Sunday 14 June 2020
The second chapter of the Book of Genesis describes the four branches of a river that flowed out of the Garden of Eden. They were the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates. Interestingly, we are not too sure which rivers the Pishon and Gihon were, but the Tigris and Euphrates are still with us today. And they help us to locate Eden in what was called, the Fertile Crescent, a crescent-shaped region in the Middle East spanning modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, the northeast and Nile valley regions of Egypt together with the southeastern region of Turkey and the western fringes of Iran.
So not only does the Bible associate this region with its foundational creation story. The Fertile Crescent is also reputed to be the birthplace of agrarian culture. You can get some argument on the matter, but around 10,000 BC, humans in that area began not just to pick the wild grains growing there, but they scattered spare grains on the ground to grow more food – no longer just hunters and gatherers, they were becoming farmers.
The vast majority of people in our society are not, and never have been farmers. Because of our sophisticated economic system, most of us simply buy the food we need to eat without ever having to participate in its growing. Consequently, we are somewhat alienated from the concept of ‘harvest’.
For communities that are engaged wholeheartedly in the production of foodstuffs, harvest time has traditionally been a period of great rejoicing and celebrating. Today, we send backpackers and others willing to work really hard for pretty ordinary pay out to bring in the product at the end of the growing season. Or else the farmer might own a massive piece of machinery which works day-in day-out bringing in some monocultural crop of wheat or some other grain.
When the harvesting was done by hand, and on a smaller scale, it would be the sole occupation in the district when the crop was ready. Because of the wide community involvement in this significant event. All sorts of traditions of harvest festivals grew up in the rural areas of agrarian societies.
When we hear Jesus asking the Father to send labourers into the harvest, it is this sort of celebratory and joyful event that he would have in mind. The harvest had to be brought in promptly in case the weather turned bad. Once in, it would be stored for the coming year and hearts and minds would be given to the celebration and rejoicing. The Psalmist records the feeling in Psalm 126:
Those who sow in tears:
shall reap with songs of joy.
They that go out weeping, bearing the seed:
shall come again in gladness,
bringing their sheaves with them.
And that shows the difference between the sowing and the harvesting. Sowing is just hard work. Getting the ground ready, planting the seed carefully. Keeping an eye on the birds and animals that might fancy the seed for food. Observing the weather so that the sowing takes place before the rain to maximise the crop. No wonder the sowing is done in tears.
But not so the harvest. The harvest is a joyful event. All of the sowing and tending of the crop has brought its reward. While the harvesting might look like hard work – and quite often is – the rewards of the bounty of the earth make of it a joyful event.
So, when Jesus says: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest,” he is actually praying for disciples to share in the celebration and joy, not looking to bind them down with hard work. Harvesting is a happy event, with all that goes with it.
Maybe, we often get that wrong in our thinking. We think that Jesus is calling us to go out into our world and do all the hard and unpleasant work to bring people to join in following him. Perhaps we have got our thinking wrong. The association of the notion of harvest with our role reminds us that God, through the Holy Spirit, has been doing the hard work – the sowing and tilling. We are simply being invited to come to the party end of the operation.
That means I suppose that we should be looking for where we have seen God’s hand at work. We should be looking for the people who exhibit the characteristics of Spirit at work. Perhaps these are the people who constitute the harvest.
If that is the case, we need to seriously focus our attention on who these people are in our lives. If they are not already in the group of people that we pray for at the Gathering time in each Sunday Service, maybe we need to add them.
And as always, we need to pray for ourselves that we would be always receptive to the people whom the Spirit has prepared for the harvest. And we need to pray that we would be amongst those whom God sends out to bring in his harvest in due season.
‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’
Archdeacon Allan Paulsen