"Lord of the Harvest"                Ephesians 1: 15-23       November 23, 2008

Sermon Outline: When words fail us – contrast life's hard times with harvest thankfulness. Are we only thankful in the good times? I was challenged how to encourage in times like this (Wall Street plunge, political and financial upheaval; major national and international financial crisis; Bastrop mill closing; many sick in congregation; recent deaths).
 
Take comfort in the fact that Jesus spent most of his time with the downtrodden; those struggling with every manner of sickness and personal distress. Jesus did not 'hang out' with the well-to-do, self-assured Pharisees.
 
Jesus walks with us through the valleys. Footprints in the Sand.
 
Partial excerpts from "PaddyAnglican: the Musings and Rants of an Irish Anglican priest." Stephen Neill Cloughjordan, Tipperary, Ireland; Harvest Sermon
 
 “When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression” Words like ‘hard labour’ , ‘toil’, ‘affliction’ and ‘oppression’ do not fit well with our traditional understanding and expectations of harvest!
 
When I think of Harvest the kind of words and pictures that come to my mind are of a happy event, the culmination of a years work – a testimony to the skill of the farmer in knowing when to sow and when to reap, how much fertilizer to use, when to spray – I see full grain silos and plenty of hay and straw, and churches such as this one decorated with the fruits of your labours.
 
 
 
 
 
 
We have also come to realize in recent times that harvest is not just a rural festival but can also be a time for those who do not work on the land to give thanks for the fruits of their labour, whether in the home, the office the factory or wherever. But what all of these aspects of Harvest have in common is that they are about success! Harvest is traditionally about success albeit a success in which we acknowledge that God plays the decisive role.
 
Thankfully, this year in Ireland has, despite predictions to the contrary, been a success – the twin threats of torrential rain and the proximity of Foot and Mouth ultimately did not frustrate the harvest and while quality and quantity might have been down, prices were up enough to compensate. And so this year we do have a lot to be thankful for.
 
But – What about others? What about the vast swathes of English countryside where the fields turned to Lakes, what about the farms affected by Foot and Mouth and now Blue tongue….. and further afield, what about the Sudan where war and population displacement have destroyed the farming infrastructure or parts of Africa and Asia where drought regularly makes the land barren and infertile?
 
How would we feel about the harvest if that was the situation we found ourselves in, or to take harvest in its broadest context how do we celebrate harvest when we feel our own lives are not bearing fruit? I don’t want to put a damper but these are very real questions if harvest is to have meaning in the bad times as well as the good – and I believe it can and does, and perhaps even more meaning in times of catastrophe and pain.
 
So what is there in this notion of harvest that we can take into the darker corners of our lives? Surely, harvest thanksgiving in times of disaster is empty and hollow?! That may be but let us consider what we are saying by implication – We are saying I will praise God not because God is God and worthy of praise at all times but I will praise God when God gives me what I need or want! In other words, it's about me – It's not about God! It's about my success!
 
Stephen Niell writes, "This fascination with success was brought home to me recently in the context of Ireland’s World Cup campaign and the criticism of the squad and most especially ." Coach EddieO’Sullivan. Criticism is certainly justified but it is thrust of that criticism that concerns me. It was typified by the crass interview question put by TV3 reporter, SinéadKissane, who asked if, in light of the Irish performances in their pool, he would now consider his position
 
This to me was depressingly symptomatic of the ‘One strike you’re out’ culture which now defines Irish society. In this rarefied environment, failure is unacceptable and carries an immediate and terminal penalty. This is a pessimistic culture, which assumes we are defined by our past with no hope for a better future – once a failure always a failure! Such a society that cannot accept failure and learn from it is dehumanizing and demoralizing. It ensures constant frustration and ultimately destroys the learning curve that is part of life.
 
To use a basic analogy: When potty-training a child do we expect a constant and unbroken progression or do we resign ourselves to the inevitability of you know what? When a child learns to walk, it doesn't do so uninterrupted with stumbles or falls, but we find that normal. If we take a similar view of our lives, in the long run we see growth and progress, even though at this moment in time we may be in the middle of a major setback.
 
One of the things that appeals to me about Christianity is the expectation that we will make a mess of life on a regular basis – and that despite this we can pick up the pieces and start again. We may live in a post-Christian Ireland but this is one element of Christianity that even the most militant secularist might usefully take on board. The alternative is a very ruthless and cruel society where success is the new God and failure the new leprosy! This is an area where we as church can make a difference – we can challenge a society, which is based on instant gratification and a lack of tolerance for failure.

 
Our own Judaeo Christian tradition has huge resources to help us with living through the difficulties of life into a time of fruition and harvest. Harold Kushner a Jewish rabbi points to the story of Cain and Abel (the sons of Adam and Eve) and how Cain killed Abel and then fled as a fugitive. Despite that tragedy, which taught Adam and Eve about heartbreak, they picked up the pieces, had a third child and several more after that.
 
Commenting on the same passage, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said of Adam & Eve: “It is a fine thing to begin, but it is a much greater thing to begin again after what you have worked for has been taken from you. Again coming from Auschwitz (the most terrible failure of humanity) was Victor Frankl who said: “What happens to you, no matter how hurtful or unfair, is ultimately less important than what you do about what happens to you.
 
So back to this morning's celebration – let us indeed be thankful for the success that is demonstrated around us – for the Harvest, for the fruits of our labours that God has blessed. Moreover, let us also try to bring that harvest into the broken parts of our lives and our World – We might be surprised at how receptive those places can be – but perhaps we should not for as the songwriter Leonard Cohen puts it: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in”.
 
Let us pray:
"We thank thee that thou dost scatter thy good seed upon the soil of every heart. Thine is an eternal harvest, and neither the coldness of evil nor the frost of sorrow can extinguish the warmth of thy redeeming love. Gratefully do we lift up our spirits this morning for those who have been good witnesses unto thee in and out of season, who in time of suffering bore the fruit of patience and faithfulness, and who in hours of hardship sank their roots of life deeply into thy Spirit." Amen. (Page 90, Pastoral Prayers for the Church Year, S.J. Schmiechen)
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
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