Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Harvest and Thanksgiving Joy

I have been reflecting on this season, as we draw closer to Thanksgiving.  Tim and I have talked about going ahead and decorating for Christmas since Thanksgiving falls so late this year, but with the craziness of our schedules, it just hasn't happened.  I am grateful in a way.  There is something Holy about this Autumn time that I am reluctant to let go of.  As wonderful as Christmas is, I hate to miss the quiet gift of trees wrapped in color releasing their leaves to the wind:  a radient transformation morphing into deepening solitude as fall yields itself to winter.  There is something Holy about being a witness to this relinquishment.  There is blessing in waiting . . . and watching the last of the harvest unfold.

In these days, busy with the ordinary, my heart is happy just watching nature's life quietly enfolding my hustle and bustle.  Most of the leaves are down now.  But still I am surprised and delighted by the late-comers, their gloriously colored leaves splendidly pronounced against the grays and browns of decaying foliage.  I wonder if I put up the Christmas decorations if my eyes would be so full of the tinsel that I would forget to see this simple beauty.  It is the beauty of endings, the kind that gather up all that has been, the clearing that ultimately makes one ready for the birth of something new.

Thanksgiving is really a celebration of Harvest.   It is gratitude poured out of  the sowing-weary soul who sees that hope has been answered--the endless labor of cultivation worked.  God granted the growth and brought forth bounty.  The fruits of our labors are never guaranteed, so when they come, we must offer our thanks.  I think of those first Pilgrims gathered around the celebration table, hand in hand with their new Native American friends, together offering thanks for the harvest that would sustain them.  How could they not be overcome with joy?  This Thanksgiving was more than a remembrance of  blessings.  They, who had come so close to perishing, were looking upon the bounty of life stretching out before them.

In honor of Harvest I have spent some time sitting with the story of Pentecost.  In the Old Testament this was one of three highly sacred feasts to be observed by faithful Jews.  Also known as the Festival of Harvest or the Festival of Weeks, its name comes from the 50 days following  Passover, where the first fruits of the harvest were presented to the Lord.  Like most of the Church, I traditionally read the story found in the second chapter of Acts during spring time, following Easter, when we celebrate the birth of the Church, the giving of the Holy Spirit.  This is the first time I have realized its close connections to the season of harvest, which, at least for us today, is not a spring time event at all. 

We know the story--Jesus was crucified, laid in the tomb, and on the third day, He came to life.  The Bible tells us of the ways he encountered His disciples, encouraging them, showing them the truth of His resurrection, rearranging what they thought they knew into something new and incomprehensible.  And shortly before He ascends into heaven, He tells them to stay put:  wait in the place where they are for God's promise.  Acts picks up the story of their waiting:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  (Acts 2:1-4)
 What happens next is that the Holy Spirit enables them to share the Good News of Jesus with others in a supernatural way.  God displays His power to draw others to Himself in a way that only He can through whomever He chooses.  And those whom He chooses are those who have given themselves over to a reality that has turned their world upside down.  They met Jesus.  They followed Him  for three years while He healed people, fed them, forgave them.  Then they hid while He was beaten and crucified.  They rejoiced and believed when He rose again.  They could have gone back to their once familiar lives.  Instead they chose to wait for God's Promise.  Ultimately when they met Jesus they allowed Him the freedom to up-end everything known and trustworthy in their lives.  And finally they see outcome of such foolishness:  Harvest beyond anything they can imagine.

We have the same choice today

When we meet Jesus, we can allow Him total access.  We can give Him the freedom to up-end everything we know, everything we trust.  It seems a foolish proposition.  It feels foolish.  When He asks us to live our lives so differently from those around us, we can get so tired of looking like religious fanatics--freaks of faith.  There is a cost that comes, a cultivation of soul that requires toil, patience.  An investment of blood, sweat, and tears.  And there are no guarantees that any thing worthwhile (at least in the world's eyes) will ever come of our labors.  This soul-tending seems to be so foolish.  A wasted effort that feels fruitless.

In agriculture and soul-tending, the process is the same:  Someone has to break up the soil; someone has to sow the seeds; someone has to pull the weeds; someone has to fertilize the crops; someone has to irrigate the plants.  Ordinary folks labor over the fields of corn and fields of faith.  But ultimately God alone produces the growth.  And with patience we have to wait for it.  We can always do our part.   But we can never do His.

This is why Harvest is so amazing.  It is the miracle of seeing God do the thing that Only He can do.  Knowing that His Power revealed in our lives can sustain us and take us to places we have never even imagined. 

There is a joy that comes with this God rendering in our lives.  The onlookers of Pentecost, did not understand what they were seeing and hearing.  They could not comprehend what was taking place through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through ordinary people.  It's hard to explain to onlookers what is happening within us and through us when God's power is revealed.  Lacking adequate categories of explanation, some just ridiculed:  "They are filled with new wine." 

Truer words could not have been spoken.  Truly these believers were filled with new wine--the new wine of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus had told them that new wine required new wineskins.  As wine ferments it expands.  An old wineskin has lost the elasticity needed to accommodate fermentation.  It cannot contain the new thing that expands within it.  It bursts, and all is lost.  But these disciples, these followers turned believers who have forsaken everything to participate God's Harvest, have relinquished old lives so that they might be created new.  They are the new wineskins, holding the New Wine of God's power and blessing, pouring it out on everyone they see.

This is what I am thinking about as I watch leaves silently falling to the ground.  The last of the crops in fields close to my home are being gathered in.  Harvest is almost complete.  In a week I will gather around a table with family and celebrate the blessing of bounty.  I will offer my gratitude to God for sustaining me and my family another year.  Together we will list each blessing we can think of, seeing if we can take our gratitude farther, deeper than the year before.  There is so much here, in our hands and in our hearts, that we cannot take credit for.  So much of God's faithfulness spilling out all around us.  How can we not say thanks?  How can we not be filled with joy?  How can we not recognize that we did not come so far on our efforts alone, but that God has been here, present always, working quietly along beside us?

I offer prayers of gratitude.  Because God's faithfulness has brought us bounty and goodness beyond what we can comprehend.  When we should have perished, He made a way and sustained us.  And I also look forward with hope.  Because I know there is more Harvest coming.  Just as He poured out His Holy Spirit at Pentecost so long ago, I believe He will again.  I believe that the blood, sweat, and tears of our soul-toiling and soul-sowing are coming to an end.  New Wine is coming to fill us again:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them."  The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.  Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.  May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.  Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.  (Psalm 126) 

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