Posted by on October 11, 2020

Sermon for Harvest by Charles King, 11 October 2020

2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Luke 12:16-30

Today we celebrate harvest, and it’s been wonderful to come into church over the last few days and see the beautiful displays gradually take place. And our readings reflect this bounty and this season in different ways, picking up on different themes.

In our Gospel reading from Luke Jesus tells first a story of someone who acquired great wealth from the land, a harvest that meant there was consistently more food than could be consumed. So he decides to store it up for the future in ever bigger barns and storehouses. There are great plans for some future bash, eating, drinking, and being merry. But on the verge of living the dream with everything he needs, the man’s life on this earth comes to an end. “The thing is,” God says to him, “You’ve chosen to make all your life about stuff.” The problem with that is that if that’s all you think about, well, there’ll just never be enough. A harvest picture, if you like, of how not to go about dealing with what you gather in.

So by way of contrast, straight after, Jesus paints the opposite picture. An example from nature, of how birds and flowers flourish without the sorts of human concerns that our earlier friend had. And it’s there to make the point.

The point is not that we shouldn’t carefully sow seed, tend crops, gather them in and store sufficient prudently for the future, whether for ourselves or for others. Wise farmers will do exactly these things – and boy, haven’t the farmers had it tough this year. Indeed, the reading from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians uses farming imagery to describe a virtuous circle of sowing well and harvesting well.

Rather the point is what happens if we’re only ever thinking about tomorrow? Are we only ever concerned with accumulating to store things up for another day? If we are, then I think the parable tells us there are consequences.

There are consequences for those around the man – for, of course, the effects of his life ripple out to others:

  1. I wonder what it would have been like to be the child of this man. “No, sweetie, Daddy can’t see you tonight. Maybe you’ll see him at the weekend. Maybe then he’ll put his smartphone away and come and play with you. But just now he’s so busy because he’s working away for the future…”
  2. Did he have any? Did they feel taken for granted? Or what about those working for him?
  3. And then there’s the fact that as the man can only think about the future, he can only talk about himself. “I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. I’ll store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘Now I can take life easy.’” Me, me, me. What about other people? And imagine if you were one of his friends or employees. What does it take to get this man’s attention when his favourite words are I, me,and mine?

But there are also consequences of this way of life for the man himself…

  1. He’s missing out himself on so much now. Relationships with friends, family, and those round about him. And that’s a huge sacrifice. Not the kind of harvest I’m sure many of us would want to report back on.
  2. And it’s all summed up in that final question asked of the man, ‘What for?’ Because the great irony of the story is that he doesn’t even live to see what he’s spent so much time and effort saving for. The words God uses are harsh. “You fool!” he says to him. But they drive the message home. It’s right and proper to plan for the future, but not at the expense of today. Not if it means neglecting the wonders and joys of people and things around you now. Not if it means forgetting or overlooking what you do have.

For me, perhaps what really stings this harvest Sunday is that for all the man’s plentiful gathering-in, good fortune, and thinking ahead, he doesn’t even pause to thank God for the abundant blessings of his productive land. Not once. We’re never told of the difference his blessings could make for others; the relief he could bring, the care he could show.

I want to introduce you to another character now, a new friend of mine. He belongs to a colleague, and his name is Albie. Albie is a mixed-breed dog, rescued from the streets of Romania, and he has lived with my friend Wendy for just over two years. Like all dogs, he enjoys the simple things in life, yet he also has some very deep and meaningful things to share.

Albie says this:

“When I came to live with my family I was about four years old, but I’d never had a home before. So, I was very, very, skinny. And I didn’t have much fur. Now I am the right size and sleek and beautiful. This is because I get two meals a day and some snacks as well.

“If I was allowed, I’d eat all day, but apparently that’s not allowed. No idea why. But, anyway, I am massively grateful for every mouthful, indeed I get very excited about every meal and every treat.

“My mum tells me that humans sometimes thank God for their dinner. I think they should say ‘thank you’ to God for every single mouthful. Being hungry all the time is horrible and makes you poorly. I know. In Romania, I had to scavenge or beg for my food. Being full means you can enjoy fun stuff like walks. So, today, perhaps you should say ‘thank you’ to God that you are being fed. Get excited about every mouthful. And remember all those who are hungry.”

That’s Albie. The beautiful simplicity with his story is that he’s just thankful for what he does have. I only wish this had been more true of the man in our story from Luke.

As we look around church now, I’m aware that access to food, having enough to eat, and perhaps even wanting to celebrate harvest are more poignant now than ever. Our harvest donations will go to support FEED, one of many foodbanks nationwide experiencing huge demand. Just as much as we must pray, so real, practical, tangible support is vital.

But the parable tells us something else. The story of our foolish friend makes clear what God wants us not to do, what to avoid. Who we are, our worth, if you like, doesn’t come from acquiring anything. There’s nothing to be gained from storing up treasures for ourselves that in the end will be given away, passed on, sold, stolen, donated or chucked out in the rubbish. But how – how we use things, giving thanks for everything in our care, and for what we have – like Albie –, sharing what we have, caring for those round about us, gives us the richest kind of harvest imaginable. And it’s a wealth that uses up no storage space, doesn’t need to be worried about, insured, managed or guarded. Amen.