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8th Sunday OT C ~ "Lessons from the Field" ~ Susan McGurgan

My grandfather Roy

was born into a family that pioneered

on the high plains of north-west Kansas.

He began life in a sod house,

a home built of living stones

cut from the dirt and grass and roots

of the prairie itself.

The earth embraced him from his first breath

and his life radiated

a life-long connection to the land

and to the fierce beauty of God’s creative love.

He became principal of the school in Gem, Kansas,

and then answered a call to ministry,

serving as a Methodist pastor

in small towns throughout central Kansas.

His parishioners were also people of the land—

farmers and ranchers and teachers,

business owners, artisans, laborers—

men and women who retained a deep connection

to the earth that sustained them.

They were people for whom Biblical images

of sowing and reaping,

harvesting, pruning, threshing and winnowing;

of grapes and figs ripening in the sun

and of a dry, thirsty land bursting into bloom

at the touch of water

were images both ordinary and profound—

images pointing to the reality of their own lives

and to the mystery of the Kingdom yet to come.

This land of big skies and far horizons

taught them about the bigness of God—

and about the overwhelming love of One

who came to pitch a tent on the grasslands

and dwell among them.

When I was a little girl,

my grandparents lived in a tiny house

in the tiny town of Mount Hope, Kansas.

They loved to take a drive

along country roads on Sunday afternoons,

stopping now and then

for Granddaddy to walk into a field

to “check the wheat”

or kneel down to feel the soil.

“Come Sue,”

he would invite in his soft voice,

“Come look at the land.

Look at the wheat.

It promises to be a good year.”

As he rubbed an ear of wheat between his fingers,

testing the maturity of the grain,

I mentally rolled my eyes,

longing for something more exciting to see or do.

I didn’t understand what he was trying to teach me.

Not then.

But in the years since,

I have come to see that these lessons

in life and faith and Biblical creation—

lessons learned from this wise and gentle man—

were vital,

and lasting,

and yes,

deeply exciting.

I followed him--

long after his death--

into ministry,

into preaching,

into the world of sheepfolds,

and vineyards,

and parables,

and reflections on life and death and resurrection.

His words and gestures emerge

as if suspended in crystal

at the most unexpected times,

sustaining and challenging me,

inviting me to see what lies beneath my feet

through new eyes.

Today’s vivid images of husks and sieves,

pottery baking in a kiln,

splinters and beams,

good trees bearing rotten fruit,

brambles and thorn bushes

and people falling blindly into a pit

take me back to a dozen moments

standing in a wheat field,

watching a boy of the prairie

speak to the God of Creation

from the fullness of his heart.

He taught me that each day counts.

That who we are, matters.

That faith is real and God is true

and covenant promises have meaning.

That the world God created

and the world of our lives

are intertwined.

We are caught up in a web of connections

that extend from the soil beneath our feet

out into the breath and heartbeat of the cosmos.

That God sees into our souls.

That what we send out into the world

is the fruit--

the harvest

of what we allow God to cultivate in our lives every day.

We may put on a show,

fooling others,

perhaps even, for a time,

fooling ourselves.

But like a farmer

rubbing a stalk of wheat between his fingers,

God tests the maturity of the seed.

God knows the condition the soil.

God knows that the fruit of a tree

shows the care it has had.

So what about us?

Who are we forming and shaping?

What fields are we helping to cultivate?

What memories are we planting?

What wisdom are we sharing?

What soil are we watering?

What legacy are we leaving?

Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.

It is good, sometimes, to stop and remember our ancestors in the faith--those countless men and women who tilled and labored; who removed beams and extracted splinters; who blindly fell into pits and opened their eyes to climb out again; who searched for figs in thorn bushes and pruned and watered, and adjusted their burial cloths--and then stood in the field, testing the soil so that the seeds God planted in our lives might have a chance to take root.

It is good, sometimes, to stop and say, “I didn’t understand, then.

But I do now, and I am grateful.”

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