Harvest: Food of the Body and the Spirit

IMG_1654Harvest brings a lot of different themes together and some of these come out of our readings this morning. There are three I want to spend a few moments thinking about: seeds and fruit, soil and growth and dependency and trust.

In the Old Testament reading, the prophet Joel proclaims hope to the soil, for animals in the field and trees bearing fruit (Joel 2:21-27). Rain comes in plenty to provide water, much needed for any soil and for life to grow. There is harvest in plenty as the threshing floor is full of grain and then the wine vats are full to overflowing; let the party begin! There is hope, for God will turn previous doom into joy and provision. It is a reading of assurance of God’s blessing.

In the Epistle, the first letter to Timothy, we were given the famous phrases about money being a root of all kinds of evil, that we bring nothing into the world and can take nothing out (familiar from funerals), and being content with enough – something I spoke a little about last week (1 Timothy 6:6-10). We can trust in God who provides but also who provides beyond the confines of this life, which starts from nothing and from which we can take nothing away. We are utterly dependent on God’s grace and love.

The Gospel from Matthew (6:25-33), reminded us that we can’t change anything by worrying, which is not actually much comfort to an anxious person, but he points out that there is more to life than food and drink, clothing and what we possess. There is a spiritual vacuum that tries to fill the empty space with things which neither bring happiness and fulfillment nor do they have any lasting value.

So to my three themes, first ‘seeds and fruit’. There are lots of conkers about at the moment. I have picked up 50 from round by our garage and that doesn’t include the squashed ones, or those the squirrels got to first. [I have changed the prayer station from pebbles to conkers, so you can pick up a conker and place that in the prayer picture later if you wish.] Conkers are hard when they land – they will dent a car roof and hurt if they land on your head. They start off in a spikey outer casing. When they land they break open and the seed bounces. This hard seed likewise breaks open so that it can sprout and put down roots. The shell protects but it has to open up so it can let the shoots come out.

Like a seed unless we break open and risk putting out roots and shoots we will not grow spiritually, or emotionally for that matter. We do this by entering into sacred space, making the space we are in sacred by being still with God; allowing silence and stillness to enable us to reflect and be open to God. When we talk of the spiritual life as being like a seed, seeds do not just grow without the seed itself changing. If we do not do this, if we block it or stop it and hide from it, we won’t grow. There are so many ways we do block it, from fear, anger, hatred, sneering and rushing. Our lives are so full, we actually have to make some space for the seed to grow and it won’t do it instantly, it takes time and patience, and even persistence. It certainly requires commitment and a conscious decision of the will.

So we come to the second area which comes out of the readings, ‘soil and growth’. What kind of land does the seed fall on? This was a question opened for us by the prophet Joel, but it will also remind us of the famous parable of the sower with the different types of ground providing receptive or hostile environments for the seed. Joel tells the soil not to fear, for God has done great things. Some intensive farming damages the soil, chemicals strip it of its fibrous quality and rich nutrients. It needs to be fed, to lie fallow so that the grass can be ploughed back in and be enriched naturally. And so we need to feed, on word and sacrament, to allow the story and presence of God to work on us and in us. This is how we prepare the soil that is our inner being, allow the soil of our own lives to be blessed and enriched.

The third theme from our readings, ‘dependency and trust’. Both readings from Matthew and 1 Timothy spoke of this. We bring nothing into the world and take nothing out. We cannot change anything by worrying. Life is more than clothing, food and drink. Money, specifically the love of money above all things, brings woes and leads to what is actually fools gold. It has no lasting value and doesn’t fill the spiritual void within us.

So harvest is a time we give thanks to God for the soil that receives the seed – our bodies and lives; for the seed that grows, that brings fruit in character and makes souls; for our dependency on God and that we can trust in hope and God’s gracious provision. Harvest is a moment when thanksgiving is centre stage, the thanksgiving that should be with us all the time. We give thanks for food for the body and the spirit.

Sermon preached in Peterborough Parish Church, Harvest Festival, Sunday 30th September 2018

About Revd Canon Ian Black

Ian is Vicar of Peterborough and Canon Residentiary of Peterborough Cathedral in the Church of England Diocese of Peterborough. He served as Rural Dean of Peterborough for 5 years. Prior to moving to Peterborough, Ian was in Leeds for 10 years in Leeds, as Vicar of Whitkirk and as a member of the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral. He has also worked in Kent in Maidstone and as priest-in-charge of a group of parishes 10 miles north west of Canterbury. He was a Minor Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, a prison chaplain and Assistant Director of Post-Ordination Training for the Diocese of Canterbury. Prior to ordination Ian had a career in tax, both with the Inland Revenue as a PAYE Auditor and a firm of Chartered Accountants as a Tax Accountant. Ian was born and grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon and is a former head chorister at Shakespeare's Church - Holy Trinity. He studied in Canterbury, Lincoln Theological College and has a Master of Divinity degree from Nottingham University. He is married with two sons. Publications include three books of prayers: Prayers for all occasions (SPCK 2011), Intercessions for Years A, B & C (SPCK 2009) and Intercessions for the Calendar of Saints and Holy Days (SPCK 2005). His most recent book, 'Follow me: living the sayings of Jesus', was published by Sacristy Press in 2017. There is a hymn based on this 'Christ the Saviour'. He has been writing online since the mid 1990s. Ian is a keen photographer and these frequently appear in his posts and on social media.
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