I grew up on a farm, and I am forever thankful for it; on the farm, you were always aware of the changing seasons. From putting cattle out in spring to trying to help Granddad pick potatoes, and everything else from his garden in the shadow of winter. Harvest is something I am well used to, especially growing up in a rural Church of Ireland; it felt almost as big as Christmas as the Choir practised their harvest anthems, the church was busily decorated, and people who hardly ever came pilled in! Then all of a sudden, the church was full of Colour and Life. As I watched my family work the land, or as I saw the church being decorated, the lesson from no age was clear: What you put in is what you get out.
A few Years ago, I was in Senegal, West Africa; we had spent about a week in a village called Mbane (just off the border with Mauritian). The aridest, dry and desolate place I had been to, it was hard to get anything to grow there; even though the village was located on the shores of the ‘Red Lake’, the land was unforgiving and uncompromising. These farmers labourer every day in 40 degrees heat because they had to: They were sowing that day, hoping that tomorrow would bring something to reap, in conditions that we would not want to holiday in, yet they made every effort because they knew that they could take nothing out without putting something in. That necessary labouring towards the harvest is for us the picture of the “Spiritual harvest” that every disciple and Church is called to, as John Stott put it:
“We are sent into the world, like Jesus, to serve. For this is the natural expression of our love for our neighbours. We love. We go. We serve.”
The logic of the soil is the logic of the Christian life and mission: What you put in is what you get out. We must sow, invest, work and then tend to the fields, and when the time comes, we must Harvest. We do this because, in Christ, we have received the blessing of faith, so we go to the spiritual fields in the power of the Spirit not to prove ourselves but in worship and love so that others too might know the wonder of his love. We cannot truly be converted to Christ without being converted to the cause of loving and serving our neighbours in the Spiritual Harvest.
1. ALL SOWING IS UNDER GOD (7)
In 1782, a German Lutheran Pastor released a Hymn themed around harvest; it came to our lands in the 1860s after it was translated into English by Jane M. Campbell – “We Plough the Fields and Scatter.” Although I might argue it is oversung, there is a great depth and beauty in the simplicity of its tune and all the truths it teaches us about the reality of humanities life and toils on this earth. Summed up in the beautiful refrain:
“All Good Gifts Around us are sent from heaven above.”
No matter the toils, efforts, and works of human endeavour to make or create something for themselves, it is never simply by their effort (even if they think it is). We might “plough the fields and scatter the good seeds on the land, but it is feed and watered by God’s almighty hand.” Every good gift we receive in life and faith is a gift from God; that freeing truth is what Paul teaches in the first verse of our short reading from Galatians 6. Our life will produce the fruit of what we sow into it, but all of it is ordered by God. Thus we cannot hide the fruits of our lives from God. As Eugene Peterson paraphrased it: “Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God.” So what does this mean for us as a Disciple of Jesus and a church: that we must be aware of the logic of the soil as we live our lives; we must ponder before God what are we sowing and what fruit are we bearing. As Paul puts it “whatever a person sows he will also reap,”1 and God as the one who orders all things, knows exactly what our life is producing. That is to saw the law of the harvest applies not only to our call as disciples/church but how we live our lives; if we claim to follow Jesus as Lord, then our lives must produce a crop in keeping with the Kingdom of God, and we cannot fool God otherwise. Thus, as we ponder the Harvest of the Land, we must consider the content of our lives because what we reap points to what we are sowing.
2. THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS (8)
In the section before this passage, Paul had been teaching the Church about the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the gathered disciples. It is out working that basic law of the Harvest; our lives will produce fruit according to how we live: You reap what you sow. People who live the power of the Holy Spirit will naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In contrast to that: Those who sow by the flesh – Life without God – will ultimately reap the fruit of the world – Death. This is nothing new as it was Jesus who warned all listening: “By their fruit, you will recognise them.”2 Paul is building on the teaching of Jesus by reminding all that the produce of our lives will shows the belonging of our hearts. It is the natural way of things: if you want to know someone, then look at how they are sowing and harvesting.
If I plant a field of potatoes and tend to it faithfully throughout the seasons, I will hardly expect carrots when the time comes. Consider if I planted a crop of tomatoes in my greenhouse, with the intent of looking after them so they would bear good fruit, but I soon get distracted by other things and forget my tomatoes! Then, I remember my crop and come to harvest them: I can hardly be surprised if the tomatoes have withered and died? The fruit of our lives is produced naturally, but it also requires tending, which we will do because of what Christ has done for us. James, teaching about the dangers of the tongue, uses the same logic:
“Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.“
A field will only produce from the seed sown; a tree will only grow one fruit, and a human will produce the harvest to which their heartbeats. What will be the harvest of our lives? If your heart is motivated by the world, our lives will produce its fruit now and reap the ultimate harvest – separation from God. The strength of Pauls imagery here is because of the eternal significance of our harvest. Our fruit points to what we hope in, and without the certain hope of the resurrection, then we will have a hopeless eternity outside the Love of God. Yet, the beauty of Grace means that the gift of eternal life we receive from sowing in the Holy Spirit comes from the Holy Spirit; it’s all grace and has nothing to do with us. It is not about how much we get done or the quality, simply that we belong and delightfully obey. Thus, the evidence of our belonging is the fruit of the Spirit, but the result (final harvest) of it is eternal life; God empowers us for the work of the harvest because of Grace and then rewards us from the Spirit through Grace. Fruitfulness is a natural result of life in Christ, and we get to enjoy the harvest and the spoils!
3. The Privilege and Opportunity of the Christian Harvest (9-10)
Paul is all about Grace; he was saved by Grace, and he wants others to know the transforming beauty of Christ. Yet, it is not a ‘cheap Grace’ that requires nothing from us but transforming Grace that compels us out of gratitude and love to act. Grace is not an excuse from Gospel-work; it is an excuse for Gospel-Work. Disciples must not grow lazy in grace. The Gospel demands that we incarnate it by our deeds so that others may know the wonder of Christ.
3.1 The time is coming (9)
If you consider the life of a farmer, you soon realise it’s not a 9 to 5 job; it is a lifestyle – it is a vocation. A farmer is committed to his farm because it is their life: even when they are weary, they get up and do it if something needs to be done. In the middle of December, with a blizzard blowing, a good farmer will go out and do what needs to be done because they know that if they put the hard work in, they will reap the reward when the time is right to harvest.
As disciples/followers of Jesus, we are “Spiritual Famers,” and at times, we can suffer the same effects of life, growing weary or disheartened because of a lack of visible fruit. Often in the church or our own living out of the Great Commission, we have been slogging away for years, praying and working towards something with little sign of the harvest coming. We can naturally start to lose heart and grow weary in the spirit. Paul commends the Galatians who are tired in their spiritual sowing (and all after them) to never lose heart because the timing is not ours but Gods! When the time is right, God will bring forth the fruits of our labour, we might not see it, but someday, the Kingdom, we benefit from it! It is all in God’s hand as the hymn reminds us: “He only is the maker of all things near and far.” Today, we must not lose heart; even in covid, we must continue the work of the Harvest and trust that God will bring forth produce in his own time. The time for action is now.
“If you are too lazy to plow, then you should never expect a harvest.
– Proverbs 20:4
3.2 THE TIME IS NOW (10)
How do we not lose heart? By fixing our eyes on the beauty and certainty of the harvest to come. Yet, while we look to the future, we live now! Now is our time to do Good to all, especially those in the household of faith: How we live out the call of the Harvest matters. We live as Christ lived, taking advantage of every opportunity to do good to all people – literally everyone with whom we interact. This does not need a lot of explaining; it is a gospel response to the love of Jesus: we loved because he first loved us. As CS Lewis would put it: “What we practise, not (save at rare intervals) what we preach, is usually our great contribution to the conversion of others.” When we live as Christ in the call of the Spirit harvest, others will see the beauty of God and come to know the wonder of our Gospel hope. Additionally, we delight in showing love to the family of believers that is every Christians in every corner of the earth, not just the ones we like because “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”3
Conclusion: Now is the Time to Sow & Reap
Today, as we give thanks for the harvest and those who work the lands, we are challenged by their examples to consider our own lives as we consider what our hope is in and what fruit we are producing? If we are Disciples, then let us get on with our own work, trusting that as we live as Christ in the power of the Spirit: persevering, serving, and doing good to all that God will ready the Spiritual harvest when the time is right. We sow today in the Spirit, preparing tomorrows harvest. And if the produce of our lives is contrary to the fruit of the Spirit, then perhaps its time to admit our own weakness in light of eternity, accept the Grace of God in our lives and rest on the assurance of Christ’s victory on the Cross, so we to can join in the work of the Great Commission now to reap the wonder of the harvest to come.