You shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God
for the good land he has given you.
Today’s Harvest Thanksgiving is a day of pause to give thanks.
We have signs all around us of the harvest of the fruits of the earth. (Thank you Anne, Hertha, Kim for the decorating of God’s house!) God has blessed us with so much.
In Deuteronomy [8:7-10], Moses, in his final message to the people of Israel, is reminding his beloved flock of the Promised Land. It is a good land, of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills. A land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, olive trees, honey, where they will lack nothing. With iron and copper in the hills. A place where they will eat and be full.
They were called in the Law to observe certain Harvest Festivals during the year to pause and give thanks: To remember always that the provision of plenty was a gift of God, that it is God’s that openeth His hands and filleth all things living with plenteousness. [Ps 145:16] And in the Old Covenant – the Harvest Festivals were filled with Spiritual meaning too. Pentecost, the celebration of the barley harvest, became associated with the gift of the Law of Moses to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai. The provision of the bread from heaven, the Word of God.
The Good Land that God promised the people of Israel – is a figure of the Kingdom of Heaven to which we are brought through baptism and faith. Jesus says, the Kingdom of heaven is within you [St Luke 17:21] – and we have the opportunity to explore it, that spiritual landscape is there for the taking and enjoying. And it is a good land, with flowing fountains and springs. The soul is that good land – but we often flee from it – not comfortable in our own skins. But Jesus is giving us the confidence to be real before him, and to no longer flee from ourselves, but knowing ourselves to be forgiven, knowing ourselves to be his beloved children, knowing wholeness, and coming to enter into His rest.
And as Israel waited at the borders of their Land, God promised it would be a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, of olive trees and honey – this description is of a land beyond mere sustenance, a promise of enough to eat but also of pleasurable things – sweet things to enjoy. It says something about the character of God that he has not just promised us gruel or porridge, but good things on top of it – sweet things, pleasurable tastes, that we might know something of the goodness of God too.
Through the pouring out of God’s Spirit we are brought to taste of the fruit of that Land, the fruit of the Spirit – love, peace, joy… and spiritual gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ – to discover that wisdom is truly sweeter than honey, that the oil which fattens us in body and can give light – is a figure of the Spirit’s work to enlighten us and renew us in our dryness – to give us superabundant love that overflows to others.
Jesus and St Paul remind us about sowing and cultivating and harvesting in the spiritual landscape of the Kingdom of heaven.
St Paul contrasts sowing to the flesh and sowing to the Spirit [Galatians 6:6-10]. What does he mean by that? To sow to the flesh is to respond to carnal desires or the desires of the old Adam – whether it be pride or the fleshy desires that flow from that (e.g. vainglory, dejection, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, lust) – if we sow or cultivate those passions – it only hurts us. If though, we respond to the promptings of the Spirit – to learn more about God, to speak and to listen to God, to love our neighbour – when we sow to the Spirit, we will harvest eternal life – not just a reward in the next life, but a harvest we begin to experience in this life – the oil of fatness! a spiritual fulness, love filling the heart, being moved to give thanks, a certain brightness, being more present to other people, seeing the significance of the lives of others and our own lives and the moments in them.
St Paul adds that to love our neighbour is to sow to the Spirit. He says, “let us not grow weary of doing good”, to encourage us because he knows that doing good does not always seem to bring a reward. But remember the farmer, who puts all sorts of energy into sowing and nurturing, because he knows it will bear fruit in time. We’re not to despair or give up when our sowing does not seem to bring about a change in hearts – one day, in this life or the next, there will be a harvest.
In the Gospel today [St John 4:31-36], the disciples come to Jesus, sitting by the well in Samaria, and he was tired. The disciples urge him to eat something!
But our Gospel began with the word “Meanwhile.” The context of the Gospel is that Jesus has just finished having a profound conversation with a Samaritan woman – he has just led her to understand her whole life, her longings, that were not being met by her relationships with many men – and he brings her to see that her spiritual longings can only be met ultimately by God – and that He has come, the Messiah is here to bring fulfillment.
Jesus is sitting at the well, physically tired, but he is feeling full, satisfied, he has just brought this woman to an epiphany, to the release of joy and energy in her – it says, she left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this man be the Christ?” [St John 4:28]
Jesus tells the disciples he has food to eat that they do not know about – the food of doing the will of his Father and accomplishing his work.
And Jesus encourages us to join in with this feast that he is enjoying! Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.
You know that over the summer the fields turn from green to a kind of mixture of green and amber, to amber and, as it dries out, when the seeds are ready to be harvested, it becomes white.
Jesus is saying to the disciples in his age, that others have done all the sowing and tending of the grass and now it is time to harvest. What does he mean that the fields are white?
We can think of the preparations of Israel through the ages by God, by their being chosen, by their being brought out of Egypt, by the gift of the Law, by the gift of the Promised Land, by the sending of Prophets to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, and we can think of in Jesus’ day of the ministry of John the Baptist – all the sowing has been done – and the disciples needed simply to complete that work by leading people to the fulfilment of their desire – to Jesus Christ!
What about in our day, in the Netherlands – in what way are the fields ready, white for the harvest?
We could say that all of those who have gone before us in the long history of the development of the Christian West have been sowing. Our ideas of justice, of goodness, of the dignity of each human being, our ideas of the need for mercy, our society’s care for the most vulnerable, our medical system, our general outlook of good will towards others and our interest in the wellbeing of the world – none of it in our society is perfect, but there is so much that is so good. If we look at the best aspects of our society and of its ideals, it has been shaped by Christ. It is for us to help people to make the connections, between what they hope for, and Jesus Christ who fulfills their highest longing. If people are despairing of the vacuousness of a strictly materialist outlook, they are white for the harvest, ready to have the connection made to what they really long for.
Our task in reaping is to help people to see the Bridge, the Ladder, stretching between earth and heaven, Jesus Christ. Who puts an arm around us and around the Father to reconcile us. [as Job could only wish for in 9:33]
The Good News about our involvement in mission as a church is that there are a myriad of ways to participate in this work – whether it is sowing to the Spirit by not growing weary of doing good, or reaping in various ways by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ – not all of us have the same skills, but all of us can participate in some way.
We are pausing today to give thanks to God for the abundance of his provision – material and spiritual. Our minds are now turned, in the Holy Communion, to our Lord’s greatest act of love and mercy towards us. In the “Eucharist”, the great “thanksgiving”, we put before our minds Christ’s death and we come forward to participate in His risen life.
Let us respond to this great love by following Jesus’ call to sow and to reap, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. Amen.