Sermon on Psalm 147:1, 7-14; Matthew 13:3-9, 18-30; John 4:34-38; and Revelation 14:14-15. Delivered 28 September 2014 at Pequea Evangelical Congregational Church.
Year after year, we and our neighbors sow seeds into the soil beneath our feet – an act of faith in the regularities of God's providence in nature, and in his willingness to bless us with enough to survive. And year after year, by God's blessing, we reap a harvest. Some years, the harvest is sparse. Other years, the harvest is abundant. So far as I've heard, this year is quite fine: a good harvest, a satisfying harvest, a harvest worth celebrating. So as we celebrate the Harvest Home, we thank the Lord our God for the fruitfulness of our labor, and for the practical wisdom that comes from his Wisdom, Jesus Christ, and for the Holy Spirit who always bears righteous fruit whenever he's sown in the human heart.
The Old Testament knows of various harvest festivals – some for the grain harvest earlier in the year, some (like the Feast of Tabernacles) for the other harvests later in the year. Leviticus 23 outlines all of them, and in speaking of the Feast of Weeks, otherwise known as Shavuot or Pentecost, God reminds the Israelites to take extra care not to divorce the joys of harvest from the urgency of love. The farmers were to leave the edges of their crops unharvested and forget all about the dropped portions, so that those without farmland could come to glean. A portion of every field was reserved for the needy, and Deuteronomy 14 shows us that one of the three Old Testament tithes was specifically to replenish the town food bank for the sake of those very same disadvantaged groups.
Today, we celebrate the Harvest Home, one of our modern harvest festivals alongside Thanksgiving. The same spirit of Leviticus and Deuteronomy is alive and well here at Pequea, amen? We know that joy and love go together in the harvest. We know that God doesn't bless us just for our own selves. He blesses us to bless others. And from the bounty that God gives us, we find ways to pour more blessings to those in need, through cooperation with ministries like Jars of Hope Food Pantry. Today we celebrate! Today we rejoice! Today is Harvest Home, and we honor God as the Lord of the Harvest, the God of grace – and great is his faithfulness. Whenever the Bible speaks of the harvesting of crops, this perspective – uniting gratitude and grace – is abundantly clear.
But the Holy Scripture speaks also of another type of harvest, one not administered by mortal hands. We see it in the Parable of the Weeds, for which the Parable of the Soils sets the stage. The good news of Christ Jesus is the seed for kingdom wheat – but will it find receptive ground? Will it find soil too stony to grant it entry at all, or soil so shallow it cannot resist the trials of the heat of life, or soil too preoccupied with the thorns and thistles of worldly prosperity? Or will it find soil devoted alone to it, soil deep and rich and fertile for the kingdom's growth? Only then will it bear fruit – thirty times, sixty times, a hundred times over, a yield fit for the kingdom of God. What has it found in your heart? In your neighbor's heart, in your brother's and sister's heart, in your wife's or your husband's heart, in your son's and your daughter's heart? Do their hearts need plowing, fertilizing, and weeding as the gospel-seed is scattered anew? Take heart: the Spirit is at work in mighty and mightily surprising ways, and the prayers of God's saints here may avail much. Here, in this story, the evangelistic ministry is planting the gospel seed, and the discipling ministry of preaching and teaching and loving is tending mercifully to the crop – but as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, even in the best soil and under the best farmers' and gardeners' care, all praise and thanks for the growth goes to God alone.
But the Parable of the Weeds – now there's a new complication. Before, in the Parable of the Soils, the thorny weeds were a pre-existing condition, afflicting the growth of the kingdom within each heart. Here, the weed is of a different sort: a counterfeit and competitor within the community, within the church. False wheat. Poison darnel, the infamous 'tare'. Looks almost just like the wheat, until the wheat and darnel ripen and make manifest what they each truly are. In this age, the kingdom-field grows both: true wheat, the sincere believers, and false wheat, growing in the same place, going to the same building, putting food on the table at the same potlucks, listening and teaching in the same classes – but grown, not from gospel-seed, but from another kind.
Are there tares in this sanctuary right now? Are there tares on our membership rolls? I don't know. I hope not, I pray not, but I don't know. To a great extent, I can't know; if I minister seventy years here, I still may never know, at least not perfectly – that's the point. The wheat and the tares grow side by side until they ripen and make manifest what they each truly are – “by their fruits, ye shall know them” – at the time of the harvest, the great Harvest-Home of God. Did we not just sing, “Even so, Lord, quickly come / to Thy final harvest-home”? At the great Harvest-Home of God, the Judgment of the Last Day, the tares, which proved to not belong to the gospel-seed, receive judgment in the Lord's fire; but the wheat, the true and fruitful wheat, find salvation in the Lord's barn, a mighty refuge in troubled times.
This salvation here is the resurrection to glory, a resurrection of which Jesus Christ is the firstfruits, presented holy to God, as Paul makes plain in 1 Corinthians 15:20: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep”, and as it continues, those who belong to him will be made alive when he comes, and then he will destroy all dominion and authority and power that sets itself up against the kingdom of our God – for the tares and their devilish sower shall be no more. And on that Day, Christ is not just the firstfruits – no, he holds also the sickle, the sharp sickle to lead the reaping of judgment, either for destruction or for salvation. How near is that Day? How near is the Great Harvest of Heaven and Earth? It could be noon today. It could be next Friday. It could be next year. It could be in 2020, or 2040, or yet a thousand years hence. We don't know that any more than we can pick out a tare from wheat on sight.
But until that day, the Bible speaks of one more harvest. The great Harvest to come yields final salvation through resurrection and glorification, but the harvest before us now is the evangelistic harvest, which yields initial salvation to be confirmed later in the Judgment-Harvest. Jesus himself urges us to look at the fields around us. Look at the white fields of White Horse! Look at the fields of Gap, of Intercourse, of Blue Ball, of New Holland, of Gordonville, of Honey Brook, of all the land (named and unnamed) around us! God has been at work in this land, in this township, in this county. God is no absentee! He is present, he is vibrant, he is preparing these fields for harvest – so much so that the workers are too few. There's more harvesting to be done than harvesters actively doing it! So, says Jesus, pray that the Lord of the Harvest would send more workers for the harvest. We are those workers, we are called! Are we harvesting? Do we see, do we behold the ripeness of the fields around us?
In this season, we celebrate with thanksgiving as we and our neighbors harvest the crops of their fields, sown by human hand, tended by human hand, but grown and blessed by God. We have much to be thankful for. But as we harvest the crops of our fields, or as we see the large combines at work, or as we see the crop acreage shrink and shrink as the corn and tobacco come in sector by sector, don't leave your thoughts at a mere earthly level. These times were appointed for more than that. Think also of the work set before us – not merely to bring in the crops, but to bring the lost and ready, once they're ripe, to Jesus: a “crop of eternal life”. The harvest is here, there's reaping to be done, so let's go forth and gather, bringing in the sheaves of souls for the High-Priestly Son to wave before God the Father on high. And the Harvest-Home of God is coming – maybe far, but maybe near, and always nearby.
Even so, Lord, quickly come / to Thy final harvest-home;
Gather thou thy people in, / free from sorrow, free from sin;
There, forever purified, / in thy presence to abide:
Come, with all thine angels, come, / raise the glorious harvest home. Amen.