Sermon September 26, 2021 by Rev. David Hodgson

Seedtime and Harvest

“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes and see how the fields are already white for harvest.”  John 4:35

Autumn is a nostalgic time of year for me because each autumn God has a way of gathering up for me to remember the fruits of all previous autumns.  It is a time to reflect upon the harvesting activity of God.

Most of my autumns were spent in the northeast where autumn is recorded by all the human senses.  The leaves in autumn turn brilliant colors ~ red, orange and yellow ~ as though determined to show the world their true colors before the season passes.  And leaves that were somehow content to stay securely fastened all summer long catch the spirit of change in the air, and loosen the bonds that kept them securely fastened to the limb.  Then catching the spirit of the winds of change they go wind-surfing ~ some dancing their way to the ground in spirals like a ballet dancer, and some traveling great distances, to finish the adventure of life with an exhilarating burst of freedom.

Orange pumpkins strategically placed around fields of lifeless vines; cornstalks huddled together in bundles as if trying to keep warm in a world growing cold; the taste of autumn squash and the smell of pumpkin pie baking in the oven; the frigid air that chased away the sluggish pace of summer and caused folks to walk more briskly and to stand just a little closer as though to claim the added warmth of friendship; and the many sounds that seemed to announce to the human soul that one season was giving way to another.  Autumn is truly a nostalgic time of year.

Autumn is also a treasured season in the fullness of life because God gives us a season in which to reflect upon the lessons learned, the fruit grown, the harvests reaped across the years.  There are some autumns I would like to forget, but cannot; and there are autumns I will always cherish with gratitude.  Yet nevertheless, harvests have been reaped in every season of my life.

It was autumn when my brother died, and every year when the leaves begin to fly, the memory of loneliness returns, and I remember the times we shared.  It was autumn when I left home to go to college, never to return, and so when the air turns cold about this time of year, I catch a sense of that adventure all over again.  It was autumn when I gave my youth to another in marriage ~ a gift never ever given to another in quite the same way ~ and in autumn I recall the memory of it all over again.  It was autumn when I was ordained to the pastoral ministry ~ when I gave my life to God, and to this day I can catch the spirit of that devotion in an autumn breeze.  In these experiences, and so many more, I know that great harvests have been reaped across the years ~ harvests that have made me who I am.

Who is this who reaps where I have not sown, who sows what I cannot reap?  Who is this who keeps claiming for sacred purpose that which I would surely hoard for personal gain, who keeps sowing seeds in the furrows of my life in order to produce a yield in some unknown tomorrow?  Am I alone in this spiritual curiosity?  Or have you also found it so:  that seeds of truth have been sown in the field of your life experience that have been reaped for some unintended or unimagined harvest?

Could it be that Jesus ~ knowing that one day we would be sitting here together wondering about such things ~ answered our curious musings with the parable that has been set before us this morning?  He was walking with his disciples ~ those chosen to carry his words to the ages ~ when they came upon a field that was yet weeks away from its harvest; and he used that field on the temporal plane as an illustration of the field on the spiritual plane. 

Referring to the field before them, he reminded them of the saying by which they measured the growing season to be four months long.  Then he invited them to lift up their eyes ~ to imagine life on the spiritual plane ~ and he let them see that in that dimension the harvest was already ripe and was being harvested  by God.  And more, he let them know that the seeding activity of God and the harvesting activity of God are so continuous that it is as though on the temporal plan the sower and the reaper were rejoicing together.

Autumn is also a nostalgic time in the history of civilization because of the harvest that God is reaping on the spiritual plan. It was in the autumn, shortly after school started, that I had my first and only visit to the United Nations.  It was a field trip for junior high students, and I remember being impressed by the visual images of the flags of many nations flying together, not claiming the land beneath them but sharing the same wind.  And I remember well the round table where the nation of the world gathered to find common ground.  But nothing left a more lasting impression on me than the words of Isaiah engraved above the portal:  “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks…”

What a noble calling:  to try to find ways to turn instruments of war into implements of peace ~ plowshares (symbols of seedtime) and pruning hooks (symbols of harvest!). God’s seedtime and God’s harvest.  What anguish they must feel in this hour as they are discovering that there are times when plowshares must be turned back into swords, and pruning hooks transformed into spears!  For the Kingdom of God is yet a long way off.   For the use of force for deterrence is inevitably part of this experiment in human freedom.  It’s not that our idealism is out of touch with reality, but sometimes human nature is at the mercy of its own destructive instincts.

And it is autumn now for First Presbyterian Church in Peoria ~ time to celebrate the harvest God is reaping, time to reflect with grateful hearts the sowing and reaping activity of God in our midst.

The Pastoral Nominating Committee is indicating that their season of searching and of discerning is coming to fruition, and that a change in pastoral leadership is coming.  This is cause for great celebration, and the harvest that God is reaping will be abundant.  It is time for harvest celebrations to begin!

The winds of change are upon us, as the world is growing colder.  Like the leaves of autumn, we will all show our true colors in this season, and many of us may loosen the bonds that have kept us securely tethered to the way things were, and will adventure on with excitement to new life.

And we will huddle closer together to protect ourselves against the chill, to claim the added warmth that friendship provides; and the Spirit of God will draw near to keep us warm.

David S. Hodgson

Peoria Presbyterian Church

September 26, 2021