HARVEST FESTIVAL - WATER BEETLES.

Today, and during the next two or three weeks, up and down the country, Christians will celebrate their harvest festivals.
 
There is something very basic, and satisfying, about the fact that the earth has once again ‘brought forth its increase’.
Those who live in rural areas: can watch the seasons come and go; estimate likely yields; and be proved right or wrong, as the crops are brought in.
 
They can see themselves in line of succession; down through the centuries; back to the ancient Hebrew writers of the Psalms, and other works, where God is thanked and praised as the Provider of all good gifts.
 
As said: there is something very basic, and satisfying, about harvest time.
 
The Romney Marsh has some of the most twisting and winding roads and lanes to be found anywhere in Britain. Some of them are so winding, that they seem almost to double back on themselves; but, in due course, they twist and turn once more, and, eventually, take us to where we want to be.
 
Theology is something like that. Through the centuries, the study of God and his graciousness, has twisted and turned, and sometimes seems to have doubled back on itself; yet, all the while, gradually helping us to make progress; eventually getting us where we need to be.
 
One ‘doubling-back’ that happens every now and again: is the re-discovery of the wonder, and the beauty, of the created order of things. Then, we stop off for a while, to see what may be learned about God, from his own handiwork; from nature.
 
As we look at the very earliest parts of the Old Testament, we see that, before the time of Moses, the people had very little to go on except nature.  They interpreted thunder and lightning; earthquakes, fire and flood, as signs of the wrath of their God; and reacted accordingly.
 
They interpreted increasing flocks and herds; good weather, and bountiful crops, as signs of the favour of their God; and rejoiced accordingly.
 
However, the spiritual leaders of the ancient Hebrews: were not content to leave things at that. Through the direct revelation of God himself, such as at Sinai, where God's will was expressed in a code of rules and laws; and through experiment, and thinking things through, the prophets, priests and kings of those days, gradually separated the Creator from his creation.
 
They got to the point where the richness and diversity of nature: did not obscure their view of the fullness of God Himself, and of his providence.
So, the nature of the created order of things: began to take something of a back seat: and to lose its prime importance in the religion and life of the Hebrews. They were, perhaps, the first people to make such a change: to begin to worship God for himself alone, rather than for what he could do.
 
But those old Hebrews were wise enough not to discard old understandings altogether, as being no longer relevant. Instead, they recognized that the Creator and his creation: were so closely bound together, that it would be impossible to separate the one from the other.
 
And they recognised that there were principles at work; where the spiritual had direct influence upon the physical, and natural. These principles were spelled out, in part at least, at the time when King Solomon dedicated the Temple to God.
 
To a certain extent, Solomon was asking God to remember, and to ratify, the promises that he had made to Noah; and to Abraham; so long before: that the earth would continue to be fruitful, and that the people would always be blessed with a rich supply of the necessities of life.
 
And God's reply to Solomon, as on other occasions; through various prophets; was that, if his people continued to be faithful, and to walk in his way; not seeking after other gods; then he would bless them, and ensure that the land would never fail to bring forth a harvest.
 
As we read in Psalm 67: obedience to God, and praise of him, brings blessing in its wake: 'Then shall the earth bring forth her increase, and God, even our own God, shall bless us'.
 
There are spiritual principles at work; having direct bearing on the natural order of things; and theologians have never lost sight of this important fact.
 
The Old Testament has a lot to say about the fruitfulness of the earth; about rich and heavy crops being gathered in; and all of this closely connected with the spiritual desires of man.
 
The Gospels continue the theme. Jesus talked about corn, and the bread made from it; about grapes and the wine made from them; about olives and oil; about figs, honey and other good things; about the seasons; weather, and the time of harvest.
 
Jesus was eminently spiritual; and eminently practical; and he linked the spiritual and the practical, in simple and memorable stories.
 
But he went much further than the Old Testament writers, in pointing to the principles, underlying the provision and bounty of God, throughout his creation.  Christ said that man should have no undue concern about physical things, such as food, drink and clothes. He said that God knew that we needed them, and that we could rely on receiving them.
 
But, said Jesus: 'Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these other things will be yours as well'. It is a matter of priorities.
 
If we are ‘seeking first’ the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; then, at the top of our lists of priorities; at harvest-time, and through the year; will the words of Jesus, where he spoke about the ‘harvest of souls’, waiting to be brought in.
 
‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest’.
 
This is not a brief to simply pray that God should send someone else out into the fields of the spiritual harvest, but that we should be so effective in our own witness to the love of God, that others are brought into the fellowship of the Church; and are so taught and encouraged that, in due time, they become co-labourers with us.
 
Jesus often used illustrations from nature, to put over a particular point. I want now to do the same.
 
I am very fond of water; especially small streams and ponds. It seems to me that some of the insects living on, or in, the water, illustrate one aspect of the church today. Those that I have in mind, are water-skates and water-beetles.
 
Water-skates live entirely on the surface of a pond. Water is, for them, a hostile element. They can easily drown in it, so they have specially adapted feet that enable them to skim around on the surface.
 
If, for some reason, the skate falls over, it will have the greatest difficulty in getting right way up again. Most likely it will sink and drown. On windy days, the skates hide in the vegetation at the very edge of the pond, or even climb up out of the water altogether - the going has got too rough for them.
 
The water beetle is very different. For it, too, water is a hostile element, in which it can drown; but it is equipped to survive quite safely.
 
It swims to the surface of the pond, and forms a bubble of air, which it grasps, and from which it can breathe, as it plunges down into the depths of the pond, to do whatever it is that such beetles do.
 
I have often watched water-skates and water beetles: and it has sometimes struck me that some Christians skate around on the surface of life; never really getting involved with what is going on.
 
Perhaps they are afraid of getting too caught up in things; of being tipped over, and of sinking: so, when the going gets a bit rough, they hide at the very edge of things, until it is safe to come out once more.
 
But Jesus does not want his people to skate around on the surface of life. Instead, he wants them to be fully involved. He wants to live out his resurrection life in and through the lives of his people; with their feet walking in his way of righteousness; their hands reaching out to all in need, so that he might touch, and bless; and their hearts yearning towards all whom he loves; especially those all have yet to call God 'Father', and to own Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
 
The demand of our Lord Jesus, is that we do not skim around on the surface of life; but plunge meaningfully and helpfully into its depths: and encourage other Christians to do so as well.
 
Just as the water beetle has its bubble of air, to sustain it in a hostile element; so the Christian has the life-giving Spirit of Christ, to sustain him or her in a hostile world.
 
Just as the water beetle has continual access to the air above the pond; and so can replenish its life-sustaining bubble; so the Christian has continual access to the grace, power and love of God, in Jesus Christ.
 
At this time of harvest, it is good to think upon creation; the fruitfulness of the earth, and the bounty of God; but it is a better thing to be concerned, now and always, with the ‘harvest of souls’ spoken of by Jesus.
 
In terms of the Gospel, and the command of Jesus to us: 'Go!' ... 'Tell!', are we skimming around on the surface, or have we, through the confidence we have in Christ, plunged in deep, and become fully involved with life all around us?   Amen!