World Ploughing Competition
Blessing Service, August 27, 2019
First Lutheran Church, Baudette, MN
Texts: Amos 9:13-15; Psalm 104; II Corinthians 5:16-21; Mark 4:26-32
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
When I was invited, a year ago, to preach at this ecumenical service of blessing for the World Ploughing Competition here in Lake of the Woods County….I knew in a flash that I had to say YES!
And why was that (you might be asking)?
What made this soon-to-be retired Lutheran bishop so eager to trek up north to Baudette, MN….for this unique global agricultural exposition?
What was the attraction?
It’s very simple, really: I attended the FIRST World Ploughing Contest to be held in Minnesota, 47 years ago on the Bert Hansen farm just ten miles north of the farm where I grew up near Amboy, MN. That historic event in 1972 was also the first FarmFestUSA—a celebration of agriculture that’s still going strong near Redwood Falls, MN in southwestern Minnesota where I lived out most of my pastoral ministry.
But I didn’t merely attend that first World Ploughing Contest to be held in our state. I was also deeply involved in it in my capacity as the regional vice president of the Future Farmers of America—FFA. As the photo on the back of the bulletin shows, I helped sell the first two tickets to the 1972 event to Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson. During the event our family hosted two national FFA officers, and the three of us with our blue corduroy FFA jackets often represented the face of YOUTH at the 1972 Ploughing Contest. In fact, we were the ones who unveiled the Cairn of Peace on the final day of that first Farmfest: September 17, 1972.
[As a side note, just for fun I dug out my old FFA jacket, hoping to wear it while I was here..but alas, my FFA jacket has shrunk over these past 47 years!]
So the first reason I agreed to speak here this evening was the flood of memories that washed over me….
…But even more so, I wanted to come here to share with you the profound meaning of this global celebration of agriculture—a time for us all to remember how it is that tillers of the soil have such an astonishing, “front row seat” to behold the age-old wonder, the perpetual abundance, and the enduring promise of God’s amazing creation that’s all around us and right under our feet every day of our lives.
I was introduced to the wonder of God’s splendid creation almost before I could even walk or talk….because my parents taught me well.
On Sunday mornings, my mom (who was the Sunday School superintendent in our little church)…my mom made sure that every week the Bible was cracked open for me and my classmates, the biblical story thus woven deeply into our own stories…
….and this compelling biblical message was reinforced by my dad who was the “superintendent” of the Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday/Friday/Saturday “school” of farming.
It was my father’s wide-eyed sense of wonder that grabbed my attention as a child...whether we were basking in the glow of our stunning prairie sunrises and sunsets….or whether we were kneeling down between rows of soybeans to behold a killdeer’s nest with 5 buff-colored eggs, waiting to be hatched….or whether we were simply scooping up and inhaling the unmistakable aroma of the rich, black, loamy soil on our farm….or whether we were pondering the miracle of germination, as described by Jesus in our reading from Mark: “the Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how…”
Tillers of the soil live “up close and personal” to such wonder on a daily basis, God’s creation never ceasing to amaze…. especially when we experience the breath-taking abundance that mother earth is always bringing forth.
When the human authors of the scriptures cast about for images that would do justice to God’s overflowing generosity, it was only natural for them to focus on the fertile earth right under their feet…and sometimes when these ancient writers rhapsodized about such abundance they got a little carried away, as did the prophet Amos in our first reading: “The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who ploughs shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it….”
The image here is of an impatient ploughman, nervously drumming his fingers, straining at the bit to turn over the sod in preparation for the next crop…
….but this ploughman has a serious case of “ants in the pants” because he’s being forced to cool his heels, dealing with the fact that the current harvest is so plentiful it’s taking forever for the reapers to “bring it all in.” All of them—the ploughmen and the reapers alike, are overwhelmed by the astonishing abundance of God, the surrounding mountains and hills dripping sweet wine, like so many waterfalls.
Such cascading biblical images drawn directly from the realm of agriculture reveal a God who knows only one way of giving. The adjective “stingy”, you see, isn’t even found in the Creator’s vocabulary. God just gives and gives and gives, always with an open hand, forever laying on us more abundance than we can handle.
But if God’s abundance is so breath-taking, why do so many persons go hungry? How is it that too many of us stuff ourselves, while others waste away?
The simplest explanation is that though God is in charge of production, you and I are called to tend the distribution of the earth’s bounty.
Truly there is enough for our need, but not for our greed! The fact that so many of our fellow inhabitants of planet earth go hungry, naked, or homeless is a mark not of our Creator’s failure, but ours--our brokenness, our self-centeredness, our distrust of God, our sinfulness…
But that will never be the final state of affairs. God’s undefeatable love for the whole creation will not be thwarted…which is why in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…our Creator has stooped down to enter this Creation, to be born into it, to walk upon it, to suffer for it, and finally to be buried in it…all for the sake of rising again to fashion a New Creation.
Rather than ending with a wan hope that things will somehow work out in the end—the biblical story builds to this crescendo in Revelation 21: “Behold,” God declares, “behold,I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5)
The wonder and the abundance of the creation point us inevitably to the promise of the Creation: God’s own promise never to abandon all that God has made…
Creation, you see, isn’t a science experiment God cooked up, thinking he’d try it for a while—until something better might come along.
No! Creation is God’s long-term, God’s eternal strategy: “As long as the earth endures (the Creator promises, after the Flood)…As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’” (Genesis 8:22)
Our Creator is so deeply invested in the Creation, that he never tires of restoring, refreshing, renewing it….enlisting even the likes of you and me to do our parts, undertaking our callings, our vocations to be steadfast caretakers of the earth and trustworthy co-creators with God.
That, too, was a lesson I learned young—as perhaps you did, too—that the creation is itself the original “renewable resource”…its fragility always surpassed by its resilience…leading us to realize that God’s long-term vision must be ours as well, of a living, breathing Creation that is always being made new.
So we plough the soil with tender care…we avoid treating mother earth like dirt…we gaze beyond the current crop…and we never stop expecting more goodness to flow from our wonder-filled, generous God--our steadfast Creator who always has the final Word: “Behold, I am making all things new.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.