be done,

according to your wise and loving purpose in Christ our Lord.

Lord of all life:

hear our prayer.

We pray for all through whom we receive sustenance and life;

for farmers and agricultural workers,

for packers, distributors and company boards;

as you have so ordered our life that we depend upon each other,

enable us by your grace to seek the well-being of others before our own.

Lord of all creation:

hear our prayer

We pray for all engaged in research to safeguard crops against disease,

and to produce abundant life among those who hunger

and whose lives are at risk.

Prosper the work of their hands

and the searching of their minds,

that their labour may be for the welfare of all.

Lord of all wisdom:

hear our prayer.

We pray for governments and aid agencies,

and those areas of the world where there is disaster, drought

   and starvation.

By the grace of your Spirit,

touch our hearts

and the hearts of all who live in comfortable plenty,

and make us wise stewards of your gifts.

Lord of all justice:

hear our prayer.

We pray for those who are ill,

remembering those in hospital and nursing homes

and all who are known to us.

We pray for all who care for them.

Give skill and understanding

to all who work for their well-being.

Lord of all compassion:

hear our prayer.

We remember those who have died,

whom we entrust to your eternal love

in the hope of resurrection to new life.

Lord of all peace:

hear our prayer.

We offer ourselves to your service,

asking that by the Spirit at work in us

others may receive a rich harvest of love and joy and peace.

Lord of all faithfulness:

hear our prayer.

God of grace,

as you are ever at work in your creation,

so fulfil your wise and loving purpose in us

and in all for whom we pray,

that with them and in all that you have made,

your glory may be revealed

and the whole earth give praise to you,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Our final hymn today is Fill your hearts with joy and gladness to the great tune of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy

Fill your hearts with joy and gladness,
Sing and praise your God and mine!
Great the Lord in love and wisdom,
Might and majesty divine!
He who framed the starry heavens
Knows and names them as they shine
Fill your hearts with joy and gladness,
Sing and praise your God and mine!

Praise the Lord, his people, praise him!
Wounded souls his comfort know.
Those who fear him find his mercies,
Peace for pain and joy for woe;
Humble hearts are high exalted,
Human pride and power laid low.
Praise the Lord, his people, praise him!
Wounded souls his comfort know.

Praise the Lord for times and seasons,
Cloud and sunshine, wind and rain;
Spring to melt the snows of winter
Till the waters flow again;
Grass upon the mountain pastures,
Golden valleys thick with grain.
Praise the Lord for times and seasons,
Cloud and sunshine, wind and rain;

Fill your hearts with joy and gladness,
Peace and plenty crown your days!
Love his laws, declare his judgements,
Walk in all his words and ways;
He the Lord and we his children,
Praise the Lord, all people, praise!
Fill your hearts with joy and gladness,
Peace and plenty crown your days!

Finally we will close by saying the grace:

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

and the love of God

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit

be with us all

evermore.

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