Harvest …Learning to Trust God

Where does it all come from? One lesson I am sure many schools will be teaching at this time of year will be about the origin of the food we eat and other products we use. For most children growing up in Britain today, food comes from the supermarket…or even the supermarket delivery van after mum has been on line to order. A huge lesson to be learnt is that everything they eat was grown or farmed somewhere in the world even if it might arrive in their home wrapped in more plastic packaging than is good for the environment.
It is not just children who need to be taught these things. As adults, we can all to easily become detached from the soil and the seasons which affect the production of our food. Unless we farm or keep an allotment, we can forget the hard work and worry often thousands of miles away to ensure that we have the vast range of food to which we have become accustomed in our country.
For Jesus and his disciples, food production was much closer to hand. Some of the disciples were fishermen. The gospels speak of them walking together through the fields of corn, watching the farmer sow his seed, of praying at the Mount of Olives. Galilee, Samaria and Judea, then as now enjoyed the perfect Mediterranean climate for agriculture. Most of the food which Jesus and his disciples ate would have been produced locally and provided them with a good balanced diet. It had not been called ‘the land flowing with milk and honey’ (Exodus 3.17) for nothing.
But for Jesus and his disciples, life was not settled. He had called them to join him in his ministry and take to the road. Yet, as they travelled around, there does not appear to have been a hospitality manager to ensure that they were provided for each night. Instead, all the indications are that on occasions they had to look around for someone prepared to take them in for night. (Matthew 10.11) In this, Jesus was teaching them in a very practical way how to have faith and to trust God to provide for their everyday needs; to give them their daily bread.
The opposite of such a settled faith is worry! There is evidence in the gospel accounts that the disciples worried about things while Jesus did not. When a storm blew up on the lake and even the hardened fishermen were worrying about drowning, while Jesus was sleeping soundly in the boat. (Matthew 8.23-27) So Jesus teaches clearly about faith and worry in our gospel reading. ‘Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear’ and ‘Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?’ and ‘So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ (Matthew 6. 25, 27 & 31) What is Jesus teaching here? You don’t need me to interpret it! Don’t worry!
Many of us are worriers. I’m one too. There’s always something to be fretting about. We are all prone to worry about different things: health issues, getting to the right place at the right time, wearing the right clothes for the occasion or saying the right thing. We may have nagging fears about our house, our car, our security, the dog or the cat. It is somehow part of the human condition to have something to worry about, but Jesus never seemed to worry. Yes, there were times when he was frustrated by people. (Matthew 17.17) and he shows clear signs of stress as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke22.44) but even in such extremises, his concern is to be doing his Father’s will, to place his faith whole heartedly in God’s provision for him.
Jesus’ teaching on faith and worry centres around food and clothing. As we have noted, this may well have been a pertinent issue for Jesus and his disciples as they travelled around. Even in a land of relative plenty, there were evidently those who were so poor that they did not know where their next meal would come from or how they would clothe themselves. I guess these are not areas of worry for us here this morning. If we worry about food, it will be agonising over what brand to buy or what will go with what. If we worry about clothes, it will be around fitting the garment to the occasion and the weather conditions. There is always a real danger that wealth makes us trust God less. That’s why Jesus says that it’s hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19.24)
All of us worry about our health from time to time or that of someone close to us. Living in a developed western country, even as Christian people, we are tempted to trust the medical services to the extent that it is their job to fix the situation. When they seem unable to, we worry, blame them and God. Yet, Jesus is teaching us to see God as the ultimate provider. Does not God provide for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. They don’t fret and worry. Their needs are met in the bountiful provision of nature.
We also live in a culture where much emphasis is placed on natural sciences such a physics, chemistry and biology to help us understand the world and the universe which we inhabit. It was in part through the influence of Christian thought that these sciences came to prominence; the understanding that God had created an ordered world which conformed to rules and patterns. In more recent centuries, we have been left with the impression that it is the rules and patterns themselves which evolved the earth and continue to sustain it without the need for God. As we join today to celebrate harvest festival and sing ‘All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above’, do we always really have faith in a God who provides for our needs through the richness and diversity of his creation so that we don’t have to worry?
When you prepare your next meal, why not reflect for a moment on where the ingredients have come from? Milk and eggs will probably come from British, even local producers. Cereal products could be from this country but may well be from continental Europe along with items of fruit and juices. Rice, tea, coffee will have travelled much further. Even if our dish is ready prepared, the ingredients will all have started life in the ground or on the animal. Women and men will have worked hard to cultivate, sow, breed, slaughter and harvest all the items for your Sunday meal today. Despite modern farming methods, there will of course still be that vital element of growth which they cannot make happen. Natural science explains much of the how it happens, but if we are people of faith, then we believe it is God who has put all this in place and we trust his provision. This is the essence of our harvest celebration.
But along side this, we should reflect deeply on Jesus’ teaching about not worrying. I know for some us, worry comes more easily than others, but when we worry, we doubt God’s provision for us. His provision extends to much more than our daily bread. Jesus spoke of himself as the ‘bread of life’. (John 6.35) When he spoke in these terms, it was all about the love relationship God offers to each of us through Jesus which nurtures and sustains life for eternity. When we feel totally secure in this relationship, there is no place for worry because ‘perfect love casts out fear.’ (1 John 4.18)
Harvest 2018

Rev Jonathan Smith

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