1st October 2023 10.30am – Harvest Eucharist

The Readings

Deuteronomy 8.7-18

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.

Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid waste-land with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained 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.

Luke 12.16-30

Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.

Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By the Revd Shan Rush.

It’s by a quirk of fate, otherwise known as an issue with the rota, that I’m preaching this morning but it’s particularly nice for me because my very first time preaching was twenty years ago at a harvest service in the evening. In spite of the fact that I knew all the congregation and I’d checked my sermon with our then vicar, Ian, to ensure that I wasn’t saying anything out of order, in all honesty I was absolutely terrified. So much so that I nearly fainted when I stood up to go to the lectern and when I’d finished speaking I’d held myself so tense that my feet had gone numb and I almost fell over. It’s a wonder I ever carried on with my lay ministry training but here we are.

Harvest is a seasonal service that is still recognised by many people, probably thanks to the fact that it continues to be marked in schools. In my first junior school we took along bags of vegetables that were then collected together to be distributed to people who needed them. However, when my family returned to Sheffield and my sisters and I started new schools and we duly took along our bags of vegetables, we felt acutely embarrassed when we saw that our classmates had brought along prettily decorated baskets containing their harvest gifts. Needless to say that the following year we made sure that we too had pretty baskets of produce to offer.
When I first started coming to this church many people here also decorated their baskets in the same way, but gradually over the years, times and needs have changed and our ways of giving have changed with them. On balance I think that’s been a good thing as the gifts and recipients are better targeted, but hopefully the display of our gifts today represents both the traditional and contemporary versions of harvest festival and everything will be put to good use.

I consider myself lucky in that I grew up with a fairly good awareness of traditional farming activities; we had a farmer’s field behind our house and my friend lived on a farm which I visited regularly. I saw some of what went on with tending both animals and crops and along with many other young people I went potato picking. This was back-breaking work in the cold and wet for the princely sum of 8 shillings per day (40 pence in today’s money) but it was a good experience and for the time the money wasn’t bad. I must admit though, I don’t miss the smell of muck spreading!

I wonder how many of today’s young people or slightly older people for that matter know much about what is involved in farming or where their food actually comes from before it gets to the shops. That said, like our way of marking harvest, farming has changed a great deal and much of it is on a vast scale in order to meet the needs of the food industry who in turn are trying to meet our needs as customers and consumers. Colossal fields, acres or hectares of poly tunnel greenhouses and many animals reared in very artificial environments are all part of it which we should be aware of. Whether we feel ok about it or not is another matter.

Moving on from the growing of our food to its processing I must admit that I find programmes like “Inside the Factory“ both fascinating and very informative as they show what industrial scale food production looks like. It’s very different to the romanticised images conveyed on some of the packaging of the end products but it is impressive nonetheless. Tons of ingredients go through complicated machines and processes, designed, built and run by a lot of very skilled and hard working people to become the food that some of us are fortunate enough to be able to buy.

I make this last point because not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to buy what they need or to grow enough of it for themselves. Traditionally harvest was a time of people coming together to bring in the crops, everyone did their bit and by whatever means of exchange was used at the time, the produce was shared. But nowadays it’s different. All too often we have the crazy situation of massive waste of food and other goods at the same time as some people struggling to afford what they need. Thankfully there is now greater awareness of this and many schemes have been devised such as food banks and community kitchens to avoid this waste and ensure that more people get access to what they need. Our passage from Luke reminds us that life isn’t about acquiring more and more food or anything else which we then hoard for our own benefit. And just in case we’re tempted to be too self-congratulatory about what we accomplish, the reading from Deuteronomy warns against falling into the trap of believing that we are solely responsible for it. We all get help along the way, from God and from our fellow people. Real richness in life is about using what we have along with our God given gifts for the benefit of all. In other words, sharing.

To conclude, and this is something I touched on in a previous sermon but worth repeating I think. We are part of God’s harvest, but unlike everything else that is grown or made we have quite a lot of choice about what sort of “fruit” we become. I don’t think there would be much argument against suggesting that it’s good to be honest, honourable, decent and hard-working because these are good values to have but how about adding to these the “Fruits of the Spirit” and cultivating those attributes too? Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In a world so full of troubles, are we not very much in need of such a harvest.

The Prayers
From Times and Seasons.

Let us offer our prayers to God for the life of the world
and for all God’s people in their daily life and work.

God, the beginning and end of all things,
in your providence and care
you watch unceasingly over all creation;
we offer our prayers
that in us and in all your people your will may be done,
according to your wise and loving purpose in Christ our Lord.
Lord of the harvest,
in your mercy hear us.

We pray for all through whom we receive sustenance and life;
for farmers and agricultural workers,
for packers, distributors and company boards;
as you have so ordered our life that we depend upon each other,
enable us by your grace to seek the well-being of others before our own.
Lord of the harvest,
in your mercy hear us.

We pray for all engaged in research to safeguard crops against disease,
and to produce abundant life among those who hunger
and whose lives are at risk.
Prosper the work of their hands
and the searching of their minds,
that their labour may be for the welfare of all.
Lord of the harvest,
in your mercy hear us.

We pray for governments and aid agencies,
and those areas of the world where there is disaster, drought and starvation.
By the grace of your Spirit,
touch our hearts
and the hearts of all who live in comfortable plenty,
and make us wise stewards of your gifts.
Lord of the harvest,
in your mercy hear us.

We pray for those who are ill,
remembering those in hospital and nursing homes
and all who are known to us.
We pray for all who care for them.
Give skill and understanding
to all who work for their well-being.
Lord of the harvest,
in your mercy hear us.

We remember those who have died,
whom we entrust to your eternal love
in the hope of resurrection to new life.
Lord of the harvest,
in your mercy hear us.

We offer ourselves to your service,
asking that by the Spirit at work in us
others may receive a rich harvest of love and joy and peace.
Lord of the harvest,
in your mercy hear us.

Merciful Father:
Accept these prayers
For the sake you Son
Our Saviour, Jesus Christ.