Rev. Judith Walker-Hutchinson, Whorlton Harvest
When we reflect on a passage from the Old Testament, it feels like a (literary) time warp into a whole other world where sisters and brothers marry, long hair mysteriously makes men superhuman, desert bushes burn but leave no ashes and cities fall because people march around them – a different world indeed, a world which can feel very remote from us, a world which we might all too easily neglect.
In the Hebrew canon the title for Deuteronomy is ‘These are the words’ - a name taken from its opening words, setting the context that these are the words of God, spoken through Moses, to the people of Israel.
Deuteronomy is bursting with the implications of and reflections on, what it means to be the people of God, to be entrusted with the knowledge of the one living God and to be challenged to live out that knowledge in the sight of all the nations.
These are Moses words just before his death and so are his testimony, a testimony of his relationship with God and all that it has taught him. A relationship through which he throws out a serious challenge to Israel, to a people about to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, the land of plenty. It is a book for people on the move, but not just on the move literally as the Israelites were, but people on the move spiritually and morally - as we all are.
Moses words speak not only to Israel but across the time warp to us about our relationship with Yahweh, and with his people.
Mission is about crossing boundaries - be they cultural, geographic, linguistic or religious and the OT is full of boundaries that God’s people are challenged to cross - Deuteronomy is a book on the boundary.
The mission challenge that is explicit here to Israel in chapter 8 of Deuteronomy that we have just heard is to remember God in the hard times but perhaps more importantly not to forget him in the good times that lie ahead.
The Israel Moses is addressing is on the boundary between their wilderness experience (40 years of hunger and need and all the lessons this has taught them about reliance on God) and the new land with all its seductive bounty and its many gods.
Would they remain loyal to the knowledge and love of the living God?
Would they live as a distinctive, holy, community characterised by Yahweh’s standards of justice and compassion for all those around them to see and be influenced by?
Or would they sink into the inequities, corruptions and perversions of their time?
Moses knew as well as we do that that people need to eat, his point is that the Word that promises bread promises much, much more.
While bread will keep us alive physically the word of God gives life its meaning, shape, purpose and value.
But he also knew well, human nature and how easy it would be for the people to forget the lessons of the wilderness, when they were no longer hungry and thirsty, because that’s what people do - 9 of the 10 lepers in our story from Luke, forgot to give God thanks as soon as they were healed.
We in so many senses are already in the Promised Land. We are at the point where as Moses predicted
We have eaten our fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when our herds and flocks have multiplied, and our silver and gold is multiplied, and all that we have is multiplied
Moses’ message is for all God’s people whom ‘…the lord has brought … into a good land a flowing land’ - that message is - be careful you do not forget -
it is a test of what is in the heart.
And these words today are a test of what is in my heart and in your heart and the warning in Deuteronomy is as real now as then –
when you come to plenty be careful you do not forget.
If we see consumption as existence we forget the purpose of our humanity. Western society has turned the boast of verse 17
‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’
into the dominant economic and social policy and in doing so society has lost ‘life’ -
the under-girding meaning, purpose and dignity of human existence.
Our mission as God’s people in the land of pleanty, is the same as the mission of the people of Israel - to stand firm against idolatry and to be stewards of the knowledge of God.
On this our harvest festival it is right for us to give thanks and praise and to be joyful for the bounty of God’s earth but we must not forget that he has given us this land to steward and those he has gifted to do so on our behalf are our farmers. Each year at harvest time there are new challenges for farmers, in my time as a priest in rural communities I have listened to the pressure of bluetongue, foot and mouth, the demise of Dairy Farmers of Britain the cooperative which supported many small farms, lack of winter forage, flood and now this year again dairy farmers are being squeezed out of business. Businesses which not only provide a living for farmers and their families but which provide food security for us for the future.
God’s bounty is a wonderful gift, let us not forget God and his commandements simply because for now, we are in that land of pleanty
So as well as giving thanks to God for our Harvest let us give thanks to God for those who bring in harvest, let us remember the commandment to love our neighbour and let us live out the challenge to live differently in the sight of the nations and those who would forget…
3 simple things we can do this harvest time, 3 lessons we can hear from Moses, even today:
- let us not forget that our food and those who provide it are not just another commodity to be traded, but a gift from God
- let us give thanks to God not just this night for this meal, but at all times for every meal
- and let us shine out as joyful, blessed people of God not just in here, but out there across the boundary of this building for all the world to see and be influenced by
WE give blessings to the lord our God for the good land that he has given us. Amen
Revd Judith Walker-Hutchinson