Recently in a conversation with a local police officer about some of the struggles in our community, I heard myself say words I swore would never come out of mouth. I said something along the lines of: "the young people these days have no idea what it means to..." In that moment, I realized that I was not only channeling my parents, I had become OLD!
Seriously though, the officer and I were comparing stories about having grown up on our family farms. We both agreed that the life lessons we learned on the farm were invaluable and shaped us into the people we are today. (I suppose, in a way, farm-life was our version of preschool.)
We lamented that many young people have been deprived of the opportunity to learn the lessons of farming first-hand. Things such as...the power of bailing twine and grease to fix just about anything...the health benefits of going to bed with cows and getting up with the chickens...or, my personal favorite, to know the real purpose of lard.
Growing up on a farm instead of in the city has advantages and disadvantages...still I believe there's something unique about having participated in raising and growing your own food rather than getting it at a grocery store or in a restaurant. I'm not saying it's better or worse, just different.
Either way, the fact is that fewer and fewer people have the experience of raising crops first hand...much less being utterly dependent on the land for one's livelihood. Now, I know that there are many of you who plant gardens...and maybe even raise chickens, of course not in the city limits. Thank goodness you do and thank goodness you share your bounty with those of us who do not! Still, we must admit that the days of a predominately agrarian way of life seem to be over.
Personally, as one who spent most of her formative years on a farm, I believe that society has lost touch with some of the important life lessons that can only be learned there. Thankfully though, some farming lessons are so universal, and applicable in nearly every context of life, that they will never die. Lessons like the one from today's children's book. Lessons like the one here in the writings of the apostle Paul to the Galatians.
It makes one wonder if the scriptures are filled agricultural images because they originated from an agrarian society, or because the natural order that God has fashioned for the world looks a lot like what happens on the farm.
This is definitely the case when it comes to the principle of sowing and reaping. There are "truths" about sowing and reaping that are part of God's order in every context of life. We cannot escape them. In fact, that seems to be what Paul meant in verse 7 when he says, "God cannot be mocked." In other words, we cannot deny this truth...we will reap what we sow. In fact, I believe nearly every world religion adheres to this as a universal reality...that which we put out comes back to us, eventually.
The intent of Paul's letter was to show that the gospel empowers people to love and obey God by the power of the Holy Spirit in a way that the law could never do. Basically, he is saying that as Christians we wrestle with that difficult balance between living from our own desires which are not necessarily godly and do not bring us peace and the Spirit-led life, which does. He acknowledges that the "flesh" as he calls our desire is tempting, but the Spirit is the life of blessing. Paul basically says our lives will reap that which we sow. If we sow from our own selfish desire, we will reap misery. If we sow from God's Spirit, we will reap the very desireable fruits of the Spirit which he lists in chapter 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Now, of course the presence of the Holy Spirit influences what we harvest. The Spirit brings out the fruit in our lives, but it's also an undeniable principle that our planting choices impact what we reap as well. In fact, according to this law of sowing and reaping, we can ONLY reap the crop that we sow.
I mean, just ask any gardener or farmer. You can't plant corn and expect to harvest beans. It's like the rabbits in the story...if you plant cabbage, carrots and tomatoes, you will get cabbage, carrots and tomatoes...unless of course, you live in Indiana in May...then you might have to replant them after the rains end.
The point is, you can't expect to get watermelon, strawberries and cucumbers if you plant cabbage, carrots and tomatoes. Conversely, if you want watermelon, strawberries and cucumbers, you don't plant cabbage, carrot and tomato seeds.
The same is true in our lives. If we want lives of balance, integrity and peace, we can't be planting chaos, warped priorities, and self-deceit. If we want grace and mercy, we can't sow hatred and unforgiveness. If we want change, we can't keep doing the same old thing. And folks if one wants a life of God's blessing, you can't put seeds of disobedience in the ground of your life. You get the picture. It's like one person said, you can't sow wild oats all week long and on Sunday pray for crop failure.
A second truth about reaping and sowing is that we will reap more than we sow. Boy did I ever learn this lesson once when I planted a flower called gooseneck loosestrife in my flower bed. Now, let me just say that when God was handing out gifts, singing and flower gardening were not on my list. When it comes to singing, I know better than to mock God...I know where the line is drawn. However, when it came to flower gardening, I thought since I grew up on a farm, maybe I'd give it a try. In hindsight, I should have thought twice when I read the little tag in the container that said it was an "aggressive grower". The first year I planted an area about 1 x 3 and two years later the stuff had completely taken over the entire south side of our house...and was headed to the neighbors.
I definitely learned my lesson. Unless a weather extreme like flooding or drought occurs or the plant is gooseneck - which is impervious to any disaster - we -- and those around us --will reap more than we sow. One little seed produces a plant full of fruit.
Now, in life, this is a great thing if we are sowing positive seed...like forgiveness, blessings, and ministry. The return on these seeds will always be in abundance. Often beyond our imagination. But the same principle is true if we're sowing seeds of hurt and harm. It returns in abundance too -- to us and to those we love. Scripture tells us this truth in many different places...but one of my personal favorites is from the prophet Hosea, who says of those causing conflict: They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.
Another related truth about sowing and reaping is that we often don't reap until long after the seeds are sown. The farmers who will hopefully be planting or re-planting in the next couple of weeks are well aware that they will not reap anything until months from now. However, they also know that once those seeds are sown, they can't come back and change their minds. It's as the saying goes: that ship has sailed. If beans are in the ground in May, beans, not corn, will be in the bins in November.
It seems so obvious in farming, but it can be painful to consider in our lives. I mean, the fact that we will later reap the seeds we've sown is not problematic when we have been sowing the right things...the good things...the Spirit things. In fact, it is the promise of a future harvest that inspires us to plant now. However, it's frightening to consider this principle when we have not always sewn good seeds. You see, the truth that we will reap in a different season that we which have sewn also emphasizes the hard truth about the consequences of our choices. We, or those whom we love, will eventually experience the harvest.
It's a harsh reality folks. God will not be mocked. We don't get to live outside the natural law of sowing and reaping. What we do have though, is the hope and promise of the resurrection which reminds us that with Christ, it's never too late to choose to sow a different crop. To choose different seeds and reap a different life. Through Christ, God has offered us grace and mercy and forgiveness for the seeds that we wish we had never sown...as well as for those we will regret sowing in the future.
The hope of Christ's resurrection means that as Easter people, we have been given a new field...a second chance ship that has not sailed.
Friends, every spring, the season of new beginnings, farmers get to choose what they will plant. As followers of Jesus, every season is the season of new beginning....every day we get to choose what we will plant. And as the children's story taught us, if we plant seeds of kindness...and goodness...and mercy...and justice...all the seeds that Jesus planted, we will reap the fruits of the spirit...and they are very, very sweet.
On this PPM Sunday, I believe we are witness to the best possible aspects of sowing and reaping. For one thing we are celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of our existence...recognizing that three decades ago, two women, Linda Ayres and Lynna Shaw, chose to plant the good seeds of this ministry.
Now, honestly, correct me if I'm wrong Lynna, but neither of you really had any idea about what blessings would be reaped in that first year, much less thirty years later. The founders, Linda and Lynna, as well as the others who supported their vision, just knew that a Mother's Day Out ministry at First Presbyterian Church was the right thing to do...at the right time...and for the right reasons.
And with that, they planted. One day a week...just a few children for a few hours. Who knew that each year after that the harvest would multiply like gooseneck strife? Literally expanding into new classrooms, new areas of the building and now...across the alley into the new playground. I think someone forgot to put the aggressive grower tag on the ministry.
But really folks, given God's promises of sowing and reaping...as well as God's faithfulness to the faithful...should we have ever expected anything less?
Throughout the thirty years, the Presbyterian Preschool Ministry has planted seeds of its own...seeds of care and compassion, kindness and love, seeds of education, character and community. Seeds sown by loving staff into the hearts of hundreds of children who have been nurtured and taught here, as well as into the lives of the numerous families we have served. The reaping, if you will, is on-going...in the schools that commend us for our program, in the community that benefits from the quality of the ministry, in the lives of the children who are confident and eager to learn, and sometimes right here in our classrooms when the children come back as high school graduates...or as parents of our newest students.
And church, fellow FPCer's, never forget that you all have sown many seeds of hope and light and love into this community through your faithful support of the preschool ministry.
Friends and family, days like today remind us that through the PPM, First Presbyterian Church is reaping what we sow in the best sense...in abundance and into the future...and it continues to be a very, very sweet blessing.
Speaking of sweet blessings...let us reflect on the seeds that have been sown this year as the PPM students come back up and offer us a glimpse of the future harvest.
Note: Children's Story was a reading of If You Plant a Seed, by Kadir Nelson