On Harvest and Harvest Home

I worked at a record store the summer before I left for college.

Actually,  I worked at Best Buy.  But I worked in the media department, and two of my main jobs were keeping the expansive CD aisles organized and making sure no one was stuffing Snoop Dogg, Everclear, or Blink 182 into the pockets of their late-90s cargo pants.

Over the course of the summer, I developed a compulsion for farming the product, organizing the albums alphabetically by artist and title.  At the end of the season, I used my employee discount to buy my dorm-room mini-fridge and one exquisite piece of music:  Harvest by Neil Young, released 26 years prior.

“The Needle and the Damage Done.”  “Old Man.”  “Heart of Gold.”  “Alabama.”  All classic songs that helped make Young’s fourth solo album a breakout record and establish him as a breakout solo artist.  “Heart of Gold” is the best known, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” about the death spiral of heroin addiction, and “Alabama,” a response to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” (itself a response to Young’s “Southern Man”) about the pernicious longevity of racial hatred,  are the most important (and, sadly, still the most timely).  The title track, “Harvest,” is the most understated and lovely, the most closely observed.

Much of Young’s music is about growing up, falling in love or out of love, understanding the process of loss that leads us to adulthood.  Harvest, the album, dominated my late teens and early 20s.  45 after its release, “Harvest,” the song, keeps asking important questions:

Will I see you give
more than I can take?
Will I only harvest some?
As the days fly past
will we lose our grasp
Or fuse it in the sun?

When I first met my wife, these were the kinds of questions I was asking about the persistence of relationships.  Our first date was a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young concert.  One of the first things I ever bought her was a “Heart of Gold” t-shirt. It was the early 2000s, but our souls were very much in tune with the early 1970s.

When Harvest was released in 1972, the haze of hippie possibility had already dissipated.  Harvest is in part about what happens after fleeting first love fades. The older I get, the more I understand love to be a choice, and the less I think about my feelings.

At Lowhill, we’re celebrating a Harvest Home service on October 15. Prevalent in churches and denominations first organized by early German Americans like the Pennsylvania Dutch, the Harvest Home tradition is hundreds of years old. I’m part Dutch, but I didn’t grow up in one of those kinds of churches.  A Lehigh Valley native, I’m about as familiar with always-present agriculture as someone who grew up in the suburbs can be.  But every bit of planning I do for Harvest Home brings me back to “Harvest.”

Will I see you give more than I can take?

If I’m addressing this question to God instead of my wife, and if I’m being honest, the answer is always yes.

Will I only harvest some?

Yes. But only because God’s provision of love and grace is so vast and unwieldy.  Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a seed that grows into a plant so invasive, so tenacious, so all-consuming, that it was actually illegal to grow, even in private gardens.  God’s longing for us is so outsized and uncontainable, Jesus compares to it contraband.

As the days fly past
will we lose our grasp
Or fuse it in the sun?

That’s the question left to us in every season of life.

In the book of Malachi, the foretold Messiah, who Christians believe is Jesus, is seen as “the sun of vindication,” rising with healing in his rays. (Hence the lyric from “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing:” “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace, hail the Sun of Righteousness, life and light to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings!”). In the Gospel of Luke, Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus) prophesies powerfully:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
    and to remember his holy covenant,
    the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
    and to enable us to serve him without fear
    in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

We undoubtedly find ourselves straying from God’s path. But God longs to grasp hands with us, to fuse us in the sun of his grace, love, and peace.

“Give,” a worship song by Third Day, puts it this way:

All I want is love
I confess to this
I will take it, Lord
All You have to give.

That’s a harvest prayer.

Please bring your produce and canned goods to harvest on October 15 for donation to the Lowhill Food Pantry, and I look forward to seeing you as we celebrate the God who is our Harvest Home.

Blessings!

– Pastor Chris