Harvest Festival

31/01/2016 ()

Bible Text: Mark 4:26 |

Today’s first reading is from Deuteronomy 8: 7-11, the latest of the books of the Jewish Torah (or Law), which was probably written at the time of the prophet Jeremiah, long after the people of Israel had settled in the Promised Land. In spite of that, it is written in the form of directions given to the people as they are about to settle into the new home land — a land flowing with milk and honey according to one description.

It describes a fruitful and pleasant land with an abundant water supply, growing various different crops and an abundance of fruit trees with minerals to be found underground and warns the people never to forget that it is the Lord who has placed them in this wonderful land.

At the time of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt I suppose that it was easy to recognise the power of God’s mighty hand as they passed through the waters of the Sea, leaving the Egyptian army in disarray. When they were established in Palestine and were enjoying a settled life, good crops and great prosperity, it would be a great temptation to think that all this had been achieved by their own efforts.

So the Deuteronomist warns: Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

Later on in Deuteronomy there are directions for the observance of the Thanksgiving for the Harvest where the worshipper is directed to bring an offering to the Lord of the first fruits of the land and to pray: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. . .” (NRSV Deut 26:5) The prayer continues with the recitation of all that the Lord did in bringing them out of slavery into the Promised Land.

We, too, live in a fertile and prosperous land which has been blessed by God. It has been inhabited for thousands of years and we who live here now still enjoy the springs and streams, the crops and vines and the abundant fruit which grow so readily in this area.

It is also important that we do not forget to give thanks to God for his goodness to us and so we have come together today with our gifts of produce of various kinds in thanksgiving for the harvest of the land in which we live.

The Gospel and Epistle remind us of other important themes for our consideration at this time. The Gospel speaks of a person planting seed which then follows its set course of sprouting, growing and ripening even though we have little idea of how it happens. This, by the way, I think is the passage which inspired the song “Oats and Beans” which was the first tune that many people learned when they started to play a musical instrument.

The Epistle (1 Timothy 6: 6-10) exhorts us to be content with the basic necessities of life: for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

It goes on to warn us against an attachment to riches which can prevent us from worshipping God as we ought: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

So we are challenged to think about the way in which we have responded to God and his world. Do we acknowledge the kingship of God in our lives, that he is the source of life and love and of the blessings which we have received? If we do, then that is fine for us, but what about all those who are still to be gathered into the kingdom of heaven?

That is what today’s Gospel is really about? Look at the way it starts. He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. . . “

It is a parable about the kingdom, which grows in a mysterious way just like a crop of oats or beans or barley grows. However, like those crops, it first needs to be planted — and in this Parish of Strathalbyn that is our responsibility, yours and mine — so what are we doing about it?

This is the question which the Bishop has been challenging us to face over the past twelve months. I hope that we will continue to respond to the challenge in our prayer groups, Lenten study groups, Wednesday morning discussions and even as we meet after church on Sunday mornings.

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