Believe In the Harvest
March 22nd, 2015
John 12: 20-33
Our message today is adapted from a story shared by a missionary named Del Tarr who served for fourteen years in West Africa, mostly during the 1970s and 80s. I’ve been saving this story specifically for today, the last regular Sunday in Lent before we begin the week of beauty and tragedy that is Holy Week, because this is a story ultimately about endurance and sacrifice, all the while trusting in the promise that God has something good and precious in store for us.
I never needed a calendar to tell me that it was March. Every year, like clock work, one day I would step outside my home at twilight to find my neighbors looking up at the sky… And then I would know.
They would stand there, shoulders slouched, with their parched/cracked lips open, and their eyes fastened on the cloudless spans above. It’s always a rather distracted and hopeless look. But that is, nevertheless, the look of March. My neighbors, my family, myself… all hungry. Each and everyone of us thirsty. Without the light of day and with our list of chores completed, we are left to dwell on the pain in our empty stomachs and to dream about the rain filled clouds that would come… eventually. March is for waiting – eyes to the sky.
By now the ground has long since cracked from dryness. And when I look down at my hands and feet I see those same cracks. When the wind comes down from the north, it brings with it the intense heat and sand of the Sahara. It comes through our village in fast swirling funnels, throwing its grit everywhere!
In the Sahel (Suh-HAIL) Savanna, we have a short season of rain: May, June, July, and August. That’s it! Four months. After that… not a single drop of moisture will be seen falling from the sky for eight long months.
The year’s food, of course, has to be planted and grown all during those four short months. And we have it down to a science on how to utilize every life-giving drop that falls from the sky! We grow sweet sorghum grain in fields where we dig trenches. By August it will grow taller than some trees and turns a beautiful golden brown when it is ready for harvest. We grow hot chili peppers and okra and onions and tomatoes!
October and November are so beautiful! The Savannah is green and thick with wild life! We all work together to fill our granaries. We sing and dance and we eat two meals everyday! The sorghum is crushed and ground between stones until it forms fine flour. Then we soak it! Cook it up good and hot! Roll it into little balls. Then we all sit down together and have our meal. Dipping the grain into delicious sauces made out of our chili peppers and okra. The hotter the food the cooler our skin feels. So, of course, we use lots of hot chilies!
As the food lays heavy in our stomachs/ our skin feeling refreshed… we all sleep soundly/heavily.
But as December comes, we begin to see the dent we have made in the granaries. So many of us start skipping the morning meal.
By January, no one is eating two meals a day.
By February, our one meal a day gets a lot smaller.
And then before you know it, it’s March again. And we find ourselves standing outside on the cracked thirsty ground- with our eyes fixed on the sky – hungry and waiting for the rain to come. So we can start over.
But it is April that we all fear the most. Children succumb to sickness… no one stays well for long on just a half a day’s meal. Long into the night, we moan and listen to the cries of our babies – as most days pass with only a cup of gruel made with gritty water that we had to trek miles for.
Then, inevitably, it happens- every year. A six-or seven-year-old boy, curious by nature, will go running to his father one day with a sudden excitement. “Daddy! Daddy! We’ve got grain!” he will shout.
“Son, you know we haven’t had grain for weeks.”
“Yes, we have!” the boy will insist. “Out in the hut where we keep the goats — there’s a leather sack hanging up on the wall — I reached up and put my hand down in there — Daddy, there’s grain in there! Give it to Mommy so she can make flour, and tonight our tummies can sleep!”
Then that father will have to do something very hard indeed, tell his hungry, excited, curious child “No”.
“Son,” he will say, “we can’t do that. That’s next year’s seed grain. It’s the only thing between us and starvation. We’re waiting for the rains, and then we will use it.”
And so father and son, now wait together.
But one day soon, with our eye fixed on the sky above, we will see the clouds gather. We will watch them grow heavy, dark and ready to break free. We will watch with impatience! For we too have a leather bag stashed away in the goat hut filled with seed for the planting. We too have been tempted to use it to quiet our howling stomachs. And so we watch the skies with a determination and a fierce belief in the harvest that will certainly come!
But we have to get through March/ we have to get through April first…
But one day soon, dawn will break into May, that is when the rain finally arrives!
The father of that little boy will take his son by the hand, and together they will go into the hut and get the seed bag off of the high up hook on the wall. They will go out into the parched field and together they will do the most unimaginable/ unreasonable thing ever. Instead of feeding their desperate/ starving/weak family, they will take the seed into their hands and then throw it away.
Scatter it into the dirt… With tears dripping down their faces they will cast their only food aside, why? Because they believe in the harvest.
That is what is coming. That is what we will all have to do. What is unimaginable/ unreasonable. We will throw the last of our grain aside, because we believe that there is something better to come.
As Christ said, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it will bear much fruit.” (John 12: 23-24 CEB)
Jesus knew what was in store for him. He knew that the only way to the glory of Easter morning, was through Calvary- through his suffering and death on the cross. Through what is unimaginable/ and completely unreasonable.
Christ is at the same time the weary hungry sower, eagerly awaiting the rain, and that tiny sorghum seed. Christ casts out his life (although it made him “troubled”- scared him even), willingly, trusting that in its giving… something beautiful will come from it. And Christ is the seed, the vessel of God’s promise. Christ sowed his own life, and what broke froth from the dry earth was a harvested of Grace.
God’s gift to us. Far more filling and far more complete than any grain could ever be. A way for us to know God’s love and salvation for our lives.
As we approach the final leg of our Lenten journey, I invite you to take in a sense of awe at our Lord’s gift to us.
And to consider what Christ said to the Greeks that they came to see him in our Scripture today, “Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. Whoever serves me must follow me.” (John 12: 25-26a CEB)
To serve our God, we must follow Christ’s footsteps sowing seeds.
But what it is it that you are sowing? Are you sowing seeds of sacrifice, or love, sowing service into the soil? As a way to multiply and continue God’s harvest of grace.
Or are you sowing indifference? Not caring about what your actions, words, or deeds leave in your wake.
Christ sowed into the ground, the ultimate gift of love – not just his life (that is a far to human way to look at it) but Christ sowed the gift of service.
Putting others ahead of himself to the point where it was unimaginable/ unreasonable- because he believes in the harvest. A harvest of Grace. May we have the strength to continue Christ’s work.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus, you taught your disciples that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit; as we prepare our hearts to remember your death and resurrection, grant us the strength and wisdom to serve and follow you, this day and always. Help us to be in awe of Christ’s gift- what is unimaginable, even unreasonably good. Amen.