Today, our church-run Thursday club for over-60s had its harvest service and I had the privilege of leading a couple of traditional hymns (back up by the organ) and speaking. Here is my address:
For Thursday Club, 30 September 2021
Do you like puzzles and quizzes? Let me start by giving you some numbers.
4526, 4162, 4037
Any guesses what those might be. What about if I told you they were weights in grams? Or, in old money, about 10lb, just over 9lb and just under 9lb. Does it help if I remind you that we’re celebrating harvest today? These are some of the top harvests from my back garden this year – ‘Wealthy’ apples, ‘Orange Rapture’ tomatoes and ‘Salad Blue’ potatoes. In fact, since adding up, we’ve picked another 10kg (c. 20lb) of apples this week, putting them well ahead!
When I pick plants for my garden I want them to be either beautiful or edible or – best of all – both! Of course, the pleasure of enjoying the beauty and the bounty of a garden comes with unavoidable costs.
Firstly, I am often proving what God said to Adam: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Genesis 3:19). The crops taste good and help defray the expense of keeping a garden but, even though seeds don’t cost much, I’d hesitate to say they are almost “free” when I think of the effort which goes into cultivating them.
Secondly, I am only too aware of the many other things that like to help themselves to my crop. Slugs and snails haven’t been too bad in this garden but we’ve had some damage and there are also a good amount of caterpillars, including a tomato-eating one I haven’t come across before! It makes me quite grateful for the wasps, which like a nice tasty caterpillar for dinner. I saw a wasp succeed in its caterpillar hunt for the first time this year when I was watering the cabbages but it is another reminder that our world is riven with conflicts at every level.
The other attribute I tend to look for in plants, apart from being beautiful and edible, that that they are a bit unusual. The apple tree came with a house but I spent an evening working through an exhaustive identification guide and ended up with a fairly firm ID as ‘Wealthy’, a variety I’d never heard of before. The ‘Orange Rapture’ tomatoes came from a supermarket quite a few years ago, not as plants but just as tomatoes from which I saved the seed. I’ve now had loads of the small, orange cherry tomatoes to enjoy so I got my money’s worth on that one. And ‘Salad Blue’ tomatoes are packed with anthocyanins and are deeply coloured – not really blue but you get an amazing purple mash to go with your bangers!
Passage about gratitude to God
Before I finish, I want to share with you a couple of ‘harvest’ passages from the Bible, which I think are like my favourite plants – beautiful, edible (good to feed on) and unusual. Over the years, I’ve heard many harvest talks but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard someone turning to the book of James. The author of the book is generally understood to be James, the brother of Jesus, who became a pillar of the early church in Jerusalem and his short letter is full of wisdom.
I’m going to look at the second passage first, from chapter 5. James starts with a harsh warning: “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” (5:4-5). That’s a hot sauce, like mustard or horseradish!
You wouldn’t want it on its own but sometimes you need a bit of it. I think James is reminding us to be careful what we sow: not injustice and selfishness but words of patience and kindness. This is how he carries on: “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (5:7-9).
That fits in with what he wrote a little earlier, at the end of chapter 3: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (3:17-18).
You might not have the energy or influence you once had, but you are still called by God to come to him as his beloved child. You might wonder how much more sowing or harvesting you have in you, although it could be more than you give yourself credit for. Let me close by praying for James’ wisdom on harvest to take root in our lives:
Dear Lord, help us not to sow injustice, anger or bitterness with our words and deeds. Help us instead to sow mercy, peace and kindness to those around us. When we say thank you for the harvest and thank you for our food, may we show that we mean it. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, Lord of the harvest.