Bits of this appeared in an earlier posting: Crazy World - Irish Rugby, Spiderman 3 and the Gardai in Lusk but this is 'churchy' version (greatly expanded).
“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”
In tonight’s Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy chapter 26, a reading which gives us wonderful imagery, such as “a land flowing with milk and honey”, and a promise that “you shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given you”, you might be surprised that I chose as my text for tonight one of the preceding verses which seems to be more about suffering than thanksgiving and celebration! 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.
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 be a dampner 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 its about me – Its not about God! Its about my success!
This fascination with success was brought home to me recently in the context of
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.
In a time of instant credit, instant communication there seems to be no place for looking forward – we live in the moment and what we cannot have now is useless and irrelevant to us.
Something happened to me this week that illustrated this perfectly. On Wednesday afternoon I got a phone call from my wife who was in
So, how do we turn our failures around? How do we celebrate harvest through times of ‘toil and oppression’ as the writer of Deuteronomy describes it?
For me the answer, or at least the beginning of an answer came in a sermon I heard last Sunday. We clergy don’t get to hear others preaching very often and it is important to hear others proclaim the Gospel if we are not to get entirely wrapped up in our own agendas. This is where the internet is a great resource – Some years ago while visiting
Does that sound strange? It should do! It flies directly in the face of the culture of success that increasingly dominates our lives! So why or how can mistakes be a good thing? Because they present an opportunity for change. Our mistakes draw us up short – they cause us to stop dead in our tracks and ask questions like Why did that happen? What am I doing wrong? How could I do better? What are the things that really matter to me?
These are questions we don’t ask when things are going well – rather we sail on regardless, increasingly addicted to the drug of success and with no time for reflection. I can’t remember who said it and the quote may even be a bit inaccurate but there is a lot of truth in the saying that “an unexamined life is no life at all”. Reflection and memory are part of being human – how sad it is if we have no time for them!
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
So back to tonight and our celebrations – 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. And let us also try and 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”.