Monday, October 07, 2019

Harvest Sermon: Psalm 65 The Lord of the Harvest

Which is your favourite harvest hymn? Over the course of the weekend, we’ve sung a good number of harvest hymns, and I hope that at some point we’ve sung one of your favourites. If not, then let me know on the way out and we’ll try to include it next year. (Or you can sing a verse of it after the tea next door! No, don’t worry, we’ll not make you do that; you can safely come in for tea!)

The harvest season has its own section in the hymnbook, with lots of hymns written to sing primarily at harvest services. Some, like: ‘Come, ye thankful people. come’ - help us to call one another to worship. Others, like ‘Good is the Lord’ help us to remind one another of God’s goodness to us. But some harvest hymns are addressed directly to God - our last hymn does that: ‘God, whose farm is all creation, take the gratitude we give.’

Our Psalm tonight, Psalm 65, is a harvest song, addressed directly to God. In the closing verses, we see the abundance of God’s goodness in the harvest, with grasslands and hills, meadows and valleys all surveyed and celebrated. But before you get your wellies on to get out and explore the whole harvest, David begins closer to his home, in Zion itself.

In verses 1-4, we see that God is the God of Zion. So where is Zion? Zion is another name for the city of Jerusalem, the city God had chosen to be the place where his name would dwell, in the temple that would be built by David’s son, Solomon. And we’re see that God is the God of Zion:

‘Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion;
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
O you who hear prayer,
to you all men will come.’ (1-2)

The God of Zion is worthy to be praised. And praise awaits him - it’s coming his way. His people have promised that they will indeed praise him. They have made vows to him, and their vows will be fulfilled. Nothing will keep them back or stop them from praising God.

All of them are going to come to God. And do you see how God is described there? ‘O you who hear prayer.’ God is the one who hears prayer. No matter how weak we may be, no matter how faint our faith may be, no matter how quiet our prayer may be - God hears it. And God has heard their prayer, and their vows, and has answered.

And the prayer that God has heard and answered in this instance is one of confession. Look at verse 3:

‘When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.’ (3)

Have you ever felt like that? Sometimes we are quite happy with our sins, we play with them, get comfortable with them. But here, they were overwhelmed by them, they were despairing in their sinfulness, weighed down by the sinfulness of sin. But they had cried for mercy - and God, who hears prayer, forgave our transgressions.

And as they experience the joy of sins forgiven, they also experience the full measure of God’s grace. You see, God doesn’t just wipe away our sins and give us a blank slate so that we’re back to neutral. God is amazingly generous in giving us his grace, and bringing us into relationship with him:

‘Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.’ (4)

God doesn’t just forgive our sins and then leave us in isolation. He brings us to himself, to be with him, to live with him. When we trust him, we are given a new identity and a new address - we are ‘in Christ.’ It’s no wonder that we are called to praise the God of Zion.

God is not just the God of Zion, though. He is the God of the whole world, in fact, the whole universe. That’s what we see in the next section of the Psalm. God is the God of the whole earth:

‘You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness,
O God our Saviour,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.’ (5)

God hears our prayers, and he answers them - with awesome deeds of righteousness. God acts entirely in line with his character to save, and to act righteously. And he is the only God who saves, the only hope of the whole world. There are many other so-called gods (with a small g), and many religions, but the only hope of the world is in the one, true, living God. He is the God who made everything, and controls everything, and calms everything:

‘who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.’ (6-7)

The mountains, which seem so strong and sure, are in place because God put them there by his strength. The seas, which to the Israelite were dangerous and fearsome because they were constantly in motion, well, only God can still the seas (with a word!); and only he can still the turmoil of the nations.

It feels as if we’re living in the middle of the turmoil of the nations at present, doesn’t it? Like the sea, we’re back and forward and here and there and we don’t really know what the outcome will be or where we’ll end up politically and economically and morally. But God can still the turmoil of the nations. He can grant peace - as we put our hope in him who is the hope of all the ends of the earth.

Did you notice the contrast between those who are near to God (4), and those who are far away? It’s mentioned again in verse 8:

‘Those living far away fear your wonders;
where morning dawns and evening fades
you call forth songs of joy.’

The picture is of people living far away from Zion; people in other nations, who do not know the Lord. They see the wonders of God - snow and hail, thunder and lightning, ferocious winds and hurricanes, earthquakes and all - and they fear. But through his creation, God is calling out to them, telling them that there is a God; calling them to praise, even where the morning dawns and the evening fades, in the farthest east and west.

It’s in Jesus that those who were far away are now brought near. Jesus died to bring peace with God, and with one another; by bringing us into God’s family, and building us into God’s temple. And that’s what God has done, and is doing, for us. We, who live where David would have imagined the evening faded, so far west we are, yet here we sing songs of joy because we have been saved, by putting our trust in the hope of all the earth.

The God of Zion is the God of the whole earth. And he is the God of harvest. While we acknowledge the hard work of farmers, particularly in difficult and dangerous circumstances, the farmers couldn’t do what they do without God’s oversight and provision:

‘You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with corn,
for so you have ordained it.
You drench its furrows
and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers
and bless its crops.’ (9-10)

God is the one who provides the water to grow the crops that we need to survive. Without the water, the crops wouldn’t grow. And so this Psalm recognises God’s vital role in producing any kind of a harvest.

But this isn’t just any kind of a harvest. This isn’t even a Marks and Spencer harvest. This is God’s good harvest, where he provides so richly:

‘You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.’ (11)

Bounty (not the chocolate bar) and abundance - the crown of the whole year, the cherry on top; with so much, in fact, that as the carts take in the produce, they are overflowing. And that’s the picture across the countryside:

‘The grasslands of the desert overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with corn;
they shout for joy and sing.’ (12-13)

It’s like an episode of Countryfile. Everywhere you look, there is abundance and plenty. The hills and valleys have been clothed, mantled - in their new season’s fashion; they’ve got dressed up and are ready to shout and sing for joy. The God of the harvest is gracious and generous - in his provision of plenty in the fields; in his power over all creation; and in his providing for the forgiveness of sins.

If even the valleys shout for joy and sing, will you give him your praise?

This sermon was preached at the Harvest Thanksgiving Service in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 6th October 2019.

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