Collect for Harvest
Eternal God, you crown the year with your goodness and you give us the fruits of the earth in their season: grant that we may use them to your glory, for the relief of those in need and for our own well-being; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.
Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid waste-land with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
1 Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; •
to you that answer prayer shall vows be paid.
2 To you shall all flesh come to confess their sins; •
when our misdeeds prevail against us,
you will purge them away.
3 Happy are they whom you choose
and draw to your courts to dwell there. •
We shall be satisfied with the blessings of your house,
even of your holy temple.
4 With wonders you will answer us in your righteousness,
O God of our salvation, •
O hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
5 In your strength you set fast the mountains •
and are girded about with might.
6 You still the raging of the seas, •
the roaring of their waves
and the clamour of the peoples.
7 Those who dwell at the ends of the earth
tremble at your marvels; •
the gates of the morning and evening sing your praise.
8 You visit the earth and water it; •
you make it very plenteous.
9 The river of God is full of water; •
you prepare grain for your people,
for so you provide for the earth.
10 You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; •
you soften the ground with showers and bless its increase.
11 You crown the year with your goodness, •
and your paths overflow with plenty.
12 May the pastures of the wilderness flow with goodness •
and the hills be girded with joy.
13 May the meadows be clothed with flocks of sheep •
and the valleys stand so thick with corn
that they shall laugh and sing.
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures for ever.’
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2 Corinthians 9:6–15
Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too –
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
John Keats, “To Autumn”
Sermon on Harvest Festival
This week I woke one morning to find the mists had descended on the countryside and looking at the vegetable patch, I saw the mellow fruitfulness which the poet described so long ago – the very reality which Harvest Festival celebrates, that God has crowned this year with the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” – with the goodness of the season.
I had never read Keats’ poem To Autumn at all until this week, and it has given me a starting direction for this morning’s thoughts. Let me use the poem to begin our harvest thanksgiving reflections.
The opening of the poem tells us of the synergy of autumn and “the maturing sun”, that they conspire to fill out the vines with fruit, to bend the laden apple tree branches towards the ground, to swell the gourd and fill out shells with bountiful sweet kernels, and still the flower-head forms for a glorious display, because they continue blossoming as if summer will never end.
The next stanza tells us of autumn by what people do at harvest. Sometimes we forget where we are, “sitting silently on the granary floor” or “on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep” or “by a cyder-press, with patient look,/ [having watched] the last oozings hours by hours”. It is the season that does these things, but so do we. Our “hook/ Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers” and we sleep on “drowsed with the fume of poppies”. So much time oozes by us in these mellow times of mist and we just watch it go by.
Where has all the time gone? Spring is almost forgot as we sit here in autumn, enjoying its bounty as it passes by to storeroom or is processed for later use.
The fields are but stubble now, where the songs of spring which we sang when sowing? There is a new music here, the gnats, hedge-crickets, lambs and robins in wailful chorus, as the fading sun at day’s end tints the reaped fields a rosy hue over which the swallows gather to mark the time.
The poet speaks of the commonplace to locate us in an area of meaning we often forget. We are being called to attend the activity of harvest in this soporific time of autumn. The poet proclaims the conspiracy of maturing sun and mists to lull each other into a forgetfulness of the meaning of harvest.
But we must awake. No longer are we to slumber in the joy of plenty. Aren’t we called to action by our collect? Don’t we pray, “Grant that we may use these gifts to your glory”? Our collect, I think, should be our heartfelt prayer every day, because we use the gifts of harvest for our continuing everydayness. The poet describes autumn’s sleepy nature and contrasts it to the work not done. Like the writer of the collect, the poet would rouse us to appreciate the time of the year. The poet calls us to recollect what we are doing at the harvest. I think the parable of the rich man tells us the same thing as the poet. Just as the poet exhorts us to remember what autumn is, so Jesus says, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
Remember what autumn is, the poet and Jesus are saying, now is the time to store and preserve for the coming winter, to use the harvest for the glory of God. How do we do that? The poet speaks of our forgetfulness, our laziness, of what we should do. Jesus redirects our attention. Instead of saying with the rich man, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry,” we need to distribute our goods, not just store them up – this was the disgrace of the grain mountains and wine lakes of government policies. Indeed, we must be prudent, but we should not have the “relax, eat, drink, be merry” attitude of the rich man. Provision for the future is possible, but storage for my own sake is not doing things to the glory of God.
The collect clarifies the glory of God, “for the relief of those in need and for our own well-being.” This rich man does not care for the other. He has eyes only for his own satisfaction – “for many years,” he says. But through Jesus Christ, we should turn to “our own well-being” and “the relief of those in need.” Jesus Christ calls us to attend to others, to love them as ourselves.
The rich man’s storage for self-repletion is not the charity of the faithful congregation. From the treasury many gifts are brought forth – to use the image from another parable – for the sake of others. This other wealthy man is altruistic, he cares for the other, and meets his own well-being in doing so. This other man is rich “towards God”. We do know that wealth is of many types. We must be aware of the wealth we acquire, what sort of stuff it is, how it can be used effectively here and now.
Jesus tells of two disparate types of wealth, that which can be stored up, but for whose benefit? After all, if the rich man dies when he has accrued so much, “Who benefits?” Obviously, Jesus has a very different goal in his economics. Instead of building a jail to incarcerate the goods of the harvest, he wants it to benefit rich and poor, just as the collect implores us, to use harvest for the glory of God.
I would say the glory of God is revealed in life in all its fullness, when the harvest is distributed for the care of all.
The poet speaks of the activity of people as he characterises Autumn in his poem. He speaks of a world in symbols – poets do that, don’t they, they make life substantial through metaphor, analogy and simile: the poet’s word pictures draw us into a world in which we can dwell, the world of a bold intentionality. Jesus also does the same with this parable. He characterises the everyday world of cupidity and turns it on its head. Let us celebrate harvest anew, aware that our possessions will one day pass to others. Let us build the new storehouses, but let them be places whence generosity flows.
Today we give thanks for this harvest, remembering nature’s bounty and human ingenuity. Let autumn be the season of resolve here and now in our care for ourselves and one another. Let autumn’s harvest reveal that everything truly is for the greater glory of God.