Harvest Sermon for Clippesby Deuteronomy 26: 1 - 15
Give generously because God gives extravagantly to us.
Harvest Festival towards the end of the harvest, with a decorated church and other community celebrations, as we are doing today, is a relatively new idea in the UK. In 1843, a Reverend Hawker invited his parishioners to come to his church in Morwenstowe in Cornwall to give thanks for the harvest. The great Victorian hymn writers quickly got in on the act writing favourites like, Come Ye Thankful People Come and discovering and translating others like We Plough the Fields and Scatter (which was originally an earlier German hymn) and the festival grew in popularity. Most churches, especially those in rural areas, still mark this annual celebration of God’s goodness to us.
It isn’t the earliest celebration of the harvest in the church though. Before the Reformation it was celebrated at the beginning of the harvest on the first of August with the farmers bringing the Lammas Loaf to the church. This loaf was made with the first of the harvested wheat and would have been shared at communion.
But even this taps into a much, much older tradition. Many cultures in the ancient world made offerings to Gods out of the food that they had grown and harvested. Our reading from Deuteronomy shows how the ancient people of Israel were commanded to mark the harvest and give thanks to God for his generosity before being generous to those in need. But the God of Israel was different to the Gods worshipped by the surrounding people. In most ancient cultures offerings were made to angry Gods in order to appease them in the hope for a good harvest the following year. Here God is commanding Israel to remember all that he has already done for them out of his love. He is fulfilling the promise to them that he will lead them into a land which will flow with milk and honey. The offering of the Israelites doesn’t so much appease God as please him, and it serves to remind Israel that they are His people and He is their God.
There are some things in that reading that are familiar to what we are doing today - we present our offering to God, just as the Israelites did. We celebrate everything that God gives us from the land in worship and over lunch - just as the Israelites celebrated with the bounty God had given them. In some churches collections of food are made which are distributed to those in need either directly, or through donations to local charities such as food banks - just as the Israelites took the offering and gave it to the refugees, the widows and the orphans.
But there are some differences. Notice the very first words that we heard: “When you have come into the land The LORD your God is giving you” These instructions are being given to the Israelites whilst they are still in the Wilderness before they even get to the promised land. They are still living in an inhospitable land where they are farming as nomads. Even in rural communities like Clippesby we don’t rely simply on what we can grow ourselves in order to eat. For the people of Israel, like for many others around the world today, being so immediately close to the production of the food for the whole community means that they understand how much they rely on God for the most basic things in life. It is easier for us to forget this when we can just pop to the local shop or the supermarket for something we need.
The second difference is that unlike Lammas, we no longer present the first of our harvest but God was very specific in challenging Israel to do just that. God knew that once in the promised land it would be easy for them to forget that they needed to rely on him just as it is easy for us to forget that. When we give to God first we trust him that he will provide for us. So the final challenge of our harvest reading is to be generous before worrying about whether we have enough to share. Give to God and to others first and trust God to provide for you. Just like the people of Israel, remember how a generous God has done so much for us and live with that same generosity.
"We plough the fields and scatter"
Sung by the Lakefield Singers at Clippesby
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