The Harvest is Great

October 2, 2016 — Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Deuteronomy 16:13-15; Matthew 9:35-37


The feast of Tabernacles is a harvest celebration and one of the three holy days listed in the Old Testament that the Israelites are directed to observe. Each of these feast days, Passover, Tabernacles and Pentecost, are meant to be joyful occasions. Today’s reading in Deuteronomy directs us, “You shall rejoice in your feast . . . because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.”

Virtually every culture and country celebrates the harvest. It’s an opportunity to enjoy the result of hard work and express gratitude. In medieval Europe a Harvest Festival used to be celebrated at the beginning of the Harvest season and was called Lammas, meaning ‘loaf Mass’. Farmers made loaves of bread from the fresh wheat crop. These were given to the local church as the Communion bread during a special service thanking God for the harvest. Farmers celebrated the end of the harvest with a big meal called a harvest supper. Some churches and villages still have a Harvest Supper; something we might want to consider. The modern British tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began in 1843, when the Reverend Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at his church in Cornwall. Victorian hymns about harvest were sung, including the one that we sang this morning; Come, Ye Thankful People, Come, and they began the annual custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce for the Harvest Festival service.

This is the season when we in the northern hemisphere are gathering our harvest. Tom and I grow vegetables and each day we are bringing in what we think will be the last of the cucumbers or the last melon. Thursday night we had ratatouille with our last home-grown eggplants and yesterday I made pesto with our own organic garlic, basil and spinach – very satisfying. It’s a time to enjoy plenty. Harvest brings to mind Norman Rockwell prints; crisp cool days and warm homes with hardy meals waiting to be enjoyed. Canadians celebrate their Thanksgiving the second Monday in October. And although we have a later date set aside as a holiday to give thanks for all of our blessings, its good, I think to use harvest time as one to focus on abundance. We have so much for which to be grateful.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey coined the idea of an abundance mentality a concept in which a person believes there are enough resources and success to share with others. He contrasts this with a scarcity mindset; that we live in a world of limitations; that there is only so much wealth to go around. Therefore, we have to hold on to and preserve. Believing that we live in a world of scarcity can lead to destructive and unnecessary competition and can cause us to hold back from sharing.

A tribe of Indians in southwest Mexico called the Mazatecs seldom wish anyone well. Not only that, they seldom teach one another or share anything good. This is because they believe in what we might call, “limited good.” That is, they believe there is only so much good, so much knowledge, so much love to go around. To teach someone else means you drain yourself of knowledge. To love a second child means you have to love the first child less. Even to tell someone, “have a good day,” is to give away some of your own happiness; happiness that you can’t get back. There is only so much to go around.

The world view of the Mazatecs is extreme and in today’s second reading Jesus counters that position by saying, “The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but,” he adds, “there are few workers. “

It’s evident that we, as a church community, have an abundance mentality when it comes to material goods. In his article in the October update, Ken Murray, as Chair of the Mission Committee reminded us that, “Union Church is known as the ‘small church with the big heart.’ This is because,” he says, “Union church collectively and members and friends individually reach out and support a variety of outreach programs locally, nationally and internationally.” Most of us would agree with him. This is particularly so as members generously share their material goods. Tomorrow, Ken, Paul and I will go to the Biddeford Alternative School carrying a nice chunk of change, gift cards and goodies that you contributed.

If we have a tendency to have an attitude of scarcity, it comes more in the areas of talent and time. So many people have said to me, “Oh Nancy, you are so talented. We are so lucky to have you.” And, I’ve heard over and over again as you have, I’m sure, “I can’t get over how much talent we have in this small church!” When this is said, however, it seems that the speaker is not including himself or herself. Because we have so many highly gifted people in Union Church it can lead to some feeling insecure about their abilities and thus tempt them to hold back; not volunteer.

The other temptation is to have a mentality of scarcity around time. There’s a saying that if you want to have something done, ask a busy person. Busy people have the abundance mentality about time. The reality is that we all have the same amount of time; twenty-four hours each day. On occasion it may be worth evaluating the choices we are making about how we use that time. We may need to challenge our scarcity mentality as to time.

Harvest is a time to rejoice and to be grateful for our bounty and show our gratitude by being generous with our resources, as well as with our talent and time, to benefit those who have so much less.

In the reading from Matthew today we heard, “Jesus traveled among all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom.” As people who believe in the Good News, every day is a day of the feast of tabernacles; every day is one in which we can celebrate the harvest. Every day we can rightfully rejoice in abundance. Looking at the gospels as a whole and seeing how Jesus lived we realize that he refused to be afraid of scarcity. And most of all Jesus dared to announce to the world that this desire to love the world, to give himself away, to sacrifice everything that he had, was the very nature of God. Believing in God, believing in a divine goodness is to trust in a future where there will always be abundance. This tableau that we are building is a reminder of that.

And, at the same time, Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless. There truly are enough resources in this beautiful, fruitful world for everyone. And yet, Approximately 800 million people suffer from hunger worldwide. In Maine alone, population: 1,330,000, more than 209,000 people suffer from food insecurity. That’s almost 16% of households. Maine ranks 9th in the nation and 1st in New England for food insecurity. And if we look at Maine seniors, the statistics are worse. Twenty-three percent of seniors in Maine experience marginal, low, or very low food security. (Source: USDA). And we know that food is not the only hardship. As days get colder I think of people with inadequate housing – poorly insulated homes, old windows, drafty doors. Shorter days and colder weather lead to higher heating and electric bills stressing those who are financially strapped even more. Those of us who can, need to do a better job of sharing.

Living the Good News of abundance means that generosity and sacrifice will affect not only the use of our money but also everything that we do with our lives. A world view of abundance and plenty lets us live our lives free from the worry about what will happen to us as we share our material goods generously, use our talents for the good of the community and give our time with abandon. Free from the anxiety of want. Free from insecurity about our abilities. Free from worry about lack of time. Rather, the focus of our lives can be on others and their needs. We can give of ourselves, daring to trust in God’s abundance and reject the myth of scarcity. We can trust the words in Deuteronomy, “The LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands.”

When we come to his table to eat and to drink, there are no limits on the portions. There is no food rationing here. There is no limited supply of God’s love. There is no need too great to be met. We can come with our hunger for inner peace, our desire for acceptance, our longing for comfort and our need for strength and trust in God’s abundance and generous outpouring. So come now, to the table.