Harvest Festival – More than just fruit, veg and tins of soup

Sunday 27th September 2015

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

By Leslie Spatt

Harvest Festival – More than just fruit, veg and tins of soup

I’ve been wondering how to preach about Harvest to a 21st century urban London congregation – and it’s really quite hard to find what’s relevant in the agricultural sense. There’s the real danger of Harvest Festival becoming something rather quaint and folks-y, something we don’t quite connect with on the daily scale of what we expect for our style of living, let alone survival. Most of us are very distant from the harsh realities of growing our own food and needing a good harvest to literally eat throughout the coming months.

Even we who have gardens or allotments aren’t dependent on them for our daily bread: if the onion harvest is really pitifully tiny – as mine was this year – we can go to Aldi or Waitrose and buy some. We don’t have to go without.  And we see formerly seasonal foods all year round; we’re rather spoiled with fruits and vegetables, bread, cheese and fresh meat more or less on demand.

So how can we feel attached to Harvest? We put things at the foot of the altar today and in the Foodbank box regularly to give to people who have no money for enough food, even their daily bread.  This is good and proper, and reflects Christian communities from the beginning: sharing with those who are less fortunate. It’s a valuable practical response to the difficulties of facing real hunger.

We saw what happened in 1984 when Bob Geldof was so appalled by the scale of the famine in Africa that he got his friends together and transformed one song into a vast flood of instant support.  But what happened after that? People may have received a scrap of food to keep them alive but the world is, in many ways, in an even worse mess now than it was in 1984. Climate change (however caused), unrestricted population growth, human greed, war, religious fanaticism and economic injustice all contribute to massive insecurities about the very basics of life. In many ways, the current migration crisis is the logical outcome of what everyone has done to the planet either directly or indirectly.

The readings today reflect on a variety of things but I think one main theme connects all of them: acknowledgement of the need to rely on and trust God. The Lord hath done great things. If we have food and clothing we will be content with these. And perhaps most of all: Do not WORRY.

The Gospel reading focusses on not worrying about what might happen. Look at the lilies, says Jesus. They don’t spin or weave; they don’t think about tomorrow; they’re clothed and watered, God provides everything they need. But the point of this story is not really about abandoning responsibility in the hopes that someone else will take care of you; or about “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we might die”. It’s more about trusting God because God looks after all creation on a daily basis. This is God’s miracle.

Now….I’m not someone who uses the word “miracle” very often…but when I plant this tiny bit of seed, I‘m having faith that it will produce a 5 foot plant with edible fruits like this tomato. This is all really up to God; and is, to me, a miracle of creation. Nothing I can do, apart from trying my best to take care of it, will make it germinate and grow and give me …this tomato.

God feeds the birds of the air; we are of more value than they are, says Jesus. We’re told to stop being anxious about tomorrow: Do not WORRY. We’re not told to ignore the fact that tomorrow inevitably arrives with its own problems whether we like it or not. We pray with confidence that God will give us each day our daily bread; not that we will be provided with all the loaves of bread we need to store up for the indefinite future so that we don’t have to exercise our normal responsibilities and duties of this life.  The reading from Joel says with absolute confidence that the Lord will do great things and that we shall eat and be satisfied because God hath dealt wondrously with us.

Matthew’s Gospel says that Gentiles, meaning “those not of our faith” or “foreigners”, will be the ones who worry, probably because they don’t have the assurance that God is in charge and knows what we need. By contrast, our work is to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

All these things; what we eat, what we drink, what we wear. It may not be the highest quality of expensive clothing, nor much more than daily bread and water. But it will be enough. Life is more than food and the body is more than clothing. Building the Kingdom is the work we have to do, putting into practice the two essential commandments to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbours as ourselves. We will have a rich harvest indeed if we can really do both these things.

And to return to the question of how can we feel really attached to Harvest, to make it more than a rather pale echo of when we needed to pray for rain, and then pray for fair weather, and offer prayers in times of dearth and famine – yes, you’ll find all of these in the Book of Common Prayer; written in an era when supermarkets didn’t exist, and real, grinding poverty and hunger raised their ugly heads when the harvest failed.

Perhaps we can focus on not only the practical help of feeding our less fortunate neighbours, but also what we would like to harvest in ourselves and gather in, then share out. We can hopefully learn that being content with having enough is better than loving money and being dedicated to the pursuit of money to the exclusion of caring for our neighbours. We can hopefully learn to plan and have faith but not to worry about things which might or might not happen.

And we can hopefully put into practice the reality that harvest includes not only a lovely show of fruit and veg and tins of soup but also the ripe fruits of our Christian faith: love of God and neighbour, peace with ourselves, generosity of spirit, and a trusting relationship with God; who may not shower us with designer clothes and champagne but who will indeed care for us all our lives.

Thou visitest the earth and blessest it; and crownest the year with thy goodness.    Amen.

©Leslie Spatt 2015