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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If You Go Fishing, Then Fish The Best You Can!!

Just thinking….

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Things had been strange for the past three years, and the last few days were very tense. The world as they knew it turned upside down and inside out. What they had thought were priorities turned out to be last on the list. What they thought could never happen, never ever, had happened. Even the laws of the universe seemed to be invalid, and at this point, they wouldn’t be surprised if the law of gravity would be repealed.

They had come from diverse backgrounds, but all had a similar quest and calling. A man had asked them to leave what they were doing for a living, and doing in life…. give it all up, and come with him. If it had been any other man, they would have laughed in his face. But this man was different; they knew it from the moment they met.

So…. with families wondering and friends doubting, they left it all and followed. There had been some exciting moments, some scary moments, some moments of being bone tired and of being confused. There were the moments that they had glimpses of understanding, and then those moments passed. Overall the journey was quite the adventure, but the last year had been rough.

Some of the public had started to make things uneasy for the group. The group was committed to doing good, so the negative reactions stunned them. Hate stares, the whispered innuendo, the attempts to trip them up and shame them, and even death threats had become part of life. The situation accelerated to the point that the leader was arrested and condemned to death.

The little group looked around at each other. Now what? Three years for nothing. Now to go back and face the scoffing family and friends, to piece together the interrupted career, to hear the “I told you so’s”….. But more than that, the incredible dream that they had all bought into seemed shattered. How had they been so easily duped?

At this point, the truly incredible happened. Their leader, whom they had seen die and be put into the grave, became alive again. It was beyond anything they had ever seen and gave new vigor and determination to the group. The last three years were NOT a mistake, and they could continue in the ways to which they had become accustomed.

Not so fast. The journey had just begun, and the route was going to be different. The leader announced that he would be going away, and that a new leader would be taking over. Huh?

One man, who had run a fishing business before all this began, announced that he was going back to fishing. Charismatic and impulsive, he headed for the lake, and others followed. But the fishing was terrible that night and once again the group was discouraged. Fishing was all he had known…. and now it seemed to be falling apart.

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A man on the beach called out to them and asked if they had caught anything for breakfast. No, they had caught nothing.

The man on the beach suggested that they change tactics and lower the net on the other side of the boat. The men rolled their eyes, but had nothing to lose. The net went down…. and came up filled with fish…. 153 BIG fish!!! And suddenly they recognized the man on the beach; he was their leader. They headed for shore. This was only the third time that they had seen him since the miracles of his death and life had happened.

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The man had breakfast cooking over a camp fire when they arrived: bread and fish. And they ate.

Today I was reading this story again, in John 21 and I zeroed in in Peter, the fisherman. Fishing was what Peter did for a living and fishing was what he went back to. I began to think about when Jesus first called Peter to come follow him.

Matthew 4:19 says: “Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.”

Yes, Peter went back to fishing, but it was a whole new kind of fishing. His fishing skills were used in a new direction. Did he possibly think, “All I know is fishing. How do I go around fishing for people?” Did he have an image in his head of a big net with arms and legs sticking out of it? Did he understand immediately what Jesus was asking of him?

And the question that started forming in my mind was: Does God ever take what we do as a career or skill or hobby and then use it for His glory?

I was trained to be a teacher and I taught school for many years. Does that mean that I will teach in the church? A friend is a nurse as a secular job. Is she to somehow use that skill to be a nurse in the church? And the list could continue.

The case of Peter seems to confirm that God can take our abilities and training and then use them for His glory. He can take those skills and change them to a more useful form. In my career, I taught language arts in high school and on the university level. But I was also called to teach groups of women in a Bible study. God took what I did for a living, and tweaked it to equip me for teaching a different audience and in a different way.

But can He, does He, take a person who has never taught anything ever, and use that person as a teacher? Based on my experience, I would have to say yes. Kathy worked in real estate. Never in her life did she think she could be a teacher. But she now teaches children each week about the Lord, and has found an uncommon success in doing so. God took her willingness to serve, and tweaked it to equip her for something altogether different.

So if you go fishing, FISH!!! Fish your heart out! Fish to the best of your ability! And then when you are unexpectedly asked to be a public speaker, do so knowing that you will be equipped.

Keep in mind that I’m not a theologian. But it just seems to me that I sometimes put God in a box and try to limit Him on what He can do with people. My dad was a farmer; could he be a farmer for God’s glory and use his farming skills in the church? What about an accountant? Or a beautician? Can God use those skills for His glory? Or can He take that accountant, farmer and beautician and give them entirely new skills in order to equip them to serve? Is “church” only about preachers, teachers and song directors? Or can God use other skills and training to glorify Himself? I have to say yes; God can use us in unexpected ways. God uses our ability, but He also uses our willingness.

What do you think?

Father, take me and any abilities that I have and use me. I want to serve, even though I sometimes have fear about how to do what I am called to do. When everything seems upside down and I ask “Now what?”, please, Father, calm me. Forgive my fear and equip me to serve in any way that You deem worthy.

To God Be The Glory…..
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Published in: on August 30, 2013 at 12:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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