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November 2010 Parish Letter

November 1, 2010

“Almighty God, You crown the fields with Your blessing and permit us to gather in the fruits of the earth. As stewards of Your creation, may we receive Your gifts in humble thankfulness and share Your bounty with those in need; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

[Collect for Harvest Observance]

November brings the conclusion of harvest time in much of our nation. The combines are going through the fields, reaping the bounty of corn, soybeans, and wheat. Orchard workers are busy gathering the last of the apples from the trees. The last cuts of hay and straw are being made and stored for the winter season. For many in my former parish in Iowa, the greatness of the harvest was immediately seen: the size of the piles of corn that couldn’t make it into the grain elevators showed just how much the earth had brought forth. We all wanted to see the piles reach the sky!

The Church’s Harvest Observance readings teach several lessons. The first lesson concerns the source of our earthly blessings. What is pulled out of the earth is dependent upon more than what was put in; something much greater is at work. This is seen in the psalm: You visit the earth and water it; You greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; You provide their grain, for so You have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with Your bounty; Your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.”(Ps 65:9-13) The Lord’s hand makes the harvest possible. Without His effort, the entire agricultural enterprise is in vain.

The Psalmist’s statements about dependence upon the Lord’s giving are echoed in the Collect: “Almighty God, You crown the fields with Your blessing and permit us to gather in the fruits of the earth.” Note what is confessed: the very fact that we can harvest anything is a matter of divine permission and allowance. The Lord causes the trees to bear fruit according to their kind. He blesses the growth of crops. Even though mankind has sinned and cursed the ground through that sin, the Lord still grants His blessing, so that we may harvest and live. The busy reapers, pickers, and balers are all evidence of divine, providential graciousness.

But the Lord gives more than provisions for earthly living. He has a greater blessing to give. In fact, the Psalmist confesses that truth before he speaks of the Lord’s work in nature. Psalm 65 begins with a statement about adoration that is due the Lord: Praise is due to You, O God, in Zion, and to You shall vows be performed. O You who hears prayer, to You shall all flesh come.”(Ps 65:1-2) Yet, the Psalmist gives a reason that has nothing to do with fields or flocks. No, it is something deeper: “When iniquities prevail against me, You atone for our transgressions. Blessed is the one You choose and bring near, to dwell in Your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, the holiness of Your temple!”(Ps 65:3-4) Praise is due the Lord because He deals graciously with the problem of sin.

The Psalmist’s statements show that the Lord is more than some sort of cosmic gardener who can manipulate the sun, soil, and seasons to bring forth food in season. While that is true, the Psalmist confesses the greater truth: the Lord works to supply what is needed for everlasting life. That makes Him trustworthy for now and for eternity. His supplying of what is needed for this body and life gives a track record for us to look at. The Lord’s ability to convert seed, sun, and water into sustenance for us and all mankind is evidence of that He can provide the other things that we truly need. That is the second lesson to be drawn.

The Harvest Observance is meant to direct our minds to what the Lord provides for our bodies and, more importantly, our souls. Too much focus on the temporal will cause us to miss the eternal. That warning is given by Jesus in the Gospel Reading: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”(Lk 12:15) The sheer folly of that man is seen in Jesus’ Parable of the Foolish Rich Farmer: “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’”(Lk 12:20) Jesus’ depiction of that foolish man shows that focusing only on earthly blessings and putting all the trust in them causes a bad end. So Jesus concludes with the statement: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.(Lk 12:21)

The reality that the Lord provides for both this life and the next allows us to be generous in this life. Because the Lord has atoned for our sins and established an eternal dwelling place for us, we know that our future truly is secure. Until that time when we come to the eternity that has been marked for us, we can spend our time on earth using our earthly wealth for the benefit of others. That is the third lesson to be learned. The call to generosity is seen in the apostle’s words: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”(2Cor 9:6-8) The security of having sufficiency for body and soul frees us to move from concern for ourselves to concern for others.

As harvest time draws to a close, you will have opportunities to act on these three lessons. Collections for many different groups will be happening this month and next. Pledge cards for next year’s offerings will be distributed. The Lord answers the Harvest Observance prayer: “As stewards of Your creation, may we receive Your gifts in humble thankfulness and share Your bounty with those in need.” But more importantly, there will be opportunities to make known your hope in the eternal provision. For He does just as the Psalmist declares: “By awesome deeds You answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.”(Ps 65:5) Speaking of Christ’s work for you, others may share in the greatest possessions: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

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