We are exploring these weeks the Sacred Harvest. This time around the completion of the harvest is very rich with meaning for our religious lives. Jesus and many of the Hebrew Prophets use themes from the harvest to teach about the Realm of God, and what it means for us to live our lives in an honest relationship with God and God’s realm.
Two weeks ago, we explored the theme of work, and what it means to approach our labor and the labor of others by the lights of the Realm of God, to be fellow workers in God’s harvest, by the scandalous economy of grace
Last week we explored death, which is a reality that is close to the surface this season of late autumn. What does it means to approach death and the fruits and the seeds of our lives in relationship with the Realm of God
And this week, we’ll look at what it means to approach the actual, literal fruits of the harvest by the lights of the Realm of God.
We can hear an answer that comes by the Prophet Moses. Moses was the great first giver of divine law, offered laws and precepts about how to organize society and conduct our lives to have an authentic relationship and alignment with the reality of God.
When the comes to the fruits of the harvest, the laws in the books of Moses – Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy – are designed to ensure that no one goes hungry.
Moses and the other Hebrew Prophets are always concerned for the groups of people in their society who don’t have power or opportunity, and so often end up being destitute and taken advantage of. So the Bible has a lot to say about caring for widows, and orphans, people from foreign lands, people who are sick, or folks who end up poor for whatever reason.
So, when it comes to the Harvest the Laws of Moses have some specific directions:
Every year, a portion of every field is to be left unharvested by the people who own the field. The edges, and whatever produce is passed over by harvesters. And anyone who is in need is then welcome to come and glean the fields. That’s every year. (Leviticus 19:9-10)
Then every three years, one tenths of the entire harvest is to be made publicly available to anyone who needs. Everyone gives one-tenth that is then put in a central public place. (Exodus 23:10-11)
And then every seven years, is a Jubilee year. There are a number of things that are supposed to happen in a Jubilee year. The most dramatic, I think, when it comes to issues of justice, is that everyone is supposed to forgive the debts that people can’t pay. (If you recall last year for Lent I focused my entire preaching around the theme of forgiveness of debts.) But for our purposes today with the harvest, Jubilee means a year of rest for the fields, when poor folks can come and harvest for themselves whatever they need. (Deuteronomy 14:28-29)
Moses says in Deuteronomy, basically: If you do everything right, if you all live according to the moral order that God wills for you, no one will be poor among you.
The point of these laws is to make sure that no one goes hungry.
But then a little later on Moses also says, again I paraphrase: We have to be honest, you probably won’t do everything right, you won’t live in alignment with these holy ways, so there will be folks who are poor among you. In that case, don’t get hardhearted. But always give or lend with a glad heart to anyone who needs.
Jesus says the same thing. John the Baptist says the same thing. Give to anyone who is in need. Period. The Apostles, the leaders of the early Jesus followers all say the same thing. In the 4th Century the great “Doctor of the Church,” Basil of Caesarea put it in very strong terms:
“It is the bread of the poor which you are holding back; it is the clothes of the naked which you are hoarding; it is the relief and liberation of the wretched which you are thwarting by burying your money away. You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.”
Now, all of this may seem like it’s addressed to people who are not themselves poor. It is in fact addressed to everyone. Of course those who have more than enough while others have less than enough are particularly convicted. But the wisdom here really is about the basic human condition, which we all are called to respond to with generosity and justice. It’s worth noting here that statistically, the folks who are most generous, who respond to others’ needs by giving the greatest proportion of what they have, are poor folks. There’s been research about this. If you get hit suddenly with big problems – medical bills, debt, eviction – you actually will fare better if you’re in a community that’s not upper class or middle class. There’s a stronger culture of people helping each other out.
That said, let’s return to this direction from Moses (again I paraphrase):
If you do everything right, if you all live according to the moral order that God wills for you, no one will be poor among you.
This is about generosity, but it also is about justice. For this reason hear often from the Hebrew Prophets that folks who are themselves poor and are suffering as such, are well within their rights, by the lights of the Realm of God, to know that there is something crooked going on, and to cry out against that, to cry out to God, to cry out for deliverance, to cry out for a more just and sane and compassionate social order.
Those cries should be loud and clear today.
If we just look at it in terms of the harvest, the situation is – no other word but insane, when it comes to the fruits of our harvest in our world today.
40% of our food in this country goes to waste.
This is a problem globally. There is so much food waste world-wide that if you take all the food that’s left to rot – good, clean, nutritious food that’s just thrown away across the world – you’ll have enough to feed four times the number of people who do not have enough to eat.
It’s a problem on every continent – every continent has tremendous food waste.
But it is the worst in North America. And it has been getting worse, on both ends of the equation. Food waste has been getting worse. While at the same time, food insecurity in our country has been getting worse.
“Food insecurity” is the comfortable way of saying:
“Folks going hungry ‘cause they’re poor.”
This isn’t just about folks not working: the working poor in our country often don’t have access to the affordable, nutritious food people need. That’s been getting worse year by year, including in Walla Walla. The people who suffer most are kids.
And this is at the same time as more and more good decent food is just getting thrown out.
So, there are plenty of folks in our day and age who are well within their rights, by the lights of the Realm of God, to know that there is something crooked going on, and to cry out against that, to cry out to God, to cry out for deliverance, to cry out for a more just and sane and compassionate social order.
I want to lift up the ways that people here have been listening.
I want to lift up and celebrate and express such gratitude for all the generosity that flows through this community of faith and through our wider community.
The farmers in our church are great about supplying the BMAC food bank with fresh produce.
There’s a “Glean Team” through Whitman College that works with farmers and literally gleans the harvest, as with the Laws of Moses, for the food bank.
We have leaders at our church within the Pantry Shelf – we heard from Gwyn Frasco earlier. Our congregation was one of the founders of Pantry Shelf, and we continue to support it as a church. That’s one of the causes the great Pancake Breakfast went to yesterday. Thank you to Heidi and our Mission and Social Concerns for doing such a great job there. And of course our Wednesday Community Lunch ministry, with the leadership of Judy & Linda & Priscilla, offers a warm nutritious meal, hospitality, good company for anyone who comes by. It’s a fun time.
In a couple of weeks, the leaders of all the soup lunches at churches around town will be gathering to work on how we can better coordinate. As it is we each take a day of the week, so there’s always something available. But we’ve been in our silos, so we’ll benefit from sharing notes and resources. (I’m calling it “The Soup Lunch Summit,” but for some reason that doesn’t seem to be catching on).
Anyhow, I could go on. We do know something of the spirit that’s expressed in the laws of Moses.
Let me just end with a few words about that Spirit:
It is a spirit, an ethic, a fundamental orientation of our being that is centered around Jubilee. This is not about charity, it’s about Jubilee. The heart of Jubilee is Grace. The urge toward radical generosity and justice expressed by the Hebrew Prophets, is an urge that comes foremost from our experience of Grace.
This is so important to us as Followers of Jesus and as Protestant Christians.
We know that it doesn’t work to seek salvation by obeying all he laws of Moses. Salvation doesn’t come through our guilt about the ways we don’t live up to it, or feeling righteousness about the ways we happen to. It’s just an entirely different realm from the realm of things we think we earn or deserve, or not.
Salvation we find through Christ is total grace. A free gift of reunion with God, of restoration of the wellness of our souls in the free and open welcome of our Creator.
When we experience this, we can see how our very beings are a radical gift, and everything we have and share are gifts as well. This opens us to a lightness about what is ours and what is yours. A spirit of generosity and a Spirit of Jubliee comes as then a natural response to our gratitude for all the gifts that God has given us. When we live out generosity and jubilee we receive are open to receiving generosity and jubilee from our Creator.
With all that in our hearts, let’s just end by receiving the wisdom from our Christian Scriptures.
The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What then should we do?”
In reply John said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
Yeshua also said to the one who had invited him [to the Sabbath meal], “When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives or rich neighbors; for they may well invite you in return, and that will be your repayment. Instead, when you have a party, invite poor people, disfigured people, the crippled, the blind! How blessed you will be that they have nothing with which to repay you! For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”