Going Together (Harvest Festival)
Today we celebrate ‘harvest’, a word that in old English means Autumn, which is why we celebrate it at or around the equinox for tomorrow is the start of Autumn. In Churches these services came about as thankfulness to God for His provision and rightly so for we forget so easily and take for granted that all we have comes from God in the first place.
This is a strange time to have harvest festivals as most of our harvests are done early in the year though there are later ones such as apples. The Old Testament tells us that in Israel they had agricultural festivals in which they celebrated the first-fruits such as at Pentecost. And in many other societies in the past and today celebrate.
What I do know is that the harvest is a joyful occasion for it is the culmination of a lot of work, waiting and worrying and then seeing the results of all that effort. Of course, if the crops fail then famine could follow and we’ve seen pictures of it especially in parts of Africa and some may know the history of the potato famine in Ireland where over a million died and caused many to come to the rest of the UK or go to America.
This particular service comes at the end of the season for harvesting for now there is nothing to bring in but to get the ground ready for next year. There are still things to be done, the soil needs to be turned over and prepared. But I am not here to give some sort of agricultural lesson as I am the least qualified but to turn our hearts to spiritual ones instead.
Let’s read what Jesus said beside the well in Samaria after speaking with a woman there:
35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36 And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”
There are seasons. Jesus was saying take care that we notice the seasons. Harvest in a spiritual sense may happen at a different time to the natural ones. But either way there has been a great deal of work in preparation to get it to the point of harvest. Whatever there is, there is work to be done both internally as well as externally. Hear:
12 Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the Lord, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you.
We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Have we become lazy and slack? Autumn and Winter is a time for fallowness, the soil getting rest but Hosea talks of a spiritual malaise that is happening. Unless we turn to the Lord how can we expect others to do so? Unless we sow to the spiritual how can we be fruitful? If all we do is seek earthly things then we will not have anything spiritual. The material things we see are temporary. Only the spiritual is eternal and therefore of much more infinite worth. Why get tied up in a life that is an average 81 years? These few short years have an effect eternally.
But the problem is that the number of people doing the work are few. The fallow hearts of many in the Church as a whole are causing the Church to shrink in numbers. What is the answer? To ask God to stir hearts.
Indeed Jesus says:
37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. 38 Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
Did you ever think that by praying such a prayer that you might just be volunteering?!
And the Old Testament also is calling back those who have become fallow to God:
14 if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
What is it about harvest? How do we get one? Well, the ground is prepared, the fallow ground turned over and de-weeded, it is now ready and so we come to another of those famous passages of Jesus:
3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. 5 Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. 7 And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” 9 And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Harvest is mainly about the food we eat but the only way this is possible is if seed has been sown or a net has been thrown or animals have been fed and bred.
Have you thought about just how much seed needs to be sown? It is only possible to get a harvest if we sow a lot of seeds - if you see seed sown by a farmer you see the birds come down upon upon the land and nick the seed as food - if only a little seed is sown then the birds will take it all. Without much seed being sown we are not going to see a harvest.
If you do not have your eyes set upon a harvest then you are not going to sow the seed, not going to prepare the ground, not going to turn over the soil, not going to have the machinery and people in place to reap a harvest. And the harvest you get depends upon a number of factors such as the quality of the soil and the quality and quantity of the seed. Then there are factors outside your control such as whether it will rain or whether there is frost and, of course, we are told about birds and sun in the parable and those weedy thorns.
There is certainly not going to be a harvest if no one sows seed. In this parable we remember the seed but forget the sower. We are all called to sow – and we will reap if we sow, there is a the return on investment promised in verse 8; 30, 60 or 100 fold. This should encourage us to sow seed because it will always bear an abundant harvest in the fullness of time.
We are told by Jesus to pray to the Lord of the harvest for more labourers because the only limit to how great the harvest is the number of labourers. That’s right – the only limit to how great the harvest is the number of labourers. How can I say that? For there is a time when the harvest is ready. It might not be straight away - there are no instantaneous results in farming; ask a farmer. But are we ready? for it is surely going to come just as we have heard of those great times from the past but no matter what...unless you sow seed you cannot get a harvest.
It is our calling to bring others, to harvest others into God’s kingdom. We are called to reproduce. Every single one of us. We are called to be fruitful and this is one of the primary reasons for the existence of the Church. But God’s promise is sure if we do our part:
24 They do not say from the heart, ‘Let us live in awe of the Lord our God, for he gives us rain each spring and fall, assuring us of a harvest when the time is right.’
Do we have ears to hear? That’s what Jesus asked, right? But what He also was asking is do we have eyes to see? If we are so caught up in ourselves as is natural to us then we can miss the signs. When the disciples returned to see Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman they did not see that she was a woman in need of knowing the Messiah or that she was from a town that also needed to receive the gospel. The opportunity was very slim. Perhaps that woman would only be at the well for 10 or 15 minutes for it was in the heat of the day. Would we have missed the chance? Would we have noticed? Or would we be just about how hot the weather is. Jesus saw the chance and took it. She was ready to hear and respond and receive and as a result she and her town came to faith in Jesus. It is easy to miss the opportunity when they arise. Ask God to see.
The harvest has a limited time – as with all harvests if it is not done in a timely manner then the fruit of the harvest starts to go off in the field. I noticed this year with our brambles in the garden that we said we’ll get the blackberries, and then we forgot, until one evening we went out to harvest them and the fruit had all shrivelled up and died except for a few sour berries.
There is a season for harvesting – and harvesting is always at the end of the season – meaning that the harvest is coming to an end…Jeremiah laments 8:20, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved;"
It’s almost the midnight hour when the final harvest is going to be reaped.
In the passage in Matt 9 Jesus says to pray to the Lord of the harvest for more labourers and then immediately He sent the disciples out. There is a harvest to bring in – and at harvest time everyone mucks in – from the youngest to the oldest, from the poor to the rich, from the land owner to the gig economists. From early morning to late evening. The continuance of life is dependent upon the harvest until the following year. The continuance of this fellowship is dependent upon souls being saved.
Around 50% of the population still claim to be Christian and so that still have some sort of affiliation with Christianity even if it is greatly misunderstood – now all we need to do is persuade them to come in…to find value in the Church…and as we heard in the Talking Jesus series at least one in five are willing to talk about Him.
Jesus gave a parable and it is absolutely serious for it is about the eternal state of souls of those in our family, our friends, our neighbours and in Manselton. I’m reading from:
16 Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, 17 and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ 18 But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ 20 Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ 23 Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’ ”
We are to compel people to come in. Compel…which means to force, require, coerce, oblige, make, twist someone’s arm…to compel people to come in…and the kinds of people that will come in are those who cannot help themselves but are reliant upon others for help…these are the ones that God has chosen to have eternal rewards and life – and the fact is Manselton is an area full of such people.
Are we going to fill the house of God?
God has prepared a harvest. And we are called to pray for workers to bring it in – Lord send others – Lord send me!
Again I will say – the harvest is only as great as the number of labourers. How do we fit into all this?
13 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; The mountains shall drip with sweet wine, And all the hills shall flow with it.
That is revival and we need it in our day.
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.