Luke 12:16-30‘Celebrating harvest!’

Reflection by Anne Stewart

I love this season!  Not just because of the pretty colours and the interesting light.  I love it because in this season, everything that our gardens have been working on over the past few weeks, comes to fruition.  It’s harvest time and if you visit our house, you will be greeted with various boxes of apples, pumpkins, onions, and quinces.  We have just dealt with corn, zucchinis, tomatoes, potatoes, black peaches and nectarines and then the next lot turn up demanding attention.  The potatoes and pumpkins turned up in the garden, not because we planted them, but because they so enjoyed themselves last season, they wanted to do it all over again; we are very grateful for these unexpected, yet tasty, arrivals.  It can be a little overwhelming dealing with our thankfulness for the abundance that comes at us, and attending to it wisely.  So much is provided for our eating pleasure.

And there is much pleasure involved.  You will know the incredible feeling of eating something that you have grown.  There is something reassuring too, about knowing what has gone into what we produce, to help them flourish and what hasn’t been used to keep them in perfect shape and health.  You can’t buy the intensity of the flavours you get in home-grown produce, nor can you buy the feeling of satisfaction that producing something edible brings, often with very little work on our part.  I recall back in the heart of the earthquake season, I was a little distracted, as most of us were, and completely forgot that we had planted chilies a few months before.  Sometime around May I was in the garden and noticed something red in the distance.  On closer investigation it turned out the chillies, which, even in their layer of liquefaction, were dripping with big red healthy fruit.  It’s one of those miracles of nature, where despite what comes along, some things just don’t give up and ignoring the chaos around them they just get on with doing their thing.

I have wonderful memories of harvest thanksgiving services.  Growing up in Ashburton, in a time when it really wasn’t a lot more than a farming support town, the communion table at church groaned under the weight of bags of potatoes, pumpkins, home-made bread and a huge array of fruit and veges from parishioners’ gardens.  I recall often being there on the Saturday before the Harvest Sunday service with my parents as they arranged and rearranged the display.  It was a sight to behold.  What they finished with was, to me, a great big thank you for God’s provision.  That way of expressing our gratitude has stayed with me as an important memory from my childhood.

These days, many of us live in towns and cities and our contacts with the countryside are few and far between.  Much of our food is processed and packaged, we don’t get it from the field and the farm, instead we get it from New World, Pak ‘n Save or Countdown.  We can now, fairly easily, buy any fruit and vegetables at any time of the year.  But if they are not in season, then they will have had to travel and be stored.  I love talking to our son Sam (the chef) about how he sources produce for his restaurant.  He is committed to using what is in season and what uses the least transport miles to get to him.  Using what is in season is cheaper but it’s also better for us because it has needed less handling and storage.  It also heightens our anticipation as we wait for each new season to bring its produce in its own time.  I get so excited when I know that the asparagus is on the move, because fresh it is so superior to how it tastes if it has been tinned or preserved.  I used to make enough elderflower cordial, to last a year but now I just make a couple of bottles each year and savour it and I never tire of it and already I am looking forward to next Spring when I can make some more.  Sam is also a committed forager, and often tells me how much amazing food I am missing, as we drive through the countryside.  Some years back he and a friend GPS’d the red zone where many gardens were abandoned when houses were no longer livable.  He knows when these crops are ready and where to find the best in what were once lovingly tended gardens. Waste offends him, as it does me, so he will dream up ways to use whatever he can find in his menus.

I think it is even more important in these times when so many of us are dislocated from the source of our food, to celebrate harvest.  It reminds us of the importance of our food source and our responsibility to treat our environments with care.  We should know and be teaching our young, that carrots are not grown at the supermarket and what really goes into producing them.  It is all the more important when we see the potential we have, to damage our world, by our dislocation and what we are risking losing.  Harvest is a good time to focus again on our environment, to thank God for it, and consider our responsibility for it.  We all have the chance to make an impact on our environment so we would surely want it to be a positive one.

My father, who worked with the land, had this saying, ‘whatever you do with the land you should be trying to leave it better than you found it’. I am so thankful for that line ringing in my ears and as I have tried to live by it, I have witnessed many times, the land responding in positive ways, giving back in gratitude.

In the past I have often been concerned about the increasing technology available to those who work the land.  The aim used to be, unashamedly, to get more out of the land – to raise productivity and make more money.  With the aid of science, we learned to do things like change the substance of plants and animals so that they can resist disease or be more productive. The ability to make a crop resist pests might bring food and life to millions. These are all good things, however, this same technology also puts us at risk, as never before, of being unable to keep the earth and its resources in the condition in which we have inherited it from previous generations, or to leave it better than we found it.  These days I hear more talk of restoring bio-diversity and care for the land than draining it for our purposes.  These are good changes and while there remain some characters who are resistant, many are making sound changes that can give us reason to hope.

What are we to do though when the excessive abundance of harvest falls at our feet?  Do we just eat more, or do we find better ways to hoard it?  I am not a child of the depression but I am the child of a child of it and the things that were learned from the hardship of that time, were well entrenched in my upbringing.  Waste is not OK; however, I would attribute the disappearance of my own waist to that very notion!  I was taught that leaving food on my plate was, well, almost a sin, certainly not a way to express gratitude.  Old habits die hard!  What do we do when we have too much then, without being wasteful?  A few years back we dealt with the issue of an over-abundant harvest by buying a second freezer.  At the time it seemed the sensible way to avoid waste but, on reflection, didn’t we just effectively build a bigger barn!

The rich man in the parable did have some options.  For instance, he could have used his abundance as an opportunity to lower the price and feed the poor.  Sometimes I wish the dairy industry in this country would deal with its occasional gluts this way, or at least use the good times to balance the lows to ensure their products never get to the ‘almost out of reach’ prices we are currently experiencing.  Instead of taking this road, the rich man built a bigger barn so he could keep the excess grain for himself.  This gave him a bigger bank balance and ensured there wasn’t too much grain around, which continued to drive the market price up.  And we are back to that old vexed issue of, profits or people, economics or empathy.

The rich man feared not having enough, as though amassing possessions could protect him from the fear of scarcity.  Let’s be honest, we all want a measure of financial security, and to enjoy the fruit of our labours and there are hundreds of reasons which we can all think of for not giving away too much to others.  However, when we celebrate harvest, it’s a good time to think deeply about our attitudes and how our lives affect others.  We may think that having a lot will give us peace of mind yet often it seems to bring bigger worries and create division in the world, not peace.  Life is very fragile; it hangs by a thread and Jesus is clear there are far more important things to do in life than gather wealth and possessions together.  It is often said that the fault is not in the possession of things in themselves, but rather how tightly we cling to them or how we use them, selfishly or wisely.  Jesus is clear that the focus of our lives is what matters, for that focus will determine how we use our possessions. The temptation is to think that the parable is only talking to the rich and therefore it is not about most of us. The fact is that people who have relatively little can be every bit as greedy as the rich and can be just as out of focus in life as anybody else. Or, we might think we can solve this by just giving everything up and live a life of complete frugality.  However, such a life can be every bit as indulgent and lead to a false sense of holiness, and can lead to a feeling of superiority.  Either way, too much or too little, can result in our focus shifting from Jesus and his wise caring ways.  These issues of resources, fair distribution and our own possessions are incredibly difficult and serious.  Indeed, so much so that Jesus spent a lot of time talking about it, and less about the issues which we think are so important and preoccupy our church debates today. Our possessions and our money are not signs that we have been faithfully following Jesus, but used wisely they can help to follow well.  They are just some of the tools we can use in the business of loving one another, as Jesus call us to do.  And today we are expressing this love by taking from our stored abundance to make life a little bit easier for the families of some of the Burnside Primary children and those who need the City Mission.  Today we show our gratitude by passing it on, our harvest becomes their harvest.