Sermon for Harvest Sunday, 3 October 2021
By Revd George Mwaura
Ecclesiastes 11: 1–6
Invest in Many Ventures
1 Ship your grain across the sea;
after many days you may receive a return.
2 Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
3 If clouds are full of water,
they pour rain on the earth.
Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where it falls, there it will lie.
4 Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
5 As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things.
6 Sow your seed in the morning,
and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
whether this or that,
or whether both will do equally well.
In spite of the weather
The Ecclesiastes reading paints for us a vivid picture of a farmer in first-century Palestine. Try and visualise him going out early one morning during planting time. He looks up at the clouds moving quickly across the sky, and the trees all around him bending to the force of the wind. ‘No,’ he decides, ‘I will not begin the planting today, the wind is too strong; the seeds will be scattered and wasted.’ However, the next day is the same, and the next and the next, until the planting season is over.
Now, picture the same farmer the following year. This time, however, he has been able to plant a good crop of wheat and it is ready for harvest. He looks up the sky and sees the clouds are dark and threatening. ‘No,’ he decides, ‘it is not a good day to start harvesting. I will wait.’ And so he does. Day after day and in the end, there is nothing left to harvest, as the rains have destroyed all the grains. Surely, any farmer who behaves likes this would never plant or harvest! The writer of Ecclesiastes is, of course, exaggerating, and so we should not take this passage too literally. He is not suggesting that you go out and sow seeds in a storm or start your harvest in a thunderstorm. Oh no! His message is about the foolishness of indecision and procrastination. More to the point, this message is not aimed at the farmers of Middle East or of rural England. Nope: it is aimed at you and me.
We are in the season of harvest, and during this time we remember and give thanks for God’s goodness and the variety of the produce of the earth. But God has given us more than just fruits from the earth. He has given us minds, wills, and characters to cultivate; in short, a life to be lived. Each one of us has their little farm to tend to, so to speak. I wonder what use are you making of the gifts God has given you. How productive is your allotment patch? Collectively, as the world, we have been terribly guilty of procrastination and foolishness when it comes to the care of the planet and the management of its resources.
Too many of us are like the man pictured by the writer of Ecclesiastes. So conscious of the winds that blow violently upon us, and the clouds that threaten us with disaster, that we plant little and harvest less. Yes, I am fully aware that we do have to cultivate our little farms in unfavourable circumstances. That we live in a less ideal world, where many things may hurt and upset us. We all have fears, worries and temptations to fight and overcome, but the worst thing you can do is to indulge in self-pity. A common lame complaint of our time goes like this: ‘Oh, if only I had the chance and opportunities they had,’ or: ‘Oh, if only I had their brains, looks and money., What utter nonsense!
In my opinion, self-pity should be branded as a cardinal sin! Nothing destroys character more than self-pity. Remember, we are all handicapped in some way or another, and our handicaps are the challenges we face daily. Here is my advice: every time you feel discouraged to the point of giving up, may I suggest that you read the stories of those spiritual and moral giants we love so much. John Milton went completely blind in 1652 and had to dictate Paradise Lost to his daughter. Beethoven was deaf for the last seventeen years of his life and could not hear a note of his favourite compositions. The apostle Paul was a physically weak man who was always beaten, stoned and thrown into prison. During these trials, and despite the gathering clouds around him, he wrote letters of counsel, guidance and laid the foundations of the modern church. Paul and those I mentioned before were never scared of the weather reports. No mam/sir!
Alternatively, consider Jesus himself. Called from a carpenter’s shop in a remote village with a dodgy reputation. But it is there where he had his small farm. And there, facing the winds of the Pharisees’ scorn and the clouds of popular misunderstanding, he planted seeds that have produced bumper harvest century after century! Last time I checked, there were 3 billion Christians and counting! Jesus did not seek a bigger or better farm to work on. He did not covet the powers of Caesar or envy the authority of the Pharisees. Nope! Instead, he used his gifts and humbleness to plant the seeds of the Church we find ourselves in today. He accepted the limitations he faced, but did not allow the winds and the clouds to deter him from planting. When Peter tried to slow him down, he said to him, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’
How about us here at the Church of Christ the Cornerstone? When we analyse our narrative, what do we see? The dark rain clouds have been hovering over the skyline of our church for far too long. They have paralyzed us and left us wallowing in the glory of what this church was thirty years ago and what it could have been. Now, we have a wonderful opportunity, through the Oasis of Hope road map, to wake up from this self-induced slumber. To wake up and hurry to plant the fields in Campbell Park, in the City Centre and all the other fields that God has given us. We can, of course, do nothing, like the farmer in our text, which is one of the commonest ways of dealing with challenges. The question is, ‘Are we going to sit comfortably in the shelter of this iconic building because the clouds are gathering furiously, or do we have some dynamic faith in God propelling us to the city farm to plant despite the weather?’
Look around you, folks. The world is full of challenged people who find life so hard to navigate because they have nothing to anchor their faith in. And faith, ladies and gentlemen, is not telling yourself all is well; oh no! Faith is getting in touch with the deep and dynamic resource of eternal power. We like saying sometimes that we are the victims of circumstances. This sounds OK and serves to shift the responsibility on to something or someone else. In many cases, however, this is a cover-up for our inability to face up to reality. When we see only the odds against us, we lack the faith to see both God’s power and purpose. Too often, we dream of what might have been; blaming the wind and clouds for the fact that those dreams never bore any fruits. Life, my dear friends is full of opportunities and the only thing behind us is the past. The future is before us, with all the possibilities that God can make available, if only you will get out of your comfort zone and go out and plant. And when the crop is ready, go out and harvest in Jesus’ name!