Thought for the Week – Harvest 2020 by Rev Gayle Taylor

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Malachi 3 v 10

Harvest is, of course, a farmer’s busiest time of year. To harvest means to gather and if you drive past any of the fields in Midlothian just now you will see the round hay bales safely gathered in. The church, traditionally in rural parishes, had huge celebratory services of thanksgiving for their local farm folk where families acknowledged the hard work of those who farmed the land and where the farming families brought their “first fruits” to the church as an offering back to God. In my first parish I have many fond memories of going round all the farms at the end of September to check with the farmers that “all was safely gathered in” so that we knew we could have the Harvest Service in October! Then a dedicated team would decorate the church with autumn flowers and fruit and the communion table would be covered with first fruits – food given by our farmers: some wheat, some eggs, some milk, even some sausages and beef! It was quite tricky conducting the service around these things!

Things vary from parish to parish and also evolve over the years. In Newbattle, we may be a little less directly connected to the farming side of things but the food theme of harvest is very present in The Newbattle Storehouse Foodbank which is one of the key outreach arms of the church to our parish.

Throughout the month of October, this year’s Harvest Thanksgiving Season in Newbattle will, as ever, be an opportunity for us to think about where our food comes from and to give thanks for those who produce it. It’s also an opportunity for us to share from our plenty with those who do not have enough not just through our Storehouse Foodbank as well as through the church’s benevolent fund to those in particular hardship and also in the support for the church buildings and ministry costs that enable our contact with all people throughout the year who need support with their mental and spiritual well being.

2020 has been a year of great transition and adaptation due to a new Transition Ministry taking root and of course with the circumstances of Covid 19. Therefore, the traditional practice of bringing a harvest gift of food to church is not going to be happening this year but this year, more than ever we are invited to celebrate Harvest throughout October in the following way – I’ve tried to make it simple and memorable with 3 G’s:

Gather – as the farmers and food producers gather their harvest for the feeding of families throughout the world, we will gather in the church for a Harvest Thanksgiving Service at Mayfield and Easthouses at 11am this Sunday (4th October) for the first time on a Sunday since March this year (for Coronavirus safety reasons you must have booked a seat through the church office). This service will also be livestreamed so that we are gathering with people at home too.

Gratitude – According to Leviticus 27:30, “A tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain or fruit, is the Lord’s, and is holy.” We acknowledge where every gift we have comes from and also take time to appreciate those who give of themselves to work the land and sea, the factories and shops to make food available to us. We also recognise and pray for the work of our Storehouse Foodbank and so many other food projects across the UK at this time, who are meeting the needs caused by an increase in food hunger and poverty. During the Covid 19 crisis, the foodbanks have received funding from the Government for food and therefore do not need the usual donations handed in at churches at Harvest in the way they have in previous years. We ask this year for people to be aware and to pray for our Kirk Session Foodbank Working Group and volunteers this harvest time.

Give – We may not be bringing tins and packets of food to church this Harvest but we will still be encouraged to give. Proverbs 3:9 (NIV) says, “Honour the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” You might think that the farming or gardening metaphors don’t apply to you, but these verses are essentially saying to give a portion, specifically a tenth, of whatever you make (and most of us make an income) back to God. And firstfruits is just a biblical way of saying that you should give first—before you do anything else with your money. Share from your plenty with those who do not have enough.

There will be a harvest offering plate at the church on Sunday, this will be the first Sunday offering uplifted in over 6 months in what has been an unprecedented time of financial crisis for the Church of Scotland. There is also now a “donate button” on the church website for people who are not coming to church to give online if they can. Giving to keep the church working enables us to house and administer our Storehouse foodbank, produce our weekly worship, provide pastoral care for those who are unwell, isolated and bereaved, reach out in partnership with community groups and initiatives and to reopen and develop our buildings for the ever changing landscape of interaction in society.

Our giving throughout October begins with congregational giving this Sunday but then we will give Harvest cards and autumn soup to members of all our older groups such as the Guild and Newtongrange Friendship Group and anyone living alone. I will be sharing in Harvest assemblies with Newtongrange and Lawfield schools on zoom and sharing the Harvest message as well as sharing soup and clothes at Lawfield at an outdoor table where we will connect with some families in the school in greatest need. I would also encourage you to be mindful when you are shopping. As we remember where our food comes from, please buy Fairtrade goods where and when you can to support food producers throughout our world in earning a fair wage to be able to feed their families and be able to send them to school.

So, GATHER, GRATITUDE, GIVE……..more, not less, to do this Harvest and we do it together for the whole season in this month of October.

This week’s prayer:

How can I do one thing this week to begin my harvest celebration and offering?

This week’s music:

Thought for the Week – The Pearl by Rev Gayle Taylor

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. Matthew 13 v 44-46

What do you most treasure? Perhaps a family heirloom, a childhood toy or blanket, a photograph of a special occasion. Of course, if we’re not talking about material things, then most of us would say we treasure our family and friends. Yet for all sorts of reasons, it is also true that many people do not treasure family and friends and in turn are not treasured by them but find relationships strained and complex, abusive and harmful and at times surface level and unsatisfying. There can sometimes be a dynamic in a relationship that is unequal and insecure.

I read a story recently about an 18 year boy, who grew up without a father and was full of doubt and aggression. The boy started at college and when he got there he was appointed a tutor who he had heard many things about and whose books he was familiar with. Anxious and shamed by the tutor’s confidence and ability, at their first meeting, the young man was very guarded and nervous until the tutor said “you work at the coffee shop don’t you, well, whenever we start our tutorials, I want you to tell me about your work that day.” And in a  moment, the young man thought to himself “I can do that.” That’s what he did and over time he felt it levelled the playing field. . . . Just two men sitting in a room, talking about daily work. And his tutor eventually became a father figure for him.

As a counsellor, a minister and as a person, I have noticed over the years, that it is true for all humans that when you risk sharing what hurts the most, what you are most worried or ashamed about, in the presence of someone you deeply trust then transformation comes at a deep level. Father Richard Rohr says that when you share with someone “who will not invade you or abandon you, you can learn not to invade or abandon yourself.” How often in relationships at work, at school, even with family and friends, do we feel invaded and abandoned? These are powerful, emotive words – invaded and abandoned. At a deep, spiritual level within yourself, when you risk sharing what hurts the most in the presence of someone who will not invade you or abandon you, you can discover within yourself what Jesus called the pearl of great value [Matthew 13:46], your invincible preciousness in the midst of your fragility. This is our core, our God known and loved self.

We can start by naming these hurts and hidden parts to ourselves, in the centre of God’s trusted presence, in prayer.

When we can get in touch with this core of our humanity, we are also at the intersection of spirituality that gives us the courage to face the most broken and lost places within ourselves, believing we will not be invaded (hurt and abused) or abandoned (left unsupported and unmet) by God, our creator who accepts us as we are and sustains us in that brokenness. When we can connect with this acceptance from God in our vulnerability, by learning to be this way ourselves, we can pass it on to others. We can be someone in whose presence it’s safe to be vulnerable and to be open, and truly courageous and strong and powerful, as Jesus was strong and powerful, in the truest, deepest sense of the word – the wounded healer.

This Week’s Prayer and Music (listen and hear these words in a new way):