Text(s): Galatians 5:1, 13-25 and Luke 9:51-62
In the memories of the recent past the heart of Gilbert was agriculture. During the 1920s, the town of Gilbert was internationally recognized as the “Hay Capital of the World”; however, the agricultural presence diminished throughout the decades. As a country girl and a farmer’s daughter to whom Gilbert is home, I cherish those precious moments of admiring the fields and dairies while traveling Elliot Road; however those moments are gone with the wind.
Agriculture is “more than cows and plows”, a slogan of the National FFA Organization, formerly known as the Future Farmers of America. Agriculture has been transformed through out the eras with the development of progressive techniques and the invention of agricultural machinery. American agriculture in the 18th century survived by the calles upon the hands of the farmers and their horsepower, and the horsepower was four-legged not miles per hour. However, during the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, American agriculture has been blessed with progressive machinery including the plow, the reaper (or harvester), and the gasoline tractor. The American farmer, in the year 1994, embraced satellite technology, which enabled the modern farmer to track and plan their farming practices. However, the challenges toiled and the products reaped have remained untouched by the hands of time.
Christian Discipleship, likewise, has been transformed throughout the eras with the establishment of the churches and the spiritual practices to deepen our faith. With the invention of the Printing Press in 1463, the human experience and the Christian experience were transformed for eternity. The Printing Press brought the Holy Bible, the Word of God, into the homes of the ‘common’ people, and launched the Protestant Reformation. In fact, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia published in 2001, approximately 34,000 established Christian faiths exist. Amongst the multitude of faiths, we as Christians are blessed with a multitude of spiritual practices that deepen our relationship to God. Exploring the Holy Scriptures, participating in Bible Studies, diving into devotional texts, and practicing meditation and prayer transforms Christian Discipleship; however, the challenges toiled and the fruits reaped in the fields of Christian Discipleship have remained untouched by the hands of time.
The challenges toiled in the fields of Christian Discipleship have remained rooted within the soil of a broken humanity. According to Galatians, attributed to the Apostle Paul, the experiences that composite the soil include: illicit sexual behavior, excessive amounts of adult beverages, the attempt to further ones own agenda, resentment aroused by the possessions or qualities of another, disagreement and conflict, and anger. Pondering upon the soil to be cultivated and the challenges to be toiled in the fields of Discipleship, these are the elements of human experience that hinder our personal relationships with our neighbors and our spiritual relationship with God the father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. In essence, the most deeply rooted experience of a broken humanity to be toiled is anger. Philip Longfellow Anderson, within The Gospel in Disney, writes:
All of us have a temper, Everyone of us gets angry. Even Jesus got angry. The oldest of the New Testament gospels doesn’t mince words: “He looked around at them with anger” (Mark 3:5). Dr. Karl Menninger has suggested that anger is the first emotion a human being experiences. In his words, “such evidence we have indicates that, however sweetly we may interpret the fact, the human child begins life in anger.” Birth removes a child from the protection and peace, and suddenly thrusts him into an incomprehensible world of uncomfortable sensations and experiences. So his little face is red and wrinkled, his fists are tightly clenched, and the cry coming from his tiny body is a fit of rage- not altogether unlike a tantrum from Donald Duck.”
Unfortunately, the tantrums, the fits of rage, the consumption by the fires of anger are not limited to the transition from the safety of our mothers into the harsh reality of human existence nor limited to those horrid terrible twos. We, as Christian Disciples, continually cultivate the soil of the broken humanity, particularly anger, with spiritual practices, particularly the undeniable power of prayer, in preparation to harvest the products of our toil.
Fortunately, the products reaped in the fields of Discipleship, likewise, have remained true throughout the eras as the sweet fruits of the Holy Spirit. The cultivation of the broken humanity, especially anger, the fruits of the Spirit are ripened, harvested, and the sweetness enjoyed. The fruits of the Spirit are the desired pleasures of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we, as Christians, cultivate the soil and nurture the seeds of faith a bounty will be harvested within our souls.
In 2002, Jason Aldean released a single entitled ‘Amarillo Sky’ onto country music radio, which explored the challenges of cultivating the earth and the prayer for a bountiful harvest. Within the lyrics are the words:
That hail storm back in ‘83
Sure did take a toll on his family.
But he stayed strong and carried on,
Just like his dad and granddad did before him.
On his knees every night, He prays:
“Please let my crops and children grow,”
‘Cause that’s all he’s ever known.
He just takes the tractor another round
An’ pulls the plow across the ground
And sends up another prayer.
He says: “Lord, I never complain, I never ask: ‘why?’
Please don’t let my dreams run dry,
“Underneath, underneath this Amarillo Sky.”
These lyrics re-enforce, the challenges toiled whether upon the fields of agriculture or those of Christian
discipleship are inconceivably grappled in the abilities of humanity, but rather are to be burdens placed at the foot of the cross and into the hands of God. To let go and let God, however, in reality demands us, as humans, to release the illusion of control. And, at least, for myself, presents a challenge to toil equal to anger.
These lyrics also demonstrate that those who labor in agricultural pursuits are transformed within the struggles and the pleasures, “you can take the girl off the farm, but you can not take the farm out of the girl”. Previously mentioned, I am the proud daughter of an Indiana pig farmer. Although my mother was raised in the ‘big’ city of Richmond, she was transformed during her marriage to my father into a small town country farm girl with agricultural roots deeply embedded within her soul. On a cold, stormy, fateful night the pigs were cuddled for warmth within a metal solo. Mother Nature struck down their agricultural dreams when lightning struck the solo. Although, approximately twenty-five years have passed since their relocation to Gilbert Arizona, those roots of agricultural dreams and desires have remained embedded within her soul. These roots were continued, planted, and nourished within the soul of my sister and I.
Those who labor in Christian pursuits, likewise, are transformed within the challenges toiled and the fruits harvested. The struggles of Christian Discipleship, as with agricultural pursuits, are not for the faint of heart, for in the Gospel according to Luke, these harsh words were spoken from the lips of Jesus Christ “no one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”.
The moment these words fell upon your ears, what was your immediate response? Were you touched by the sensation of uncertainty, or failure, or perhaps hopelessness? To be honest, I was. However, when we, as Christians, embrace the plow of discipleship we are transformed. We have been transformed through the grace of God, when Jesus Christ suffered upon the cross, he released humanity from the bonds of sin that enslave the human soul. Since we, as Christians, are released from the bonds of sin, we are summoned into the agricultural toils and harvests of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is compiled by the unconditional love of God to implant the seeds of grace and faith, the seeds spout forth and blossom into the fruits, which are to be demonstrated in service to our neighbor. Service to the neighbor is not rooted within obligation, but rather is rooted within love. The service to our neighbor is our response, as Christians, to the unconditional love of our compassionate heavenly Father. Consider, when we are struck with the warm and fuzzy sensation of love, what is our response? We respond with affection and devotion, demonstrated through tokens and displays of affection and service; however, we do not require or demand anything in return. Therefore, what is our response to the unconditional love, grace, and mercy of God? Simple, in service to our brothers and sisters in Christ, not rooted in obligation and duty, but rather rooted in love and desire.
Embracing the deeply rooted agricultural roots of my heritage, while at Highland High School in Gilbert, I was a dedicated member of the National FFA. The National FFA embraces a motto:
Learning to Do,
Doing to Learning,
Earning to Life,
Living to Serve
As Christians, we learn to embrace the ‘tasks’ of exploring scripture, devotions, meditation, and prayers…
As Christians, we explore scripture, devotions, meditation, and prayer to learn about God, our neighbor, and ourselves…
As Christians, we can not earn grace, however, through the unconditional love of God we have been transformed, or re-born, into the community of faith….
As Christians, we live in the community of faith in order to serve the neighbor, through love rather than obligation.
As a freshman, I participated within the Creed competition, in which I recited the Creed embraced by the National FFA Organization written by E. M. Tiffany. With a few minor modifications, the Creed can apply to the struggling toils and the sweet fruits of Christianity. It states:
I believe in the future of (Christianity), with a faith born not of words, but of deeds – achievements won by the present and past generations of (Christians); in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years.
I believe that to live and work (at) a good (church), or to be engaged in other (Christian) pursuits, is pleasant was well as challenging; for I know the joys and discomforts of (Christian) life and hold an inborn fondness for those associations which, even in hours of discouragement, I cannot deny.
I believe in leadership from ourselves and respect from others. I believe in my own ability to work efficiently and think clearly, with such knowledge and skill as I can secure, and in the ability of progressive (Christians) to serve our own and the public interest in producing the product of our toil.
*Preached June 27, 2010 at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Chandler Arizona.