Monday, 1 October 2018

We plough the fields and scatter.

Harvest Festival – 2018
Harvest Festival in its modern incarnation is a relatively modern invention, stemming from a brainwave by a Cornish vicar in Victorian times.
But as he and all religious people recognise, celebrating harvests is one of the bedrocks of religious festivals, including the Jewish religion of course.
Giving thanks to God for the fruits of the earth to sustain human life is a primal religious impulse.
Christians, using a metaphor that Jesus used, have also talked about salvation in terms of “the Harvest of human souls”.
Now the Bible is not opened as much as it should be and one reason for that it that it seems too complicated.
So I have come up with an audacious plan to explain the entire Bible to you this morning in one sermon.
We can distil the essence of the Bible as a story of three gardens, so Harvest is the perfect place to do this.
The whole Bible is a history of God’s relationship with humanity. A perfect relationship, that was then broken and then eventually put back together.
We start at the very beginning in the book of Genesis.
(Hold up an apple). What garden does this apple represent?
The garden of Eden represents the perfect world created by God and that creation was crowned by us human beings.
This perfect creation though was spoiled. The story of the garden of Eden is that this was where sin entered and spoiled the world and created a barrier between human beings and God.
The fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is often represented in art as an apple though that is never specified in the Bible.
Through disobeying God, mankind was similarly elevated in recognising the moral good and moral evil, just like God, but unlike God we are not able to deal with the choices that come with it.
But the most important part of the story is that a barrier between God and humanity as Adam and eve were expelled from the garden. We have been enslaved to suffering sin and death ever since and cut off from God because He is perfectly good and Holy.
Healing the rift caused by sin between God and mankind was the job at hand for God ever since.
He needed to do something about it for both his and our sake. He chose to speak through the Jews starting with Abraham, gave them the law, sent prophets and kings to try and work through the Jews to bring people back into communion, a living relationship with him, but they had very little success because the power of sin is so pervasive and cancerous.
Eventually God did act decisively to bring people back into a relationship with Him by sending his son Jesus Christ.
This brings us to our second garden.
(Hold up olives). What garden looms large in the story of Jesus.
The garden of Gethsemene is our second and most pivotal garden in the story of how God planned to bring us all back to him.
In that garden of tears, Jesus wrestled with God. He baulked at the prospect that following His Father’s will would lead by a brutal and painful death but He also knew that if He did so, He would defeat sin and win salvation for humanity. He used the template of a sacrifice for sin well known to the Jews from their Temple cult to do this.
Because Jesus is both human and divine, his sacrifice carries universal validity and stands for all time. So if you believe that Jesus is the son of God you have assurance that his sacrifice is real and effective and brings you back into a relationship with God through Him.
So God dealt with what happened in the first garden once and for all.
You will have noted that the story of the Bible is about repairing a broken relationship and that relationship is the real story of the Bible.
Which brings me to the final Garden.
At the end of time in a blessed re-creation when all sin and evil has been abolished and there is no pain or suffering or tears any more, the tree of life growing by the banks of the river of the water of life in the book of Revelation, will produce much fruit.
In his life Jesus anticipated this final garden by likening himself to the stem of the vine and us being its branches. We enjoy a foretaste of that final re-creation in a relationship with Jesus
(hold up grapes)
We are connected forever to Him . Our faith in Jesus, grafted in to his root, is a foretaste of that final garden represented by the vineyard.
It is as I say all about relationship. Christianity at its heart is a renewed relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
It is a spiritual relationship enabled by the Holy Spirit of God, but because God is the Lord of all creation he can work through the signs and symbols we use, and Jesus used to create and reinforce that relationship.
Primarily we use Baptism and Holy Communion to initiate and then strengthen our relationship with God.
Communion of course draws this all together because in our communion we recall and enter in to the sacrifice for our sins made on the cross and we are in the words of St. Paul, declared righteous and a part of God’s family again.
The Bible explained in three gardens.
In God’s eyes, we are the Harvest.

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