Vicar's Sermon - Whorlton Harvest 2016
What sort of diary do you use? What sort of calendar do you have on your wall?
Next time I’m up in Durham I will make my annual pilgrimage to WHSmith to purchase next year’s diary. I’ve used the same sort pretty well ever since I was ordained. Not for me this constant flicking of a screen on an iPad or iPhone trying to find dates for a meeting: No I prefer the old fashioned pen and paper diary. To be more precise, I prefer a week to a view diary. Because, of course, you can get many different types of diary. A Day to a page just seems to me to prevent you from seeing at a glance ‘what’s coming up’. You can get diaries that mark out each day for you in 30 minute sections (so, presumably, you don’t waste a minute of precious time). But, having landed on the week to a view diary, there’s then a decision as to which is to be the first day of the week. I know, I now that it is Sunday…but for the purposes of my diary I like to see the Sunday coming ahead of me…where is my week leading. I don’t want to be suddenly taken by surprise as I turn the page to find I have a baptism family I’ve failed to visit in the week before they bring their baby for christening.
It gets even more complicated if you ask the question ‘when does your diary begin.?’ I am sure that in other parts of the world you will find that the New Year begins on a different date to our January 1st: my diary and my calendars run from 1st January to 31st December. But even within the English speaking world not all calendars and diaries are the same. Just a few weeks ago my trip to WH Smith would have seen me home unable to by a ‘calendar year’ diary: the only ones on the shelves will have been the Academic year diaries running from late August onwards.
I suppose what this all boils down to is the question ‘how do you see time?’…or even more succinctly ‘what time is it?’
I’ve sometimes viewed this time of year with a degree of trepidation, a gradual increase in my anxiety levels. We make our way through the long summer Sundays of the year after Trinity, many of us take our summer holidays and then BAM, September brings a new school year. Everything starts up again. From my diary’s point of view one thing follows another (a statement of the obvious I know): Harvest, All Soul’s tide, Remembrance, Christingle, then there’s Advent and the charge up to Christmas, a brief pause before Christian Unity week and then into Lent we go with the long haul through to Easter. Maybe, because I use a Calendar year diary this is also the time when I sit down and attempt to bring some semblance of order to what we might be up to in 2017.
But I realised a while ago that actually everything can happen in its own good time – that I wasn’t obliged, just by thinking of the long list of events ahead of me, to have got everything sorted in the first week back after my summer holidays….to even think that way was a sure way to induce stress. And then I had another thought: what if I were to view the September return to work not so much as a new beginning but as Harvest. For, at least in some ways of seeing time, this is Harvest Time and we mark it with our Harvest Festival. Harvest is not a beginning it is a fulfilment, the fruition of a year or more’s work, the revealing of the fruit of our labours. I realise that our Harvest Festival here reflects a connection to the Harvest of the land – of crops and fruit and vegetables. Other producers, other farmers see their Harvest at another time of the year and if we were to think more laterally and move away from thinking of a literal Harvest there might be some who would see their work’s fulfilment marked in very different ways and at very different times. Some people work with very short time scales as projects are brought to completion and they move on to the next thing. Others may never see the fruit of their labours in their own lifetime – now there’s a thought. And God has given us the seasons of the year, one after another, but He also works with diary and a calendar that encompass generations as he looks toward His Harvest.
In the bible the Harvest shifts meaning many times. What is the Harvest? Yes, it is food on the table but it is so much more. It is the harvest of people from every tribe and nation under heaven standing before the throne of God and offering their worship – offering to God His due. It is more: it is the effect of the word of God, sown by the sower, falling into good ground and growing to produce a 30 fold, 60 fold a hundred-fold increase – changing, transforming, feeding and sustaining people and communities, enlivening, enriching them with the touch and the blessing of God.
More than this, Harvest is the Harvest of righteousness – not just an increase in the number of people who worship God but result, the outcome of the fruit of their lives lived out in true relationship with God and with others: the effect of loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and loving or neighbours as ourselves.
When the angel in the Book of Revelation swings his sickle to gather the Harvest, what is he doing, what is the Harvest he is gathering? It’s the sum total of our lives, the summation of our life’s work, the offering of all that is good and pleasing and true and upright to God. Which begs the question ‘how is the harvest looking right now?’ What does God see when he looks over the Harvest of our lives – do we offer Him a good Harvest? Has the seed of the word of God landed in good soil in our hearts or is it struggling? Have the fruits of the spirit blossomed in our lives or have they been hit by blight, and if so what remedial action might we take?
Our first hymn this evening captured the thought:
All this world is God's own field,
fruit unto his praise to yield;
wheat and tares therein are sown,
unto joy or sorrow grown;
ripening with a wondrous power
till the final harvest hour
grant, O Lord of life, that we
holy grain and pure may be.
May this be our prayer and, if need be this Harvest time let us remember that I the farmer’s calendar at least, Harvest gives way to ploughing and ploughing gives way to sowing…there is chance for a new start, in hope of a better Harvest.