Harvest Thanksgiving

Harvest Service

6 October 2019

Deut 26:1-4 & John 4:31-36

And so may I speak at this Harvest time, in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

What is the point of Harvest Festival?

We are lucky enough in Hadlow to live in a rural, or at least semi-rural, environment but how much does that really affect us?

Hadlow College has the lambing weekend every spring, and if they get the parking wrong it causes massive traffic jams through Hadlow.  Last week there was a great deal of actual harvesting going on but because some of the back lanes were closed we had loads of tractors and trailers going through the village and, yes, causing lots of traffic jams.

But other than an occasional glimpse of a lamb or a tractor how much of a connection do we really perceive between what goes on ‘out there’ in the fields which surround us and the food which appears on our tables?

In 2017 Cadburys conducted a survey of children’s knowledge of food production and it found that 33% of children didn’t know that milk came from cows, with 18% thinking it came straight from the fridge or supermarket. 

Although that may seem shocking I wonder how many of us really give much thought to where the food on the supermarket shelves comes from, how and where it was produced and how it got here?

Despite the fact that we live in the Garden of England I suspect that many of us are divorced from the realities of how our food is produced.

The Harvest Festival of our forebears, even in this village and not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, would have been about giving thanks for the safe gathering in of crops and a good harvest would mean that people would not go hungry during the winter.

I suspect that we should be honest with ourselves and recognise that our lives have changed substantially in the last 100 years.  So why do we celebrate Harvest now, and what is the point of it?

I don’t always do this but today I am going to suggest three clear points:

  1. Thanksgiving.  Although we are not American and although we have not just gathered our crops in I think that today should be a day when we stop and give thanks for who we are and what we have.

Each one of us here is blessed to live in one of the most advanced, stable, peaceful, prosperous societies that the world has ever seen.  Recent events have shown that none of those things are to be taken for granted, but that is all the more reason to treasure them, give thanks for them and strive to keep them.

The vast majority, I hope everyone here today, has a roof over their heads and food on their table.  If you don’t have food then please speak to me afterwards and we can sort you out, seriously. 

In addition to food, shelter and security each one of us is blessed with our unique set of gifts and talents.  When God made you he didn’t make a mistake and you are the only person capable of being you that the universe has ever seen.  If the joy of God is to see a human being fully alive then strive to be the best version of you that you can possibly be!

If you have faith then you are invited to be thankful towards God for all those blessings which you have, material and personal.  If you struggle with faith then you can still pause and reflect not on all the things that are lacking in your life, as the advertising industry would like you to do, but on all the ways you have been blessed.

So today is firstly about thanksgiving.  I hope we can all get on board with that.

         But there is more.

2. Generosity.  When we have recognised quite how blessed we are we are not let off the hook and invited to kick-back and revel in our good fortune.  Many do, but that is not what we are called to do.

Having counted our blessings and given thanks for them we are invited to go deeper, to open our eyes, to perceive the needs of those around us and to meet them using the goods and gifts and talents that we have been given.

The reading we had this morning from Deuteronomy touched on the ‘thanksgiving’ aspect of Harvest, and that has been symbolically honoured today with our gifts before the altar, but that chapter gives further instruction on how we are to share with others:

“When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow.”

The Harvest celebrations to which the Israelites were called did not simply consist of rejoicing for that which they had been given but they were required to share it with those most in need. They had to give some to the Levites in order to support the worship of God but they also had to support the foreigners in their midst, orphans and widows. When we think of the Jewish people settling the land of milk and honey it is all too easy for us to think of them simply driving out all foreigners but, actually, time and time again the Old Testament commanded them to look after the aliens, remembering that they had spent many years as foreigners in Egypt.

So our thankfulness must flow into charity. Here we express that charity by supporting local foodbanks and it is wonderful that we are able to do that, again not only at Harvest but throughout the year. But we can always do more to feed the hungry – if each of us here put an extra item in the food bank box each week then it would be overflowing every week – and what better symbol of God’s overflowing love for us than us being an overflowing blessing for others.

But, can I suggest, that charity for others does not just mean giving them stuff, either money or food. The word ‘charity’ actually means love. The proper Christian response to those in need around us is not just to give them stuff but to love them. The current political discourse, not only in this country but across Europe and America, is turning quite ugly especially in relation to the aliens in our midst. Xenophobia and the hatred of others is never the Christian or the Godly response. At Harvest we are called to remember God’s love for us and to respond by loving all those around us.

So we have thanksgiving and generosity.  One last one for today:

3. Caring for creation.  As already mentioned even here in this part of the world we are largely divorced from the realities of our food production.  If we eat meat do we know in what conditions these animals were living in.  Do we know what impact on the environment the raising of red meat has?

Do we know how many miles our fruit and vegetables have flown in order to be on our shelves?  Do we know whether the supermarkets are paying a living wage to the farmers who have grown our food, do we know what impact the production is having on the countries in which it is grown?  For example It is not unusual to see green beans grown in Kenya, wrapped in plastic and then flown to the UK at huge cost to the environment, whilst those who have actually grown them receive a pittance.

Unless we are willfully blind we all know that the way we live in the developed world is having a huge impact both on the social justice of those living in the developing world and on the climate. 

Having become divorced from the realities of food production I would suggest that we all need to get back in contact with creation – the world that God created and said was good.  As human beings and as Christians we need to take our responsibilities seriously both to those with whom we currently share the planet and to those who will come after us.  Do we simply consume until there is nothing left, and begger everyone else, or do we take this opportunity to re-think our lives, our patterns of living, and leave a planet which our children and grandchildren can inhabit and thrive in?

Greta Thurnberg, that young Swedish girl who has done so much to put climate change front and centre in the last year is an interesting barometer.  Can I gently suggest that if you find yourself mocking her, alongside Donald Trump, then that may make you feel better but it probably puts you on the wrong side of history.  It is interesting when we berate young people for spending all their lives in a virtual world but we also berate them for trying to change the real world.  Young people, rise up and fight for your futures and your planet!

So, today we give thanks, we love others and we care for our creation.  But, I hope, not just today but everyday.