Harvest Mark 9:38-end James 5:13-end
Only last week, I saw that the farmer was bringing in the grain harvest from his field close to my home. It was quite an impressive sight, with the combine harvester gliding as it were, over the field and offloading in the large container trucks. Then, after a few days, they came back to gather up the straw that was left, because nothing goes to waste. The image of harvest is one that the Bible uses and that the Church has been referring to in the spiritual as well as the physical sense. This image has been understood well, as it was a familiar one. Perhaps more so in ancient times, when people seemed to have a closer connection to the land and its produce than at present, when many living in cities may not always be aware of the origin of their food supplies.
The cycle of growing and reaping applies to arable land as well as livestock farming. In Spring, when lambs are born and new shoots sprout up, the sight is uplifting, full of hope and promise. The blossom on the trees that begins to grow into fruit in Summer, and then the ripe fruit that is gathered in in Autumn; all are pictures of the rich provision that we enjoy, so often without fully realising its blessing.
In James’ letter, chapter 5, we find that picture taken in a combination of the physical and the spiritual sense, when prayer offered in faith yields a harvest of healing: The example that James uses is that of Elijah the prophet, who prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for 3 years and 6 months it did not rain. Then, when he prayed again, the heavens gave rain and the earth yielded a harvest. James connects faith with forgiveness and healing, with life-changing result.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus finishes a series of sayings – which are warnings about the wrong ‘harvest of the heart’ – with a statement and a question about salt. Salt has more than one property. With food, for instance, it enhances flavour and it preserves. It also purifies, like fire. Jesus says that salt is good; but if it loses its saltiness, how can you season it? Salt that has no saltiness is not good for anything. In Matthew 5, Jesus says, ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ And ‘You are the light of the world.’ However, if that salt loses its saltiness, how can it be any good? Just like a light that is covered up, it has no use at all. The implication of this teaching is that if we are to ‘salt’ the earth and ‘light’ the world, we had better look after ourselves carefully in terms of preserving the faith and being kind and generous to our neighbours. ‘Have salt in yourselves,’ says Jesus, ‘and be at peace with one another.’
The blessing of the harvest that we are celebrating in our churches is a sign of faith and hope. It’s lovely to see churches decorated with items that remind us of where our daily food comes from. It’s also great to be able to enjoy one another’s company over a meal. But there’s another dimension to harvest that we should not forget: the fact that we are not just to celebrate the provision of food for ourselves, but that we are to be yielding in us a harvest of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). In other words, we are to be not just takers but givers. Giving a drink of water to a thirsty person is already an act of kindness that will not remain unrewarded. And there are numerous other things that we can think of in order to fulfil our calling of being salt and light to the world. Enjoy the harvest. And enjoy the growth within you of the fruit of the Spirit as mentioned in Galatians 5. So that your faith may preserve you and yield a harvest of peace to the glory of God. Amen.