Sunday, 29 January 2017

Harvest Thanksgiving

I have long taken encouragement from the fact that my work is to be a worker in God's vineyard, but to leave the responsibility for the harvest to God. If I am faithful in my work, God will do the rest.

When I was a university student, I spent several summer holidays working in a vineyard. A member of our congregation was gracious in giving me work when I knew nothing about vineyards, but he knew that I needed the cash. We'd work 6am to 2pm in an attempt to beat the heat of the day as we slowly walked up and down the rows of vines, pausing every two metres to tend to the next vine. Sometimes we were training new vines, other times thinning out crowded fruit on older vines. Some of the vines were years away from a harvest, others had been producing long enough that their fruit had already been turned to wine. The path from training a young vine to a glass of red with dinner is a theory to me and not something I should be put in charge of, just as I should not try to put myself in charge of God's harvest.

There are many times when this image of being workers in God's vineyard helps to keep me trudging forwards in the heat of the day. Repetitive tasks, seemingly pointless tasks, tasks that are years away from the actual harvest and the eventual celebratory drink are all still critical. I may not understand their part in the big picture, but I trust that they matter.

While I loved my previous work at sea, in terms of how it related to the mission of God, it was drudge work in God's vineyard. I was there as a sailor who happened to be Christian, yet like all Christians, from the moment I woke in the morning; I was in the mission field of the world. I see my mission then as weeding and soil preparation. By living and working alongside colleagues who became friends, I was weeding out their misconceptions and wrong beliefs about Christianity. By not being a judgemental Bible basher, I was helping to overcome that sadly common prejudice against Christians. By living my faith, I was showing that following Jesus is more than a set of rules. I did not see a harvest, but I trust that I was a living light for God.

These days, while still having plenty of drudge work to do, I am blessed to be part of the harvest. Others have worked in the area before me, and this has resulted in people of strong faith committed to God's word in their language, for their community. Many years and much work have gone in, and I am privileged to be the one who comes in and gets to be part of the harvest. I do not take the credit; that goes to the Chief Gardner, but I do give thanks for being able to see fruit. At the same time, the vineyard always needs tending, lest it go back to weeds. While there is a harvest going on, weeding, fertilising, trimming and training still need to happen; else this harvest will only be for one season.

To those of you who are feeling the heat of the sun in God's garden and wondering how such dry and rocky soil could ever bear a harvest, have faith in the Chief Gardner. There is a plan that we don't know about and that we are not responsible for. We are called to do our part, in the time and place we are in, with the people we have been given as neighbours.

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