So, harvest time. The church beautifully decorated so that something of the outside is brought into our worship space. Harvest for those of us living in Scotland can seem a little redundant. Should we talk about food banks, or think about those in countries where food is even more scarce. What is this festival for, now that we are increasingly divorced from the land and its seasons? Well, perhaps these three passages can give us some direction..
Prosperity in a land of good things is a sign of God’s covenant with the people of Israel. It has been given to them, not that they have earned it. The prosperity of the land is contrasted with the wilderness, when God again provided by bringing water out of rock for them to drink and continue to live.
Emphasised again in chapter 9:6 – “the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people”.
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
This is a painful letter to read – something seems to have happened in between the letters we call first and second Corinthians. Paul admits in chapter one that he has put off visiting the church again. And so here as he points out in chapter 8 that their duty to give is because of a need for fairness. In verse 14 he says “your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there might be fairness.” Again the point is made in chapter 9 that everything comes from God, underlined by the fact that he quotes from Psalm 112. This is a continuation of the attitude that God instilled into his people from Old Testament times. It is not something new to following Christ, but a continuation of the covenant God made with his people when he revealed himself to them.
I have always found it hard not to identify with the prudent man and his barns, especially this week when I got the news that I am now back in a pension plan! But seeing this parable in the context of the book of Luke, one can see that it is part of the unveiling of the Kingdom of God, the new way of living that Jesus is telling them about. The rich man thinks of his prosperity as a result of his work, he calls them “my crops”, and ignores the fact that God is in control and has a very different future in mind for him.
So at this harvest time, what are we celebrating? That everything comes from God and therefore part of our worship is recognising this and thanking him. Recognising also that this relationship stretches back to the original covenant with the people of Israel. It is not a result of anything we have done, but what God has chosen to do for us. The idea of the providential God who delights to give us good things. And when we do have what we need, and recognise that this is the case, we in some way reflect and demonstrate something of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.
Another thread that runs from the first covenant onwards is the idea of fairness, of every person having equal worth and having the same basic needs. Paul appealed to the Christians in Corinth firstly using rational argument, and only then by quoting Hebrew scripture – maybe because they were gentile converts and therefore didn’t have the same cultural heritage and background knowledge as the Jewish people.
So for us today, harvest is about celebrating God’s providence, pointing out the injustice and unfairness in the world, and seeking to help to put that right. But in trying to display the Kingdom of God on earth, we are also pointing towards something beyond this world. The rich fool thinks only of his life on earth, but it is made plain in the story that it is God who is in charge. Jesus throughout Luke is pointing upwards, away from himself and to a future time. And that is what we are called to do. As followers of Jesus we need to be thankful for what we have been given, acknowledge where it all comes from, work to make a world that reflects our Kingdom values, but also we have to point to a God who is beyond what we can see, smell, touch or hear.
And that last part, if we are honest, is the hardest thing to do. When I announced that I was going to be training for ministry, most of my non-Christian friends were amazed that I believed in God. “So you go to church then?” Erm.. yes. “But you’re so normal” … “Oh right, I thought it was strange I’ve never heard you swear.” It is easy to point out unfairness in the world and seek to work for the good of humanity. So much harder to ask someone if they would like to be prayed for or with, or whether they want to know about God as shown through Jesus his Son.
Harvest is not just about thanksgiving and social action - it has to point away from this world to the next, even if we can't fully explain the mystery we are leading people into.
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