Sharing God’s goodness at harvest

Mary Copping, 30 September 2018

Matthew 6: 25–33; Joel 2: 21–27

At our Family Service today, we were shown the letters of ‘harvest’ with the words that the children had written to go with them. This is what they said:

How can we give thanks to God for the food we harvest? In action.
Are we doing enough to share our food with others? How can we do more?
Reach out to families in our local community who may be struggling by giving to the Basics Bank.
Visit our neighbours and take meals when needed.
Everyone can help by donating to food banks in our local supermarkets.
Share what we have with children in other countries, by giving to Save the Children.
Together we can help to share out the world’s food and resources in a fair way for all.

And there is the sermon!

In our reading from Matthew, from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus looks at God’s goodness and his blessings, and all that God gives us in nature. I wonder when the last time was that we stopped on a walk or a journey to look closely at the beauty of nature around us and to give thanks to God for all that he gives us. It should be a daily occurrence. Thankfulness uplifts the heart and the soul. Harvest is a specific time when we give great thanks for God’s bounty, and our thoughts also turn to how we can share God’s goodness with others.

One of the things that Jesus spoke about a lot was the harvest. He often used farming imagery in his talks and parables, knowing that his hearers were very familiar with it. In Matthew 9: 38 he describes himself as ‘the Lord of the harvest’. In Matthew and Luke we’re told that Jesus said, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few’. And he said, ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (John 20: 21). Jesus Christ is still the Lord of the harvest, and he is still now calling for people to join him in the harvest, to draw people to him.

Matthew 9: 35 tells us that ‘Jesus went about all the cities and villages’. The Jewish historian Josephus writes that at this time there were over 200 cities and villages in the region of Galilee, which was an area about 40 miles wide and 70 miles long. Because the land was so fertile it was a booming area for farmers, which was the main occupation of that day. He estimated that the smallest villages and cities contained at least 15,000 people. So, based on that assessment, Galilee was probably home to at least three million people. Jesus went about from village to village, city to city, trying to get to as many of them as he could.

He was willing to go to anybody, anywhere, whether they were deemed important or not so important, if they needed God’s love, God’s healing and God’s word for them. Jesus spent his entire life seeking to love the unlovable and reach the unreachable and teach the unteachable and care for everyone.

Jesus was willing to go to anybody, anywhere, whether they were deemed important or not so important, if they needed God’s love, God’s healing and God’s word for them.

But when Jesus was on this earth and in the form of a man, he was limited by time and space and he could not accomplish everything by himself. And so he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few’.

St Teresa of Avila put it like this: ‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth, yours are the feet by which he is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which he is to bless us now’.

In our lives as Christians, serving God, Jesus asks us not to seek material things, but to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Someone brought to my attention a quote from Billy Graham, when he was asked at a dinner what he loved most about his years of ministry. The seeker thought perhaps he might say meeting royalty or presidents. But his answer, without hesitation, was: ‘It has been my fellowship with Jesus. To sense his presence, to glean his wisdom, to have him guide and direct me – that has been my greatest joy.’ The questioner was convicted, knowing that she almost certainly would not have answered that if she had been asked the same question. I wonder what we would have answered.

So what is our response to this? Where is the harvest for us, and how can we be all that God wants us to be where we are? There was an interesting statement that Justin Welby made about ‘proselytising’ Christians (those attempting to convert someone) when speaking to a group of Christians and people of other faiths at Lambeth Palace a couple of years ago. When asked where he drew the line between proselytism and evangelism, he said,

I draw the line in terms of respect for the other; in starting by listening before you speak; in terms of love that is unconditional, and not conditional to one iota, to one single element, on how the person responds to your own declaration of faith; and of not speaking about faith unless you are asked about faith.

That is so sensible and such a relief. We are to continue loving, having compassion, going where we feel God wants us to go, being where he wants us to be and meeting those he calls us to. Only when asked do we say something. But all the time we are to be aware that we are followers of Christ, asking God to help us spread the good news of the kingdom however he wants us to. Amen.