A ‘wild’ harvest (Psalm 114, Matthew 18: 21-35)
This harvest of all harvests, we cannot think we live in a world which is tamed and controlled – this is a wild harvest.
In giving thanks for the harvest, we should remember our part in the living systems of the planet. More and more scientists reject the term ‘environment’ for the natural world – as if it is the backdrop for our human play. There is one world, one order of inter-dependent living systems, we are just a part of the life of the earth, and called to live in it and alongside other parts with care and with gratitude and appreciation. For too long the human race has sought to subdue and exploit the earth – we need to find ways to remember we are part of the life of the earth.
So I want to challenge us this harvest to engage in some “rewilding”. I can recommend a book by Simon Barnes – “Rewild Yourself”. It contains simple suggestions of ways to become more aware and more appreciative of nature – and I would add, more grateful to the creator God who made it all. Harvest can be a chance to thank God for the beauty of wildness.
We can find God’s work when we look closely at nature – and even find God himself. But as we work to make ourselves wilder to appreciate nature, we also need to allow God to be wild. If harvest makes us think that nature can be neatly lined up like carrots on the window-sill, and God with them, we are not looking carefully enough. Nature can be wild and strange – and our God is bigger and wilder than his creation.
So Psalm 114 – as well as giving praise to God for caring for and saving God’s people, is also clear that God is not to be tamed – he is to be treated with awe
“Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob..”
This wild harvest, as we try to re-wild ourselves, we remember the wonder and the wildness of God.
So where does the Gospel reading and Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness fit in?
Well, we could certainly reflect on the forgiveness that we should seek for all the ways in which human beings have harmed the wild world.
But I think Jesus is saying something more than pointing out our need for forgiveness – he is also reminding us of the kinds of people we are meant to be in relation to others.
Being wild does not mean we do exactly as we please. We do well to remember that we are creatures who are part of the order of the created world – but that doesn’t mean we are just ‘brute beasts’ who cannot be expected to behave in ways that are loving and just.
One of my Methodist colleagues was telling me last week about a church where many new people have come to know God’s love in Christ in recent weeks. It was a great story of growth and hope – but, he said, one woman in particular was starting to realise that being full of the joy of being loved was not enough in her discipleship of Jesus. She was feeling loved, and was understandably joyful about that – but she had not yet learned to love and care for others.. that was her next goal in life.
I thought of her when I read this part of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus is clear that being forgiven should lead us to being forgiving.
Being wild and relating to a wild God teaches us how to be truly alive.
But being truly alive is not just pleasing ourselves and wildly throwing caution to the wind – we respond to the life that is in us in ways that are full of joy and delight – but are also peaceful and just and caring.
May this harvest fill us with life and hope – and produce in us a harvest of love so that God’s Kingdom may grow – wild and free and abundantly for all.
Rev’d Ruth Whitehead (Synod Moderator)