Here's one for the Teachers...
Did you hear the story about the Teacher who asked her class "Ok Children, what sounds did we hear on our trip to the Farm yesterday?". Little Martha put up her hand and said "I heard Baaa". Then Henry put up his hand and said "I heard Moo". Little Joey put up his hand and said "I heard Cluck Cluck", and then young Thomas put up his hand and said "I heard 'Oi, you...get off that flipping tractor!'"
What is Harvest all about? Many things...of course. But here's my take on some of them:
First and foremost it is, of course, a time for giving thanks for many things:
We give thanks to God for our food – which, in the West, is more abundant and varied than at perhaps any other time in human history. We never have food shortages – the shelves of the supermarkets are always well stocked. But it wasn’t always like this, as those who were alive in the war and before can no doubt remember. And it still isn’t like this in all the world. For so much of the world, our greed drives their need.
Harvest is a time for giving thanks for, and to, our farmers and fishers. But the farming way of life is under threat as perhaps never before. So our thoughts and prayers must continue to be with all those livelihood is precarious, and those who see no alternative but to give up.
Harvest time is also a time for remembering to use the earth’s resources wisely and sustainably:
We need to make sure that the long-term consequences of today’s actions will not jeopardise the lives of generations to come. Did you know that the idea of sustainability goes back centuries? It feels like a really modern thing doesn’t it...for those of us who have grown up in a world 'addicted to oil' (to borrow one of the more positive Bush-isms) and to not worrying about our environment. But sustainability is something that Christians and Jews have been advocating for thousands of years.
For example, in Old Testament times, the ancient Israelites tried to ensure that their agriculture was sustainable; that too much was not taken from the earth without giving it chance to recover. This meant giving the land a rest every seven years, and also every fiftieth, or jubilee year.
The first book of the Bible, Genesis, talks about this very principle of using the earth’s resources wisely. In that great mythological story, we see God giving the Garden of Eden to Adam - under a sort of tenancy agreement. In that agreement, God tells Adam that he must rule over the earth, and take care of it. The sad fact is that ever since those days, we have learned how to rule over the land...but only now are we beginning to understand the importance of taking care of it.
Harvest time is also a time for remembering to share the fruits of the earth:
I mentioned just now that principle of the Old Testament law of letting land lie fallow every seven years. In turn, that was linked with another important Old Testament law...that of the year of cancelling debts. Here are some words from the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 15. In verse 4, God is reported to say “There should be no poor among you…” He is setting down a condition of the tenancy agreement which simply says...”You must share what I have given you. You may not keep more than you need...and there shall be no poor among you”. Later in verse 7, God says “Do not be hard hearted or tight fisted towards your poorer brother. Rather...be open-handed and freely lend him whatever he needs - and when the seventh year comes...the year for cancelling debts...freely forgive your brother your debt to him.
The seventh year had great importance for the Jewish nation. As I said just now, it was the time for letting the land rest, and also for forgiving debts. It was a time of fresh starts - but also for a time of letting go of the possessions that have cluttered up our lives.
Jesus often talked about the perils of having too much and keeping for oneself what should be shared with others. You will remember, I’m sure, that parable of the rich man whose crops were so abundant that he planned to build more barns in order to store them. He did not sell or share his harvest. Then, on the night that he had finished building and stocking his barns, God said to him, “You Fool! This very night you will die!” So he died, and was not able to enjoy the results of his wealth. Jesus said that we should not store up treasure for ourselves on earth, where it will rot. Instead, we should build up spiritual treasure that will last.
So maybe harvest time is an opportunity for trying afresh to get the balance right between providing for ourselves and our families, and building a world which is based on mutual support and help for those in genuine need - rather than on materialism and greed.
There is a new phrase doing the rounds in Christian circles, which I like...and which is a constant challenge to me. It’s the phrase “living light” - and implies that we need to live in such a way that we are not shackled to anything material. That doesn’t mean that we give up all material things - God has given us physical bodies with physical needs - and its right that we should relish in his creation. But we should never let any of them become our masters.
Linked to that idea, Harvest is a time for remembering that God sows spiritual seeds in our hearts, and wants them to bear an abundant harvest. In that story of the man who built huge barns, Jesus reminds us that earthly food is transient, and we should seek the food that lasts for ever - the spiritual food which he offers to those who believe in him, and follow his ways.
You see - God gives us a choice - pure and simple. Either we can live for ourselves, and reap the consequences (for example of an unsustainable world economy). Or we can look for spiritual wealth, through Jesus - and join with all of God’s people in building a better world.
So for me at least, that is what Harvest-time is all about. Yes, remembering to give thanks. But also reminding ourselves to use the earth’s resources wisely; remembering to share the fruits of the earth, and finally remembering that God sows spiritual seeds in our hearts. It is of course entirely up to us whether we listen to these messages, or let those seeds germinate and grow.