Sermon for 3 October 2010
Deuteronomy 8: 7-18
Harvest Thanksgiving in our part of our world is a festival of apples and pumpkins and roasted turkey. That is the tradition of our region of North America. For generations, Canadians and Americans were dependent of the land for food. The outcome of the harvest determined survival. The bounty of the harvest was celebrated by bringing samples of the fall crops to decorate the local churches. This is what we do every year. It is a tradition of thanks and of celebration. It is also a Biblical ritual.
The ancient Hebrew people were required to bring an offering of the Harvest to the Temple in thanksgiving to God. They believed that the land was a gift from God, and whatever the land yielded as food and foliage was a blessing from God.
In our reading from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people:
“The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing…”
At the time of the harvest, there was a great festival called the Feast of Tabernacles, which lasted for seven days. Families travelled long distances to Jerusalem to pray in the Holy Temple and to offer a symbol of their harvest to God. Outside the city, they built huts made of bulrushes or tree branches and covered them with palm leaves or twigs of myrtle. These fragile huts or booths were reminders of the dwellings the Hebrew people made in the desert when they wandered for forty years after the Exodus from Egypt. The roofs of these dwellings always were sufficiently open so that God’s heaven could be seen.
The Feast of Tabernacles also was called the Feast of Ingathering and the booths were decorated with samples of the fall crops to acknowledge God’s faithfulness in providing food for the people. During the seven days of the festival, the family ate their meals in the booth. Everyday they read passages from the Torah, the five books of Moses, and they recited prayers of thanksgiving for God’s many blessings.
At the end of the festival, a pitcher of water was poured over the altar of the Temple to remember God’s blessing of life-giving water, and to pray that the rains would come to water the seeds for the next planting season. The Feast of Tabernacles became one of the most important religious festivals of the Hebrew people. It was a time of family gathering and always a time of thanks to God for the wonders of creation. Centuries later, the Feast of Tabernacles is celebrated by Jewish people around the world. Some families build temporary booths of various materials in the backyard, and always there are symbols of the harvest. Families living in apartments or condominiums celebrate with decorations and feasts. Whatever traditions are chosen to celebrate the festival, the central purpose is thanksgiving to God for blessings, for food, for families, for friends and for faith in God’s care of the future.
As Christians we have adapted the Feast of Tabernacles to our own customs and cultures. We gather our grain, vegetables, fruits and foliage according to our regional seasons and offer our thanks to God for the bounty of the land. For many of us, our connection to the land is our small gardens, or our memories of the farms of our parents or grandparents. Much farmland now is paved over as city streets and suburban developments, but there is something in our human psyches, which reminds us that we are tied to the land. So we drive out of the city to see the autumn colours. We stop at a roadside booth to buy fruit and vegetables from a farming family. We make preserves of pickles and chili sauce and grape jelly. We do all of those things because something in our souls tells us that this is the good life. The good life is connected to God’s creation.
In recent years, we have been encouraged, even urged, to be in harmony with the natural world. We have become increasingly aware of the need to care for the natural resources of the earth. The fragility of the environment is revealed at every harvest time. It has always been that way, for the ancient people of the Bible, and for people today in our technological world. We still need the right amount of rain, the right amount of sunshine and the right amount of rich earth to make a harvest.
Our ancient Hebrew ancestors understood the natural environment as God’s blessing more readily than we do, but even they needed a cautionary warning sometimes. We read in our scripture passage a warning from Moses to the people:
“When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them…and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God…”
The words of Moses are as true today as they were thousands of years ago. In our land, we may not grow pomegranates or olive trees, but we are a land of flowing streams, a land that produces abundant crops, which Moses could never have imagined, but we often forget the Lord our God. We forget to give thanks for the miracles of God’s creation, for tiny seeds which grow into corn stalks and pumpkins, for carrots and potatoes which grow in the silent earth, for trees which blossom in the spring and drop apples in the fall.
If we remember the gratitude we owe the Lord our
god, then we will remember God’s commandment to care for our neighbours. In our parish, we try to honour God’s generosity by sharing food with others through St. Matthew’s House, Partnership West and through our Food for Life program, and there are more opportunities to provide food in our community.
Today we do not forget the Lord our God. We give thanks and we invite God to rejoice with us in this harvest festival.
Come, Lord of the Harvest, Lord of Rejoicing,
Come and join us in our festive celebration. Thanks be to God.