October is harvest time. Being a rural community many Hambledon residents will be used to the activity and toil of harvest. Harvest is a time of looking back in thankfulness and looking ahead.
When you look ahead, what do you see? Not literally, but in your mind. It’s an important question because it will shape next year’s harvest. If you’re a farmer you will know that the world of digital agriculture allows for predictive crop creation and adaptation. If the weather next year is likely to be dry you might plan to plant one type of crop now, and so on.
We don’t know what things will be like next harvest because we don’t have a form of digital agriculture that shows us our future lives. This creates insecurity for some and a need to collect and protect; for others it generates senselessness about what life is about; or maybe a question of purpose.
Imagine that, the ability to know the weather a year in advance? You’d be planning BBQs and beach holidays with precision!
Seeing ahead might sound great, but what if you could see your own future? It might appear a great idea but if you google ‘knowing the date of your death’ you are presented with a ‘death clock calculator’… and I haven’t had the courage to try it.
So, some knowledge is good but knowing all things may not be quite so simple. This is what harvest is about for people who follow a Christian faith. It is about giving thanks that God is ultimately our loving Creator, and that we are able look to Him for what the future holds. This isn’t about crops, produce, wealth or security. It is about purpose, destiny and identity. When we know ourselves in this manner we are becoming equipped to be the person God created us to be. If this sounds somewhat religious, let me quote the author of 1960s business book ‘The Money Game’
“The first thing you have to know is yourself. A man [sic] who knows himself can step outside himself and watch his own reactions like an observer.” Adam Smith (author’s pen name), 1968
Harvest shows us that we know ourselves not by what we collect or aspire to for ourselves or our families but by what we exist for. I was asked recently to reflect on years of working with people and to identify the one characteristic which seemed to hold people back from being at peace within themselves. I responded that many people live with a fractured sense of belonging that leads to following after desires that do not fill voids because they’ve forgotten they were created for another purpose. Harvest is a great corrective; like a spiritual detox with a ‘reset’ button waiting to be pressed.
And when you press the reset button, what happens? Well, it depends on what you’re expecting. The Bible says that God is the Lord of the harvest, but the harvest talked about there is people: people who recognise that God is calling to them. My experience is that those, who know things are fractured, recognise that a spiritual detox is powerful but that it is the beginning rather than a magic solution. It is the beginning of looking at the future differently and seeing themselves in a new light.
For Hambledon as village and church this meaning of harvest has special significance in that we are saying farewell to the Rev. Catherine McBride in thankfulness for all she has brought to the village. Catherine has brought us to know ourselves in a deeper way by showing us much of what God is like. We are also looking to the future and asking what God’s purposes are for the church here.
A couple of years ago an older lady with a stooped frame walked into church with me. Her name was Dena. Her eyes were failing, her body was quite fragile and she struggled to walk. As she lent on someone else and me she said somewhat wistfully
“I remember coming here in the 1950s. I could bounce into church then. Look at me now, but I can still pray.” She paused and as we entered the church she said “I think I’m nearly ready to go Home.” Later, she shared just how much she used to love chocolate. I think we knew what she meant by ‘Home’.
Dena taught me some important lessons that day: that there are different seasons in life, it is worth looking deeply because each one can be celebrated for what it brings and faith in Christ matters. For Dena, this was her season for reflection, preparation and prayer.
Maybe jobs can be like seasons? Some jobs are enriching but others might simply be necessary moments in our lives. Sadly, for some people there can be confusion between what is necessary in life and what is enriching and this can lead to holding on to things that are meant to pass.
As a church and community we are in a season of change in jobs. We’re saying goodbye to Amy and Michael Johnston as they leave behind the ministries in music and children’s work and move back to Northern Ireland. Our Church school is saying farewell to Carolyn Holmes later this year as she leaves after fifteen incredible years and thirty years in education. Our prayers and thanks go to Amy, Michael and Carolyn.
We could try and hold on: keep the school as it has been, look for a mirror image person to replace Amy, fossilise the music in the genre that Michael brought to it. Or we could celebrate that which has been and look to what God has planned for the future.
I’m not sure Carolyn, Amy or Michael are looking for jobs but here are two unique roles to consider. The first sounds so boring with its listing on an advertising website is “Job Number: 1700295”
Why would you even glance at it? But if you don’t glance you are not lifted out of the today and given the possibility of a new tomorrow. Or what about the ‘hay’ job placed in the small ads of a newspaper? You probably smiled and moved on.
Then you glance again. What if the hay-chewing job had benefits so incredible you began to wonder why everyone wasn’t running to find out more? What if your first glance didn’t tell the full story?
And job 1700295? As you absentmindedly click on the link you find yourself at the Mondelez website and there, like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket, is your dream-come-true! You can become one of only 11 people working a mere 7 .5 hours a week and just between Tuesday and Thursday so you can have a long weekend. The job? A Reading, Berkshire, based Chocolate Taster.
It is the same with faith. Some people glance and move on; taste a bit but find it inconvenient; smile at its claims but see them as a few quaint values. There wasn’t anything quaint, irrelevant or inconvenient about Dena and her faith. It was like a rod of iron through every part of who she was.
Every time I read the Bible I find that there is more to understand about God. Each time I pray I find myself moving beyond my own preoccupations and into something deeper and wider than I can comprehend. The moment I pat myself on the back I am reminded by my Father in Heaven that another season of life is just around the corner.
Take the story of Jesus’ friend Lazarus (John chapter 11). There he is, dead. He’s very dead and the Bible makes this clear with some horribly graphic information. So, Jesus raises him. We could glance at it and move on – dismiss it. We could give it a bit of consideration in the same way we might humour ourselves about chocolate tasting; ‘could I move to Reading? Do I really like chocolate?’ but dismiss it as slightly inconvenient.
Or we could do as Dena did: consider its merits at a particular time of life. For those in a closing season, it offers more than platitudes: it is Truth that Christ can raise the dead. For those who see Christianity as a value system it offers an invitation into an understanding of reality which takes us into such a new dimension of confidence, love, care, charity and kindness that those around us may begin to wonder what has happened.
So what did I learn from Dena?
· To appreciate today and celebrate the season of life I am in
· To remember to look deeply rather than glance and move on
· Faith in God means being willing to let go when the moment is right to do so
· That true confidence comes from trust in the Lord who is the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
We are living in a period of momentous change in the UK. Whether you voted ‘Leave’, ‘Remain’ or were one of the 28% who did not vote, we are all in a new place. We’re in this place together.
The Austrian neuroscientist Walter Kintsch has spent a lifetime exploring how we acquire knowledge and experiences, the mechanisms people employ for this and how lists are crucial in enabling us make sense of the situations we encounter.
The following films all have something in common: Greed (1924) Bitter Victory (1967) Ice Cold in Alex (1958) The Good, Bad & Ugly (1966) Walkabout (1971).
I am told that if you stare at this picture you will see something profound. The more you stare the more you see a face. The face you see is meant to be the face of Jesus. Really?
The philosopher Edward de Bono uses words, pictures and symbols in something called a Random Entry Toolkit to stimulate creative questions in difficult situations. The objective is “to constructively challenge the status quo”.
Each summer I try and read a book which I would not see myself as being naturally inclined to pick up. This summer I have begun reading a book by a research professor at the Institute of Psychological Sciences in Oxford. The author, Roger Scrutton, is a modern philosopher. He also plays the organ at Malmsbury parish church.
I have been asked “what is the story, vision and mission of Busbridge&Hambledon Church, your Church of England church, in your area?” It could be summed up as ‘aspiration for something different’