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Four Types of Harvest

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Four Types of Harvest 1. The harvest which God continually provides - Genesis 8: 20-22 At the beginning of Genesis chapter 6 verses 5 & 7 we're told that: "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time". "So the Lord said, 'I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth - men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air - for I am grieved that I have made them". So that for the reader new to the Bible today the question might well be: 'Ok, so what happened? After all here we are today celebrating yet another harvest as part of a worldwide population of over 7.5 billion people ... what happened? Because mankind hasn't been wiped from the face of the earth. Surely, this is just a fairy story that we have here!' Well no that's not the case. Actually the writer of Genesis tells us what happened in 10 short words (Genesis chapter 6 verse 8): "But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord". (Pause and repeat) Here we have a man, in other words, who caused God to change his mind. A special man? Yes, certainly. A perfect man fully deserving all the blessings he received? Well we'll see... And so God sent the rains and the earth flooded and everyone perished, apart from Noah and his family and all the animals who they took with them in the Ark. And then, after the entire earth was covered the rains stopped allowing the waters to begin to recede. What a judgement, what a terrible judgement on humanity! And yet it was a judgement that was deserved ... the result of mankind's complete rejection of their creator God who actually gave them what they'd been asking for: the removal of his protecting presence from them. But then here was Noah and his family and the animals, ready to step out onto the cleansed earth ... to start again afresh. Surely God and humanity were to now exist together in harmony. Mankind recognising not only his sovereignty over them, but also their true position as his servants and receivers of his grace. You'd think so especially after that awful, fully deserved, destruction. However what do we find? Well in our reading we see how Noah gets out of the ark and the first thing that he does is to give glory to God ... he builds an altar to the Lord and carries out pleasing sacrifices. And the Lord smells the aroma and promises that from now on the harvest, the mark of God's constant blessings on living creatures, will never cease. How wonderful; and yet notice, actually, what the Lord says in his heart: "Never again, he says, will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done." In other words God is saying that despite the flood, despite the death and destruction which resulted from it, and despite Noah having been spared, nothing has actually changed. God recognises you see that the heart of the human being is as corrupt and rebellious as it ever was ... that Noah and his family aren't perfect. So the fact is that mankind after the flood still doesn't deserve God's blessings, still doesn't deserve his protection. In fact they deserve the opposite ... complete and utter annihilation. And yet in spite of this God promises that the harvest will continue. One of my Professors at St Andrews, Richard Bauckham, puts it like this: "To read the flood narrative with sensitivity to its original import is to acquire a renewed sense of the world in which we live as God's gift to us. As we see its destruction withheld only by God's patience and mercy, we find the world we take for granted becomes once again the world continually granted to us by God's grace". And this gracious gift from God is the harvest for which we give him thanks today. 2. The harvest which sin produces - Galatians 6:7 God then continues to bless his undeserving creation by continually bestowing upon them good things. God provides us with his good harvest. And yet there's another harvest which is being produced at the same time which is equally as real but not, this time, a harvest which is good. No this other harvest is the Harvest which sin produces, the harvest that results from the rejection of good, the rejection of God. Paul says to the church in Galatia: "A man reaps what he sows". And, actually, isn't this the very definition of harvest because, after all, harvest time is the time when you reap what you sow, the time when all that was planted towards the beginning of the growing season has borne fruit which is being lifted and brought into storage. But then the fact is, as we've said, that God's harvest isn't deserved. So that, although we benefit from it, we're not actually ourselves reaping what we've sown. We receive it yes, but only, as Richard Bauckham points out, because God is merciful ... because God doesn't treat us as we deserve No the true fruit of our sowing is seen all around us. It's seen in the wars that are taking place all over the world, it's seen in the seas of plastic that surround our shores, it's seen in disease and pandemics, it's seen in the collapse of good government and in the failures of care and the corruption in our institutions, in the breakup of marriages and homes, in the confusion surrounding God ordained roles and designations. The true fruit of our sowing is seen even in our churches. It's seen by us, where we have eyes to see, most clearly in our own hearts! And it won't go away. It's piling up ever higher as the means of self- destruction, both for ourselves and for our world, continue to increase in their number and in their complexity. What's more it's obviously affecting God's own, good, harvest seen in the constant ravages of nature's might upon the lives of people around the world. So how do we deal with this great harvest that sin produces? How do we remove it? Well this is the question more than any other, I suspect, that taxes the minds of people throughout the world. And many, many, answers have been put forward. For example, we teach people to be nicer people, an answer, sadly, too often given by the church. Or we increase the number of professionals in the caring sector, or we educate people to ever higher levels so that they'll understand the foolishness of displaying negative characteristics that affect others. Or else we change the thinking of society so that we all accept that everything is acceptable and not to be criticised ... as long as it doesn't involve anyone getting hurt. Or we simply ignore the harvest of sin, and blame what we see as deviations from the acceptable on a God who doesn't care, or else on the futility and meaninglessness of existence. Meanwhile there are those who aren't buying in to any of these worldview created solutions and they're trying to find their own answers only to finally discover that, actually, they're not a victim of the harvest after all, but that they're part of the problem. And so despair sets in and they give up and let go, sliding into excess or early self-induced death. Not seeing in the fact that the harvest provided by God still continues despite all of the detritus of sin around us and within, that this therefore is a reason to hope, that it's a signpost to something better. 3. The Gospel harvest - John 4: 34-36 The harvest then is a time when you reap what you sow. And so, bearing in mind what we've said about the two harvests we've thought about so far, one totally undeserved and one fully deserved, how do we get to a position where we, who inhabit this earth, recognise and acknowledge God's wonderful gifts and love for us, whilst at the same time we cease harvesting the destructive fruits of sin? Well of course the answer is that we're never going to get to that place ... by our own efforts. Think again about those words from my old professor: "To read the flood narrative with sensitivity to its original import is to acquire a renewed sense of the world in which we live, as God's gift to us. As we see its destruction withheld only by God's patience and mercy, we find the world we take for granted becomes once again the world continually granted to us by God's grace" No we're like a man cast adrift in a sea of sharks, kept away from their devouring teeth by the strong hull of the boat in which we sit, dependent entirely on the tide to take us to a better place. So how can we, as we sit here, ever hope to change, to improve, our situation for ourselves? Well the answer is, we can't ... but the wonderful news is, for all of us, that there's someone who can. And it's someone who Noah, the man who found favour with God in the midst of a world that repelled God, points us to. To the one who reaps God's harvest not because of God's mercy but because he sowed it, John chapter 1 verse 3 telling us: "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made". The one who doesn't reap the fruit of sin, because he's the ultimate righteous one, he's the sinless one. It is, of course, Jesus Christ, the only one who is qualified to help humanity, we who've become so cut off from God our creator by sin and its fruits. Who, despite God's mercy enabling us to continue to enjoy his harvest blessings, are simply powerless to do anything to improve our situation in any worthwhile way. Now that's not going to stop us working at trying to improve things by our own efforts. But at the end of the day the fact is that all that effort will be in vain. Because the truth is, actually it's the truth of our very existence, the truth is that concerning life as it should be lived on this earth, concerning life that satisfies and fully fulfils us, such existence can never be achieved by our own efforts. No, it can only be received as a gift from our creator. It can't be earned, it can't be won. And that's why Paul says to the Corinthian Church (1 Cor.: 1 verse 23): "... we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God". God is in the business of giving and we human beings are made to be in the business of receiving and of praising and worshipping him for his gifts received, and then giving him back our all ... our obedient service. And when we realise that that is the case, and when we gratefully submit to his perfect will for us, then we receive salvation, we reap the harvest of the Gospel. 4. The harvest of judgement: Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 There are those, even those within the church, who'd have us believe that the idea of a judgement day facing every single person who's ever lived is a complete nonsense ... they'd probably also say the same about the story of Noah and the flood. And yet here in our passage from Matthew's gospel Jesus clearly speaks about a harvest which will mark the end of the age. And bear in mind the definition that we've been using for harvest: "the time when you reap what you sow". So that he's talking about a time when that will finally happen. When we'll each be called to account, by our creator God. And Jesus uses the picture of the wheat and the weeds in his parable to represent the two types of people who will come to that final accounting. And what will be the difference between the two? Well as their labels suggest, one, the wheat, will be deemed to be good, will be deemed to be righteous by God and the other, the weeds, he will deem to be evil and sinful. Now, again, there are those who simply refuse to accept this idea. "I don't have any time for church and all that nonsense", they say, "but I'm as good as anyone who has ... test me if you don't believe me ... see how good I've been to my mum, to my neighbours, look how I've fought for people's rights!" And there are those, again within the church, who'd find it hard to argue with them. And then the thought comes: "How could a God who loves so much, reject anybody? I certainly wouldn't if I was in his place. Okay, maybe Hitler and such people as him, but they were really bad ... why should these relatively "good" people who we're talking about here be treated the same as someone like that? No the God I know wouldn't do that! You're the one who's in the wrong they say ... you're just trying to make me lose my faith!" So how do we answer such people? More to the point how does Scripture answer such people? Well, remember that comment that the fact that we continue to receive the blessing of the good harvest is evidence of God's mercy shown towards us, in other words evidence of the fact that God continues to hold back the full harvest that sin produces. And then also remember that God is a God who gives, shown by his mercy to Noah and ultimately by the sacrificial gift of his Son Jesus Christ. Well if God is holding back from us all that we deserve because of our sin, our rejection of our creator, and then at the same time he's freely holding out to us the invitation to be part of the harvest of the gospel, would it not seem reasonable that at some point, especially as all our days are numbered, he should ask each of us if we accepted his offer, or if instead we chose to continue rejecting his gifts so carrying on in the way of life that simply adds further to the harvest of sin? Does this not seem reasonable for a God who continues to protect us by holding back the true fruits of humanity's behaviour, by not allowing us to reap all that we've sown because it would fully condemn us? But who instead, in his mercy and love, holds out to each the free gift of salvation purchased for us by his own blood? Does it not seem reasonable that the ark of God's salvation is there for each of us to step onto, so that we're there when the floods come, so that when we come at last to the final Harvest of judgement, well, we'll either be on board, or we'll be lost? Amen
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