Thought for Sunday 17th October 2021

This week is our harvest thought written by Louise Hampson.

Harvest

When I was a child, growing up in a north London suburb, harvest festival at home meant a trip to the greengrocer to acquire two cardboard baskets, white on the outside, purple on the inside with an aluminium handle, which had once held mushrooms. These were then filled with scrunched up tissue paper into which were nestled tins of cling peaches, rice pudding, soup and packets of dried goods, maybe a small 1lb bag of flour. These would be taken to school and church respectively before being distributed to ‘poor old people’. Fresh produce was not encouraged as it would go off before distribution. The church would be decorated with a few apples, the obligatory marrows and lots of chrysanthemums. A loaf in the shape of a sheaf of corn, baked long ago and preserved forever with varnish, would be stood against the altar steps.

However, if it coincided with a visit to my grandparents in the country, it was a wholly different affair! Burgeoning displays of produce would spill from windowsills and altar steps. Jars of home-made jam and bottles of homemade (lethal) wine would be lined up with the same pride that had been demonstrated earlier at the produce show – some would still have their prize cards attached! There was a tangible sense of people bringing the fruits of their labours and celebrating a successful year and in the evening, there would be the harvest supper in the village hall.

Two very different expressions of harvest, reflecting two very different experiences of connections with food. Many people have little or no idea of how or where their food is produced, or the impact that the relentless pressure for food to be produced intensively and ever-more cheaply is having on the environment and on the farmers who produce it. In the last year, many people have made their first ever attempt to grow something they could eat, fuelled partly by boredom but partly by an awareness thanks to empty shelves and the bizarre disappearance of flour, that access to bountiful supplies of food is not something we can simply take for granted.  Our supermarket-driven culture has encouraged many people to expect to be able to buy whatever foodstuff they want at any time of year and often at a low cost. The impact on shops of the pandemic and a growing awareness of the cost to our planet of such practices, whether it is green beans flown in from Kenya or intensively-farmed meat from South America has led many people to be more aware of where their food comes from and reflect on their buying choices. But we are a lot of people on a small planet and there are millions for whom such choices are a luxury they could only dream of having – their daily concern is having anything to eat at all.

The Bible is extremely clear: we are stewards of the earth, guardians of a creation provided by for us by God, not children in a sweet shop who can run amok. We have a responsibility to share God’s bounty fairly and to care for the poor and for the earth which we all share. If we are greedy, if we hoard and behave as if the earth is ours to pillage and destroy, we are heading for disaster. God will and does provide, but only if we give of ourselves and listen to his words. For all our technical wizardry we cannot make sunshine or make water. We cannot prevent a burning heatwave or stop the course of a flood. We can tinker with the genetics of a grain of wheat, but we can’t make one from scratch. We are reliant on God’s generous creation just as much today as we ever were, but we too often suffer from hubris, forgetting how fragile that creation is and how little we still understand about how the complex ecosystems around our planet are interconnected. As a country, we throw away tonnes of food each day while people here and abroad have too little to eat and suffer from malnutrition. The widow gave all that she had.

Let the fruits of this harvest be that we start to change things for the better, to live God’s word, to be the workers in His vineyard and to bring his Kingdom on earth. Amen