First fruits

Here they are…

OK, they may be too small for you to see well from where you’re sitting... They’re tiny little tomatoes – the first fruits from my garden. And I have brought them here to give to you. I suspect – I have good reason to think that many more tomatoes will follow these in my garden, but I cannot know that for certain.

Today we arrive at a day of the year half way between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. As the two solstices and two equinoxes divide the year into quarters, days like today – which fall in between the others - are known as cross-quarter days. When humankind was more intimately connected with the natural world, days like these were among the most important of the year. 

This cross-quarter day has been called by many names, but especially Lughnasadh, Lammas, and “the feast of first fruits.” It is a time of both beginnings and endings. 

The harvest is beginning now: Summer’s fertility and abundant promise has begun to deliver. Apples ripen on trees and berries are ready for picking. The first grains are harvested now. And the first tomatoes in my garden are ripening.

It is also a time to contemplate ending. Although the chill and darkness of autumn are still far off, those long, long hours of daylight we enjoyed at the summer solstice are now visibly decreasing. Between the joyful, hopeful, beginning of the harvest and the coming of autumn, we stand here – amid uncertainty. We have been blessed with our first fruits and we cannot know what more, if anything, will come.

Today, I have invited you to think about bringing along something to give away – perhaps something tangible like a tiny tomato, or perhaps a promise – a pledge – for something you will do in the future, or maybe something as intangible as a blessing or a warm wish.
I asked this because it is hard.

I don’t know if there will be more tomatoes this year. The blight could quickly wither my plants. A hail storm could destroy them. When you receive something, you can’t know if there will ever be more. 

The rich are notoriously stingy with their money – so many people today have the feeling that nothing might ever come to them again. They cling to what they have - tightly, desperately, fiercely.

I do believe there will be more tomatoes. I believe this so deeply, that I am ready to give away these precious little red gems. I believe that giving creates a cycle that rewards all of us in ways that we can not begin to understand or predict.

By some, this is called faith. It has many other names. A new age movement calls it “the law of attraction”: whatever you focus on and prepare your mind for will, they say, be somehow magically attracted to you. 

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the popular book “Eat, Pray, Love” describes faith in this way:

“To sit patiently with a yearning that has not yet been fulfilled, and to trust that, that fulfillment will come, is quite possibly one of the most powerful "magic skills" that human beings are capable of. It has been noted by almost every ancient wisdom tradition.”

But it is not magic. I would be lying if I told you that everything you want will come to you if you hold the right attitude – salvation and satisfaction with both come your way if you only have faith. Not so, but they will not come our way if we do not have faith.

Having enough trust in the nature of the universe that you are prepared to go ahead to reach out, to leap, and to give without certainty does have a power to it.

Now, in a diverse congregation like ours, the “how” of this fact can be a pretty complicated question. For some of you, it is God that rewards our faith and goodness – recognizing that God is a short simple word that none of us likely really understands or defines in the same way! 

For others, there is a pervasive generosity to the universe that responds in ways we cannot begin to fathom. For some, it may be a very natural and rational fact that the prepared mind detects opportunities – becomes resourceful and creative in ways that it could not when assuming an uncommitted, detached stance.

Reinhold Niebuhr, and influential 20th century theologian put it simply:

“Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;

Therefore, we are saved by faith.”

It takes faith to plant seeds for the crops that grow silently, unnoticed to yield an uncertain harvest.

It takes faith to plant seeds of love – love that grows and branches, and bears fruit unpredictably.

It takes faith to plant seeds for a future vision that we may never see come to pass.

Without faith, there can be no harvest. There can be no love. There can be no great dream for tomorrow.

I know there will be tomatoes.

I know that love will grow.

I know that the dream will be realized.

Have faith.

May it be so.