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.
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.
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—
I followed him--
long after his death--
into the world of sheepfolds,
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
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--
of what we allow God to cultivate in our lives every day.
We may put on a show,
perhaps even, for a time,
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.”