Sowing and Reaping
As the evenings draw in, leaves turn beautiful shades of orange, and pumpkins start appearing everywhere, we asked Gordon Banks (retired Church Army Evangelist) what harvest means to him…
Food and faith
A person will eat on average 35 tonnes of food in their lifetime. Food is fuel and we can’t survive without it. So, it matters little whether we live in a deeply rural context or in the heart of a large city. Food is a common factor.
Food and eating runs throughout Scripture; from the opening passages of Genesis through to the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb of God. In Luke’s Gospel there are over one hundred references to eating and to meals including the much-loved Emmaus road story.
When Jesus wanted to leave something to help remind his disciples of his life and teaching; about his death and resurrection and about how they were called to love and serve one another, he didn’t just give them words. He set out a special meal which we have come to know by many names. In the context of Harvest, Eucharist, meaning ‘thanksgiving’, seems to be the most appropriate. Harvest is a time when we’re reminded to be thankful for our provision from God.
Eucharist in practice
Shortly before I retired at the end of June (2019) I preached in HMP Stafford, a prison for male sex offenders. When we came to receive Communion, I joined the residents as we lined up to receive God’s gift of grace represented in the bread and wine. It was a profound moment of being reminded that God loves us all equally; ‘the vilest offender who truly believes that moment from Jesus a pardon receives’ (To God Be the Glory, Crosby and Doane).
Later in the week I was heading up the team at the Church Tent at the Staffordshire County Show where I was also the Honorary Show Chaplain. As Chaplain there is an invitation to the Presidents Luncheon and Dinner and on these occasions the guests include titled local dignitaries. However, God loves them equally and puts no greater value on them than He does on the men I had been with a few days before.
Taking over my role as Church Tent Co-ordinator is the Revd Nicola Busby, who, with her husband, runs a fruit farm. Currently there is no robotic equipment that can help in the harvesting of soft fruit, so it must be picked by hand. To help bring in the harvest they employ a temporary labour force of over a hundred people, mostly from Eastern Europe.
In the agrarian world of Jesus, he used food production and harvest for much of his teaching. Many of best known and loved parables are about seeds growing, barns being filled and labourers working in harvesting crops. Nicola’s fruit farm can be used as a real-life metaphor in a similar way to how Jesus talked about the harvest.
‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few, so pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his field.’ (Matthew 9.37-38)
It begins with sowing seeds
Most of my forty-year ministry has been spent as an itinerant minister mostly working in rural contexts – Northumberland, Cornwall, Sussex and finally Staffordshire. In this capacity I spent a lot of time encouraging rural Churches in mission and evangelism. Rural ministry is deeply incarnational. A phrase frequently used in this context is that of ‘sowing seeds’. I often challenged people to think about the harvest arising out of the labours of seed sowing. I have never met a farmer who sowed seed and thought the job was done!
Lawrence Singlehurst’s book, ‘Sowing, Reaping and Keeping,’ (SPCK, 2006, 2nd ed.) helpfully outlines the natural progression from sharing faith, to calling for commitment, and then growing in discipleship.
The harvest to come
One of my last engagements before retiring was to attend the Love Stafford Annual Review when we had Roy Crowne, CEO of Hope Together, speaking to us. He spoke about Advance 2020 and the many agencies (including Church Army) who were looking to next year being a time of rich harvesting. There are many very exciting plans to encourage, enable and equip God’s people in bringing in a rich harvest.
In food production, ground preparation is everything. Our ground preparation is rooted in prayer because as St Paul reminds us…
‘I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.’ (1 Corinthians 3:6)
Nicola and her husband faithfully sow their crops and then they need help in bringing in the harvest. How might you use the remaining months of 2019 to sow seeds of faith in preparation to help bring in the harvest in 2020?