Sunday, September 28, 2014

Shaking the Trees - a Harvest Celebration



649 To Thee, O Lord, our hearts we raise

A big thank you to Shirley for gathering in requests for favourite harvest hymns.  Between our two services today we will have managed to include everyone’s requests.

Favourite harvest hymns

To thee, O Lord, our hearts we raise. William Chatterton Dix* (1837-1898). In 1862 the Convocation of Canterbury issued a form of service for harvest thanksgiving. This harvest hymn was written shortly afterwards, in 1863. It was one of six hymns added to the 1864 edition of Hymns for the Services of the Church, and for Private Devotion, the hymn book of St. Raphael’s Church, Bristol, where Dix worshipped as a youth. I

Harvest is from the Old English word hærfest, meaning "autumn".[note 1] It then came to refer to the season for reaping and gathering grain and other grown products. The full moon nearest the autumnal equinox is called the Harvest Moon.[1] So in ancient traditions Harvest Festivals were traditionally held on or near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon.

By the sixteenth century a number of customs seem to have been firmly established around the gathering of the final harvest. They include the reapers accompanying a fully laden cart; a tradition of shouting "Hooky, hooky"; and one of the foremost reapers dressing extravagantly, acting as 'lord' of the harvest and asking for money from the onlookers.

Early English settlers took the idea of harvest thanksgiving to North America. The most famous one is the harvest Thanksgiving held by the Pilgrims in 1621.

The modern British tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began in 1843, when the Reverend Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at his church at Morwenstow in Cornwall.Victorian hymns such as "We plough the fields and scatter", "Come ye thankful people, come" and "All things bright and beautiful" but also Dutch and German harvest hymns in translation helped popularise his idea of harvest festival and spread the annual custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce for the Harvest Festival service. Another early adopter of the custom as an organised part of the Church of England calendar was Rev. Piers Claughton at Elton, Huntingdonshire in or about 1854.[3]

Harvest Thanksgiving

For the rich soil of the countryside, for
the good seed, and for the green corn
springing out of the earth,
we thank you God,

and praise your holy name.

For the warm sweetness of the fertile
rain, for the hot days of ripening sun,
and for the harvest,
we thank you, O God,

and praise your holy name.

For the yield of the forests, the earth
and the sea,
we thank you O God,

and praise your holy name.

For all who work on the land, in the
mines, or on the waters, and for their
courage in days of difficulty and
we thank you O God,

and praise your holy name.

For those who work in office, shop,
factory and in transport, to meet our
needs, we thank you O God,
and praise your holy name.

For these and all your blessings we
make our harvest thanksgiving and
give you all the glory:

Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now,
and shall be for ever. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our harvest each year has a focus – part on our own mission project – for our Children’s worker and part on a world project.

This year the Olive Tree Project – the olive tree harvest inPalestine isfast approaching – Sue McLellan who joined us from Embrace the Middle Esat willbe going out to help in the planting.  The tragedy is that the harvest is very much at the heart of the conflict in Palestine and Israel – water denied, trees uprooted.  Support in planting – the simplest of gestures working for peace

The Olive harvest involves shaking the tree – our Old Testament reading reminds us that as with so many references to the harvest in the Old Testament the shaking of the olives is for the alien, the orphan and the widow …

Reading:  Deuteronomy 24:17-22

The hills around Bethlehem are the hills of this wonderful Psalm – how important it is to look to the hills and find help in God -

Psalm 121 – the Congregation  CP 858

Help from God – that sense of protection is what is at the heart of the Olive Tree Project

It is a small gesture – but the tiniest of gestures is so important.

Parables of the seed.

Reading:  Mark 4:26-32

Psalm 121 is one of a set of pilgrimage hymns – pilgrimage to the Holy Land is filled with a sense of conflict and a sense of God’s presence in times of trouble.

Psalm 126

 "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."[1] 

It was this verse that inspired Knowles Shaw, an American from Ohio, to write the next of our hymns.

How important it is to sow those seeds of kindness.

But also notice – it’s in the bad times as well as the good.

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Hymn:  Bringing in the sheaves

The tiniest of seeds grows into the greatest of trees.

Sowing seeds of kindness

We are in our harvest service challenged to think of those small seeds to plant for justice and for peace in Palestine – the focus we have on the Olive Tree – the Olive Tree Project.

It is the small things that make for peace and for justice.

Not to be despised.

But for each of us there are small things we can do.  Practical things.  Maybe a word that is helpful.  Some small gesture.  Good to think what it is that we can do – this week.  Make a commitment to do just that.

But it is harder than you think – and sometimes we let God down – we let ourselves down – we do not do as we ought.

How we need to lift our eyes up to the hills from whence cometh our help – our help cometh from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.

Prayer of Confession

O God our ~Father, we confess that we have often used your gifts carelessly, and acted as though we were not grateful.
Hear our prayer
And in your mercy
Forgive us and help us.

When we enjoy the fruits of the harvest, but forget they come from you
Then, Father, in your mercy,
Forgive us and help us.

When we are full and satisfied, but ignore the cry of the hungry and those in need –
Then, Father, in your mercy
Forgive us and help us.

When we are thoughtless, and do not treat with respect or care for the wonderful world you have made –
Then, Father in your mercy
Forgive us and help us.

When we store up goods for ourselves alone, as if there were no God and no heaven – then, Father in your mercy
Forgive us and help us.

How we need to lift up our eyes unto the hills from whence cometh our help.

Our help cometh even from the Lord who hath made heaven and earth.

Let’s turn once again to that Psalm and seek the strengthening of God – number 858 – and make this our prayer – as the choir this time sing those words

Psalm 121 – the Choir

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil
He shall preserve thy soul
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in
From this time forth and even for evermore.

In the knowledge of that forgiving love of God – we can reach back now and reaffirm our commitment to those most in need – to that justice and that peace that God longs for.  That justice that is at the heart of our Harvest thanksgiving service.

We reach back to Deuteronomy 26

You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.

 When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.

It is that commitment to justice and to peace that inspired Henry Roberts Moxley, who was Minister of what was then the Summer Town Congregational Church in Oxford just after the war when Oxfam was founded.   Our thoughts as we sing this turn to his sister in law, Mrs Moxley and to Caroline Gregory – who will be thinking of us this evening – and is having a week’s respite over at the Summerfield home.

652 Praise we now the God of heaven

Now we make our Harvest Collection

Our Harvest Collection

John Gurney had once ministered in the Parish Church in Lutterworth which was home to John Wycliffe – he was passionate in the work of mission through the Religious Tract Society and the SPCK.  One suspects, however, that when he wrote his hymn inviting us in our mind’s eye to go to Canaan’s pleasant land where fair waved the golden corn … he had little knowledge of that land.

Indeed at the time it was a land that lived in relative peace.  As Jewish, Muslim and Christian lived side by side in the time of the Ottoman Empire.

We have very much more vivid pictures of that land now – and we think particularly of those who work for peace and for justice in that place.

This is a hymn that seeks God’s blessing from the morning to the evening of our lives, from the time of sowing to the time of reaping.

647 Fair waved the golden corn

Prayers of Concern

The next is one of those anthemic harvest hymns I have grown up with – but Congregational Prasie is the only hymn book it has ever been published in.

The only other hymn by A C Ainger in Congregational Praise is another anthemic hymn – God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year.

Maybe as we sing this hymn it is a hymn that prompts in us a sense of hope in times of adversity.

The Olive Tree Project takes us into the midst of conflict with that commitment to working for peace and for justice in the smallest of ways.

As our country has again formally gone to war again this weekend, there can be a sense of despair.

This is a hymn that invites us to go back in order to look forwad with hope, that kind of sure and certain hope that knows nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lrod.

More than that, however, it takes us back to the importance of sowing little seeds – we do our part in the trust that God too is at work in his world.

We sowed the seed and watered it
In sorrow and in care:
But God alone the increase gave
And bade it blossom fair.

God is our hope and strength to-day
And therefore we will not fear

For the harvest of bygone ages
In the hope of the coming days
Go into his gates with thankfulness
And into his courts with praise.

651 Let all our brethren join in one

Let all God’s people join in one
And in verse 3 let’s personalise the hymn and sing We sowed the seed

Words of Blessing

May God the Father, who is the source of all growth, the provider of refreshing rain, nourishing the earth and warm sunlight, pour his blessings on us and all his children, and send us out in the power of his spirit to live and work for his praise and glory.

Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.


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