Harvest Thanksgiving Joint Service
17/10/21 (20th Sunday after Trinity)
(Stephen Hamer -Diocesan Reader)
Based on Ps 65 (the Harvest psalm) and Matthew 6: 19-34 (Trust in God)
May my words be in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Amen
Today is a special day on which we should be glad. Glad that again the Lord of the harvest has demonstrated he is indeed Lord of all, and the earth has produced food for us. Also, that our thanks and worship bring praise and glory to God’s name. He rejoices when his children give him the glory. So often, we take much for granted and forget who does uphold the seasons. The last hymn this morning is the traditional harvest hymn that reminds us of an annual miracle: -
We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.
Last Sunday we were together as we worshipped in the Ebenezer Hall at a Harvest festival, when we were reminded of God’s gifts to us at harvest time. How long did it take us to forget that service of thanksgiving? Perhaps we got through to Monday when the Harvest Supper took place, but what of Tuesday or Wednesday?
The same will probably happen again this week.
As happens each year, harvest produce will be distributed tomorrow to housebound or needy folk so they don’t feel forgotten. Any remaining will be placed in the Food Bank, along with food collected by the children of Michael School.
Normally we would have had a school harvest service tomorrow morning, when the building would have been full of children, parents, teachers and friends. Sadly, with Covid figures so high, and especially amongst schoolchildren it was felt safer this year to cancel it so we reduce the possibility of infection. With over 700 / 100,000 affected, in the UK we would have been classed as a Covid ‘hot-spot’.
So by the end of tomorrow is that it for another year ?
Our thanks to God shouldn’t stop at the end of Harvest.
Harvest services in the British Isles can be traced back to a Cornish church in 1843. Victorian hymns such as "We plough the fields and scatter", "Come ye thankful people, come" and "All things bright and beautiful" helped popularise the idea of harvest festival and spread the annual custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce for the Harvest Festival service. Look around and see the beautiful seasonal decorations, even down to the harvest loaf, complete with mouse,
kindly lent by David & Vivienne Corlett.
For those of us who like a bit of history - long before 1843, Harvest Festivals used to be celebrated at the beginning of the Harvest season on 1 August - it was called Lammas, meaning 'loaf Mass'. They go back about 700 yrs. Farmers made loaves of bread from the new wheat crop and gave them to their local church. They were then used as the Communion bread during a special mass thanking God for the harvest. The custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, and nowadays we have harvest festivals at the end of the harvest.
Since the 19th century, the end of the harvest was celebrated with a large meal called (not surprisingly) a Harvest Supper, eaten on Michaelmas Day. That day was the 29th Sept - the day of our patronal festival of Michael the Archangel. We’re probably a little late in our harvest celebration – but our crops grow a little slower than in most of England and Wales.
But, celebrating the harvest and thanking God for his provision goes back much further in the land in which Jesus grew up. In Israel, this year on 22 September began Sukkot or the Festival of Booths when many begin a 7-day harvest celebration. Like many Old Testament traditions, it is full of symbolism. It comes at the end of harvest and also reminds the Jewish people of the way God had looked after them while wandering 40yrs in the desert. Many will live outdoors in simple booths or temporary huts. The early winter rains have not yet arrived – unlike us who get rain all the year round. See Levit 23:39-43
In verse two of the hymn ‘We plough the fields and scatter’
it goes on to remind us of God the creator. It says:
He only is the maker of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower, He lights the evening star;
Then the hymn writer remembers God’s awesome power and how he upholds creation:
The winds and waves obey Him, by Him the birds are fed;
Much more to us, His children, He gives our daily bread.
Indeed – much more to us his children he gives our daily bread.
This is a reminder of verses from the Lord’s prayer –
“give us each day our daily bread”.
The hymn was originally written in German in 1782 and the writer [Matthias Claudius] certainly knew his Bible. These few short verses have another four scripture references. [Acts 14:17 (verse 1), James 1:17 (chorus), Psalm 65:7, Matthew 6:26 (verse 2, line 3), and the Lord's Prayer (verse 2, line 4)]
So - the Lord wants to bless us – it’s his nature. The Bible has many records of blessings. We use some during our services of worship. You might remember the priestly blessing often used at the end of church service. The source of the text is Numbers 6:23–27, where Aaron the high priest and his sons bless the Israelites.
May the Lord bless you and keep you -
May he make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you -
May he lift up his face unto you and give you peace -
Aaron was standing in the gap between us and God, in the same way the priest does today. It quite alright to bless each other - we obviously have no power of our own, we are asking God to do so. As a Church, in our prayers of intercession, we as a Church are asking God to intercede on our behalf. In the same way we ask God to bring comfort to the sick, friendship to the lonely, etc. And if we join in with the Amen at the end, we not only agree with the content, but join in the sure hope that God has heard it and will act.
There’s an old Jewish proverb – Prayers go up and blessings come down.
Having accepted there is an Almighty God, let us return to the harvest theme.
The last verse of the hymn ‘We plough the fields and scatter says this:
We thank Thee, then, O Father, for all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest, our life, our health, and food;
Accept the gifts we offer, for all Thy love imparts,
But what Thou most desirest, our humble, thankful hearts.
In the second line, we not only acknowledge the importance and miracle of seed time and harvest, but also our life, our health, our food. The list of good things is never ending.
We probably visualise harvest as being linked to the cereals - corn, wheat or barley. We see barns well filled, maybe to the roof. There are 14 verses in the Bible that mention barns, and in Proverbs 3:9-10 it says this:
Honour the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce;
So that your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.
Interestingly, in the Middle East, with its long hot summers, it is the grain that is stored after the stalks have been removed. In Biblical times the store was in the ground well hidden from the thief.
A few weeks ago, Jeanette and I were in North Yorkshire and there you’ll find dozens of 2-storey stone barns in places such as Swaledale and Wensleydale. There they’re referred to as cow houses as they are where the cows go during the long cold winters. Most have one door on the ground floor for entry and an upper floor to store the hay and other food for the animals. Usually, a couple of small windows to let light in.
Returning to the last verse of the hymn ‘We plough the field and scatter’, it concludes by reminding us that our gifts are but a small return to God of what he has already given us.
2 Cor 9 - You should each give… not with regret or out of a sense of duty;
for God loves the one who gives gladly.
God does indeed accept our gifts when joyfully given,
but what our heavenly Father really desires is our humble, thankful hearts.
He doesn’t need us or our gifts, but he invites us to have fellowship with him.
To have a relationship with him.
I don’t pretend to understand it, but faith says I, you, and millions of others, accept it.
A final thought is from the chorus - it says:
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.
Nobody, even least of all God, will force you to thank him.
It should be a natural thing to do.
As Jesus said to his disciples some 2000yrs ago [Matt 9 v37]
"The harvest is great, but the workers are few.”
As we know, he wasn’t talking about a field of grain, but people – a harvest of souls who will love the Lord. Pray for this community,
pray for a revival here in Kirk Michael.
For it to happen we have to want it, to believe God is able and for us to pray it in.
In Jesus name. Amen