Back in the 1970s I remember going with some friends to the Harvest Festival in the village of Stowmarket in Suffolk. Surrounded by open fields the combine harvesters and tractors were parked around and we sat on hay bales sharing a barbecue and then a barn dance in the open air. It was amazing to celebrating completing the harvest with the workers and families who still grew what they ate, and even some of what I ate! Their whole livelihoods depended on a good harvest.
Harvest in Biblical times
Deut 16:9 Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing corn. 10 Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you. 11 And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you. 12 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.
13 Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing-floor and your winepress. 14 Be joyful at your Feast—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. 15 For seven days celebrate the Feast to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.
Harvest in biblical times was a celebration of the way God had blessed the work of each one of His people. Each was thanking God for the way THEIR OWN crops and vineyards had produced food, or the way their own sheep and goats had multiplied.
Deut 16 from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing corn ….
a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you ….
after you have gathered the produce of your threshing-floor and your winepress ….
For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.
The people of Israel lived in an agrarian society. Their society was based on agriculture as its prime means for support and sustenance. Such a society recognises other means of livelihood and work habits but stresses agriculture and farming. This has been the main form of economic organization for most of recorded human history. It was the common way for Medieval European countries to gain wealth which didn’t really change until the agricultural revolution in the 18th century and the growth of cities in the industrial revolution into the 19th century. Most of the developing world south still live in agrarian societies. But now in UK whereas centuries ago almost everybody was involved in food production, nowadays very few people are.
As a young boy I remember driving out into the country with my Uncle Peter and Auntie Dorothy on Sunday mornings to visit the farm shop where they bought much of the food they ate. At this time of year we would go walking in the Peak District past the farm where Peter would point out “his turkey”, the one he had already selected which they would buy from the farmer to eat for Christmas Dinner. I remember shelling the peas Peter grew in his garden ready to cook them for Sunday lunch. Time was when if people didn’t grow a particular food themselves they went to the market and bought it from the person who did grow it. But of course as cities grew up there came the middle men, the traders and shopkeepers. So now even if you buy food from a farm shop at least some of it will have been bought in from wholesalers. When we buy food from a supermarket, the chain from producer through transporter to packager transported to wholesaler transported to retailer has many links and is sometimes thousands of miles long. A few weeks ago we did enjoy a very nice blackberry and apple crumble with fruit grown from our own garden. But the reality is that with few exceptions, most of us have very little experience of what it means to grow for ourselves any of the food we eat.
So we completely miss out on a number of elements of the process of growing food. The planting. The watering. The harvesting. And that in turn means we have very little gratitude for those stages. At harvest time we are grateful for the ends product which we can buy and enjoy. But we don’t know anything about giving thanks for all the steps which bring that food from the fields and orchards into our cupboards or our freezers so it is there whenever we want to eat it. This evening I want us to think about those different stages which our food goes through before it comes to our plates. Because I believe there are principles there we can learn from.
Mechanisation, chemical fertilizers and insecticides made farmer’s job easier. But agriculture is still hard work. Still for fruit pickers even in England. Still for majority of farmers around the world where everything is still done by hand tilling the soil, sowing seed by hand, digging irrigation channels or using an A frame to dig level terracing on the side of hills so that rain will sink into the soil instead of carrying the soil and the seeds downhill and into the river.
24 I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
We can forget that often what the farmer plants could itself be eaten – grain / seeds /fruit which you have to choose – eat them now or plant them for a harvest later.
Investment for the future
Hard work – still important – but we don’t always realize the importance because the rewards for success and the consequences of failure are much less obvious. If somebody in an agrarian economy doesn’t produce food to eat, they go hungry!
Christian service and witness
Hard work required. Preparing the ground and planting the seed – we should be willing to work as hard in our Christian service and our outreach as we are as a farmer would planting his crops, or indeed as many people do in their day jobs! We honour God by our commitment to church life and Christian things. Somebody who treats church just like a hobby, only gives to Christian things the tail end of their time and efforts, dishonours God,
“We have become a society that worships our work, works at our play and plays at our worship.”
Hard work – caring for the plants. Sometimes propagating, replanting, protecting from elements and insects. Easier for farmers with insecticides. But still sometimes needing to carry water long distances by hand to water the crops or the fruit trees.
Perseverance – keeping on keeping on. Never stop trying and never try stopping.
Perseverance: Challenge to keep slogging on when there seems to be very little recognition or reward.
Christian service and witness
Persevering in pastoral care and outreach and children’s work when we aren’t necessarily seeing results.
Possibility and consequences of failure –
Food supply is not guaranteed (even if for us they seem to be)
celebration of successful harvest acknowledging that harvest isnt always successful
Joseph in Egypt – 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine
Too much rain, too little rain, rain at the wrong times
Flooding and drought – increasing problems with global warming
Plagues of locusts ruining crops
Theft and destruction of crops in wartorn regions.
Dependence on overseas aid rather than local agriculture
Shift from food production to bio-fuel crops
The precarious nature of an agrarian existence which we are almost entirely protected from. We see a small rise in the prices of bread and wheat and rice – millions of people in many countries see starvation.
Satisfaction of success
Psalm 126:5 Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. 6 He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.
We just eat the end products. We don’t experience the true joy of harvesting because we haven’t been involved in all the stages up until then. We take our food for granted because we haven’t had any part at all in producing it. We don’t reap with joy because we didn’t sow in tears.
How can WE offer God back the firstfruits of what we do when we dont necessarily produce anything????
Offering our daily jobs as acts of worship to honour God. Work for His glory
Christian service and witness
Work hard at harvesting! Especially in outreach – reaping the harvest of eternal life.
How can WE offer God back the firstfruits of what we do when we dont necessarily produce anything???? At least we can do so by giving time and energy to God’s work in church, in children’s work, in youth work, in caring for people in need, in outreach. Give our Christian service the priority it deserves.
Dependence on God
In all these areas, sowing, watering and harvesting, we need to recognize our complete dependence on GOD.
Mark 4: 26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces corn—first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Dependence on God
10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains.
11 They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.
13 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
14 He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth:
15 wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.
21 The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.
22 The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens.
23 Then man goes out to his work, to his labour until evening.
27 These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time.
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.
God and Man in cooperation
In food production,
Human beings have to do the hard work – but we depend on God’s goodness
In our daily jobs – remember to let God into our secular lives.
In the Old Testament there was no division between sacred and secular – no distinction between the spiritual and the mundane. They were all part of the one and same thing we call life. Like a tapestry interwoven. We should make sure we recognize our dependence on God in EVERY situation – and realise that EVERY place is a holy place.
In our Christian service
1 Corinthians 3:6 Paul said “I planted the seed, Apollos watered, but it was God who gave the growth.”
– remember the words of Jesus In John 15:4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
We live in an Age of Instant Everything. Harvest time reminds us of all the hard work of sowing, watering and reaping the crops. And the principles apply the same in agriculture, in our daily jobs, and in our Christian service and witness. Harvest time reminds us of the need for sacrifice and perseverance. And it reminds us that for all our human effort, we ultimately depend on God’s mercy and blessing for everything. So we really did ought to be properly grateful!