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We Plough the Fields and Scatter: A Harvest Reflection

At the Church Council Meeting, the congregation’s wealthiest member decided to share a portion of his faith story.

“I’m a millionaire,” he said, “and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of God in my life. I can still remember the turning point in my faith like yesterday: I had just earned my first pound and went to a youth meeting that night.

The speaker was a missionary who told about his work. I knew I only had a pound note and had to either give it all to God’s work or nothing at all. So, at that moment, I decided to give God everything I had, my whole pound. I believe God blessed that decision, which is why I am a rich man today.”

When he finished and sat down, the chair of the Stewardship Committee leaned over and whispered in his ear:

“Wonderful story! I dare you to do it again!”

Perhaps his reaction was a little like this guy?

At this time of year, we think about Harvest and all God has given us —but also about what we do with it.

What do you remember of past Harvest Festivals?

I remember going to Harvest Festival, struggling down the aisle of the Baptist church we attended, laden with a shoe box, covered in wrapping paper filled with apples and potatoes topped with dahlias my dad grew.

The heady scent from all the flowers filled every window ledge.

Then we sang the usual hymn, ‘We Plough the Fields and Scatter’.

My children will remember taking boxes and bags of soap and flannels, dried and tinned foods to church as the local Anglican church we attended supported a local hostel for the homeless.

They also will remember different hymns from most of you, I suspect.

We sang an unusual version of ‘We Plough the Fields’ but more of that later.

I suspect you didn’t know that this favourite Harvest hymn was written in Germany by a layman, commissioner of agriculture and manufacture, a newspaper editor and a bank auditor.

Matthias Claudius was taken ill and—upon his recovery—wrote this hymn as part of a dramatic sketch for a festival of thanksgiving at a German farmhouse. He had first heard the song being sung by local peasant farmers and adapted it to become the hymn we know today.

As such a well-known hymn, you won't be surprised to find out it has been adapted over the years and has been updated regularly.

I found two variations. The first one is

We plough the fields with tractors,

We drill and sow the land;

but growth is still the wondrous gift

of God’s almighty hand;

we add our fertilisers to help the growing grain,

but for it’s full fruition

It needs God’s sun and rain.

This version finishes

Then why are people starving

When we have life so good?

And some in crowded cities

Search dustbins for their food;

And even some go hungry

Who farms in distant lands;

Lord, help us learn more swiftly

To share with open hands.

The poet John Betjeman did a parody of this;

We spray the fields and scatter

the poison on the ground.

So that no wicked wild flowers Upon our farm be found.

We like whatever helps us To line our purse with pence;

the twenty-four hour broiler house,

and neat electric fence.

It makes me think about how we treat our planet. We are only the caretakers of this world; we should not be intruders, owners or exploiters of it—but guardians of it.

It will hopefully be here long after we are gone, and I would like to think that we would leave it at least as we found it—if not in better condition—for future generations.

However, that is getting harder every year. And I'm not as hopeful as I once was.

How much will future generations understand the landscape's vital role in their lives? When asked where milk or bread comes from, most children will reply Morrisons or Asda.

Even the fruit and veg come pre-washed, trimmed and packaged in cellophane and cardboard.

We are getting further and further away from the roots of food and its production. Vast quantities now travel miles over land and sea to get to us, polluting the atmosphere, exploiting the farmers, and providing us with a constant supply of foods—so much so we often can't tell what is in season and out.

There appear to be no seasons now, as you can get strawberries and salad all year round.

Then what about the wastage in the first world? Did you know that, on average, we throw away about one-third of the food we buy?

Can we do better? Yes, I think we can—and we should.

We are challenged to be disciples of Jesus and not just followers—and that has a cost.

Well, back to that hymn, I’d like to read our favourite version to you.

And leave you with it as food for thought.

We fill our fridge and freezer with good things from Iceland,

with oven chips and kidney beans, with prawns and foreign lamb;

our fridge is overflowing, and the freezers full as well:

Give heartfelt thanks for freezers, which feed us all so well:

Iceland, Kwiksave, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Aldi too,

for frozen food, for frozen food, our grateful praise is due.

But what about the millions who starve in far-off lands?

How can they sing God’s praises with empty, upturned hands?

So we, with all our riches, must give to those in need

and gladly keep on giving - that’s gratitude indeed!

Praising, caring, sharing, Lord, teach us how to live

till all are fed with daily bread and starving people live


This reflection has been adapted from a sermon preached by

Sandy Walker at Newcomen Methodist on October 1st


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