Harvest: A Mystery of Sacrifice and Life

Just thinking…….

What do Willie Loman, Iowa corn and Jesus have in common? Read on….

October.  It’s harvest time here in southern Iowa.  Because of greater than average rainfall this summer, the harvest promises to be bountiful.    As I drive out of town, clouds of dust show where the farmers are working.

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Great machines roll through the fields and huge trucks carry away the grain.  This picture was taken of the harvest on the flat prairie fields in our area, where the corn meets the horizon miles away.

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(Photo by Brenda Burkhiser Jeffers)

The concept of harvest is ancient.  Early civilizations knew the importance of planting and harvesting in order to live.  For centuries, it was painstaking work by hand or with animals.  Even today, the crops are harvested this way by the Amish in our area.

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While modern machinery is huge, it was not long ago that harvesting machinery was relatively modest and not very technical.

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But whether large or small, or ancient or new, the harvest must go on.  It is essential in this circle of life.

My father was a farmer.  His farm was small and hilly.  He worked with small old machinery.  But in the end, he did what farmers have done in the past….. bring in the harvest….. and what farmers do today…… bring in the harvest.

After the spring planting, and as the summer months go by, the farmer eyes the skies, prays for the right amount of rain at the right time, hopes the markets stay steady, readies his machinery and tools, and prepares the trucks, bins and barns.  He chops the weeds that choke out the good grain.  He holds his breath as storm clouds gather in the west.  And then at just the right time, the tractors, combines and corn pickers head out to the fields.

My father would harvest well into the night.  We would take sandwiches and mason jars of water out to the fields for him.   There was a narrow window of time between rains where he could safely harvest .  I remember times when it rained too much, turning the fields into mud pits.  And Dad had to wait until the ground froze to finish the harvest.

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Despite  growing up on a farm and knowing the drama of the farm, I did not become a farmer.  I became a teacher, instructing my students in literature, composition, speech, theater, and journalism.  It was a different kind of drama.   One of my favorite pieces to discuss with my students was Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.    Willie Loman was tragic, and as a farmer’s daughter, I could see some aspects of Willie’s actions that my city students could not see.

Corn.   How did it go from this  th-9

to this corn sprout

to this  cornplant

to this  th-8

to this  th-5.

None of it could happen if the kernel did not die.  The kernel had to be put into the dark soil, with the right amount of heat and moisture, and then the kernel died.   Out of that death, came the sprout that developed into the stalk of corn.

Willie Loman understood this cycle of life.  He had spent his life in failure: failure as a father, failure as a faithful husband, and failure as a salesman.  His past was painful, his present was fragile and he could not see a future.  In his horribly distorted reasoning, he decided to plant a garden.  It is dark, and he traces rows in the small yard which receives little sunlight.  He drops in the seeds, mumbling to himself about giving his sons another chance.  In a few minutes, Willie will leave home and have a deliberate car accident.  He dies, like the seed.  His damaged mind  had begun to equate the seed, dying in order to bring new life,  with his death, which he believed would bring new life to his no-good sons.willieloman

Willie had an idea of this circle of life, but he left out one very important part:  his life insurance.   He did not pay his premium.   And so his sacrifice of himself came to nothing.  There would be no life insurance to give his sons a new start in life.  There would be no harvest.

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Jesus said, “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!.”  (John 4:35)

I don’t know what grain Jesus might have been referring to in this verse.  th-6  Here in Iowa, whether it is corn, wheat, or beans, the plants get lighter and lighter as the harvest approaches.  The fields are no longer green.  But Jesus was not referring to plants; he was referring to a world filled with people who needed to know about Him.  Look!  There they are!  Go and harvest!

I’ve been going in a few different directions with this concept of harvest.

 Let me try to tie the strands together.  

1.  When the kernel of corn dies, there is a sacrifice of form.  The corn no longer is the intact kernel.  But the result of that sacrifice (the harvest) cannot occur without the preparation and wisdom of the farmer.  And even there, the farmer must make his own sacrifices of time and labor in order to bring in the crop.

2.  When Willie Loman died, there was a sacrifice of life.  His body and soul were no longer intact.  But the desired harvest of that sacrifice would not happen because Willie had not prepared with wisdom concerning his life insurance.

3.  When Christ died on the cross, there was a sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16).   The fields of humans are ready for His message of life.  But that complete harvest won’t happen without the preparation of believers to share Christ’s message.  And  yes, it calls for sacrifice on the part of believers:  sacrifice of money, time, and labor.

Harvest.  Life.  Sacrifice.  It’s all one.   The sacrifice of one seed to bring forth many seeds, which will continue to nurture life.  The sacrifice of One who was both God and man,  to bring forth many people into eternal life.

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O Father…..   Let me not be a Willie Loman, understanding some aspects of life, but not grasping the part that would give meaning to his sacrifice.  Let me not be a Willie Loman, operating in darkness and not in light.  Let me not be a Willie Loman, who lacked wisdom and preparation for the harvest he desired.  Father, equip me with Your wisdom.  Give me courage to go to the harvest, and not let Christ’s death be for nothing.  

To God Be The Glory…..

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Garden Musings: New Soil

Just Thinking…..

I wandered out to my little garden this afternoon with a plastic grocery bag (guess that’s a bit of visual irony…) to pick fresh produce. My minute backyard spot is only 8′ by 6′, but doing nicely. The Hubs built it as a raised garden, and we filled it with topsoil, mulched heavily, and planted green beans, 5 kinds of tomato plants and a zuchinni.

They exploded. The tomatoes and beans went wild and covered not only the garden, but draped themselves over the edge and began taking over the immediate yard. The zuke had leaves that were 15″ to 18″ across! When the beans began to blossom and the tomatoes began to form, I could see that we were in for a bountiful treat. And now, as July is closing, my sink is lined with yellow pear tomatoes, large yellow slicing tomatoes, and big Romas. I have tomatoes in the fridge, along with a nice mess of cleaned green beans waiting to be steamed tonight. The zuke, for all its size, was disappointing. It only had 3 offerings. They were delicious, but I was envisioning being overrun with zuchinni.

Now let’s revisit the past. We tried to garden in Missouri…… oh, how we tried. But the soil was thin and grew rocks better than anything else. The multiple wildlife munched on my plants: deer, coons, squirrels, rabbits. We lived in the woods, and sunlight was patchy. I even decided to try growing cherry tomatoes in buckets on the front porch, and was rewarded by impertinant squirrels sucking out the insides and tossing the shell over their shoulders.

I miss Missouri a lot. I miss the milder weather, the lower cost of living, our hand crafted home in the woods, our friendly little community, our church, our Sunday School class, our jobs….. the list could go on…. But I don’t miss the soil. This rich black Iowa soil makes me think of the McBroom books and his highly exaggerated plantings.

The transition to Iowa was tough on me. For a time I just wanted to sleep or to sit and stare. I didn’t have a church home. I didn’t have friends here. My new part time job was still adjunct teaching, but the conditions were quite different. I had to get rooted. Just as I had to plan and plant and care for my little garden, I found that I had to plan my new life here. I would think of writing in this blog, but then shrug it off. I would think of projects that I should do, and then do nothing. As I plucked tomatoes and beans this afternoon, I reflected on my journey. I’ve made the transition; I’m setting down roots. We’ve redone the kitchen, hung our own pieces of art, and arranged the furniture. We’ve ventured out to a new church and deliberately began to be busy in it. We are teaching and meeting people. None of it is the same; I still mourn leaving our church, commmunity and friends. But God prepared a new soil for us.

Father, help me explode in growth like my tomatoes and beans. Help me grow past my boundries as I reach out. Help me take root in this new soil and blossom for Your glory. Help me bear the fruit You want me to bear, abundant, rich and joyous! Amen.

To God be the Glory…..
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Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 8:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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