David Walker Sermon - Harvest 2017

Another Harvest Festival, another Harvest Home. Whatever we call it, it’s harvest and it comes around at this time every year.

But what is harvest about? What does it mean? What does it mean to us? And, most important, how should we respond at harvest time? How should it make us feel?

I think it’s safe to say that we’re all of us veterans of many harvests past. We can measure our lives in harvests. How many? Even the youngest of us have probably seen ten harvests. Ten? Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, even ninety?

Think about those harvests. What do they bring to mind? What stands out? What is your overwhelming response?

For me, the stand out must be as a curate’s husband in Wensleydale, attending six harvest suppers in a fortnight – all different and all quite special in their own way.

Yes...Harvest can give us a warm glow, a good feeling. It conjures pictures of our past, a past that is possibly long gone.

Let me read you an extract from a piece of literature. It’s by Laurie Lee and it’s from ‘Cider with Rosie’. (Penguin Books, 1993, pp204-205)

Cider with Rosie

How does that resonate? How does that work as a harvest celebration for the 21st century here today in Barnard castle?

It’s most definitely a portrait of the past, a past that doesn’t really exist anymore, and possibly only ever really existed in the mind’s eye of the writer. Golden, glorious days.

Above all the word we can use is ‘good’. This is good. And harvest is most definitely good. Our readings confirm this for us. Each in their way is talking of God’s creation and the goodness of that creation, and each is also talking about our response to that goodness.

In Deuteronomy God is showing Moses the Promised Land, a wonderful land, especially wonderful for a people who have escaped from captivity and slavery in Egypt and roamed the barren deserts to get here. It will be a land of wheat and barley, vines, fig trees, pomegranates, olive trees and honey, and flowing life giving water. All provided by the Lord, all given freely in grace. And all God wants in return is to be remembered, is not to be forgotten. He is offering them a covenant of grace.

 In the reading from Matthew it is a thousand years later and much has changed. The people have become obsessed with material things, with storing up treasures for the future; they have become greedy and acquisitive. They have built up their barns, built up their capital, concentrated on their wealth.

And they have forgotten that the one thing that God asked them to do was remember him, remember where all this wealth, where all these good things come from.

So, we remember and we give thanks for the harvest. And it is good for us to do that. But how much do we understand? Is it enough?  How relevant is this in our world?

We have a problem with connection and it is a problem that is getting worse by the day.

We have become disconnected from the harvest, less connected to the soil and inevitably less connected to our God. Here in Barnard Castle we are part of a semi rural community but most of us are detached from the land, from the growing of the crops, from the nurturing of the beasts, from the harvesting of our food.

We have evolved. Farming is not what it was – globalisation means we can get any product at any time, our supermarkets see to that; mechanisation means that few of us work the land anymore. Harvest is not a community thing in the same way that it was even within living memory, and it will become less and less so as time goes on.

We live in a bubble. We can see the fields and the countryside around us, but that’s just another bubble.

Mechanisation, globalisation, the power of the supermarkets, the disneyfication of our countryside, the complexity of our modern economy – the causes of our disconnection.

Inequality, poverty, a hegemony of privilege – the results. Harvest is no longer just about giving thanks.

How does harvest look on the cold midnight streets of Manchester or Edinburgh, huddled up in a doorway with only a cardboard box for shelter? Or in the hurricane devastated islands of the Caribbean? Or in Bangladesh amongst the Rohingyan people? Or Sao Paulo, where the six super richest people in Brazil have more possessions than the 100 million poorest people? Their barns are more than full.

I need to step back and clarify what I’m saying here. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be celebrating and saying thanks, all I’m saying is that we need to get real about it. This is not anymore, if it ever was, the world of Laurie Lee.

It doesn’t work like that anymore. At least not here, or in most places.

But that does not mean we should abandon harvest festival. We must continue with it, not for nostalgic reasons.

It’s not just some sort of heritage project.

We stick with it for good reasons. What are they?

Well, first and foremost we do need to give thanks. We should always be giving thanks just for being here, having this life, living on this planet. And we need to acknowledge that this is all God’s doing. Everything we have is because God has made things this way.

But we now need to do more than give thanks. We need to add another layer to our worship.

And this begins with reflection. Stepping out of ourselves and trying to look at the world afresh.

We need to reflect on what we have and what others may not have. We need to reflect that whatever any of us here has we probably have enough. Some of us will have more than others. If we are less fortunate then let’s follow Jesus on this (and incidentally on pretty much everything else) and not worry about it, not fret and not be jealous or envious or greedy. It is what it is. Let’s enjoy it for what it is.

If we have more, then let’s think about this but not to beat ourselves around the head. Can we help others, do we help others? Harvest may be a good time to look at ourselves and to make comparisons, not only with those next to us in the pews, but to those who live in other parts of this world, the people we see on our TV screens trudging through streams of brown, muddy water to queue for a bowl of rice.

So, let’s take some time this harvest to look at ourselves and what we are doing in this world. Asking ourselves how we relate to God and how we relate to the other people who live on this planet, how we find re-connection.

In the same way that we have Lent and Advent as times of contemplation and renewal let’s put ourselves in that time this harvest.

But reflection in itself is not enough. It is nothing if it is not followed by action and change.

We can begin to change by saying sorry, sorry for all the times when we have taken this world for granted, sorry for all the times when we have not said thank you, when we have not wanted to share our own good fortune, when we have not respected the boundless beauty and gracious glory of creation, when we have not thought of others, or thought about our futures, our children’s’ futures or our grandchildren futures, when we have been selfish and self absorbed, when we have just been thoughtless and forgetful, when we have not been attentive to the needs of the earth.

I am not saying this to shame you. More than anything I am shaming myself. I know I have been selfish and that I will be selfish again. No, I am shamed as much as anyone. I have more than my share. I use more resources than I need. I am privileged beyond comprehension.

Those people who listened first to Moses, and then to Jesus, those people who through the centuries bent their backs to the plough and eked out a precarious existence dependent on the seasons, those people who needed the harvest to succeed every year, they could not know what riches we have gained, or understand how little we have done to accumulate them. And yet, and yet, even amongst this profligacy, this abundance, there is poverty and squalor that they would recognise, that would be all too familiar to them. How long, how long, in the words of the psalm, how long must this go on?

After the reflection and the regret, we must act, we must change. If we all change in a small way we can make big changes. How we change – well that’s for each of us to think about.

As a church we have changed our harvest festival – we are having a harvest tea and we are inviting the people who live in our care homes to share with us. We are sharing our good fortune of having good things given to us by God with people for whom things may not be so good, who may be incapacitated, lonely and just lacking the everyday fellowship we take for granted. We are making connections.

That’s a community change, and, we hope, a good one. But we need to challenge ourselves to change as well.

This harvest if we gain only three things may they be

·      the blessing of self awareness and the ability to reflect on where we are now placed in this world and in the scheme of creation

·      The recognition of the need to say sorry for the times we have, like the ancient Israelites, forgotten to be thankful to God for all that we have and all that we are

·      And the will to bring about some change, however small, in how we live in this world in order to make this harvest a harvest for everyone.

So, I ask again, what does harvest mean? What does harvest mean for us? And how should we respond this harvest time?