Adam Wainwright is a Christian. He is also a star pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, boasting 190 wins, a 3.34 earned run average, over 2000 strikeouts, three All-Star appearances, a World Series championship, two Gold Gloves, and the Roberto Clemente Award that honors humanitarian work.
In 2011 he missed an entire season while his arm healed from surgery, so he passed the time by starting a small garden plot at his home. That interest in gardening grew, and now he owns a full-fledged farm in Brunswick, Georgia. Add “farmer” to the list of his titles. He opened 5 Oaks Farm in 2016. He has hired a team to manage the property during the season. They’ve planted over 2200 pecan trees. They work hard at minimizing waste, so they water using drip hoses. They use local wood chips to control weeds, retain moisture, and condition the soil. The farm is bountiful.
They grow tomatoes, eight different types of peppers, squash, beans, peas, melons, and cucumbers. They grow in raised beds, in traditional rows, and hydroponically. They’ve added bee hives to the farm—120 of them—to help with pollination and to produce honey. The produce goes to six local farm-to-table restaurants, to stores, and straight to a food bank in Brunswick to provide fresh produce for those struggling to make ends meet. Wainwright has a sense of mission in his farming. “It’s not just for fun so that Adam can go throw some seeds in the ground,” he says. “It’s really about who we can feed and how we can make an impact in the community.”
Our youth got to help out on this farm when they served in the Bridge Mission Program a couple of weeks back. They got to see the connections between caring for the land, sowing seeds, tending to the plants, and even harvesting them so that they could be of benefit to others. I mean, after all, isn’t the point of sowing that there is a harvest that brings life to those who enjoy it?
This is Fourth of July weekend, and I am grateful to live in this land for lots of reasons. One of them is that it is a place that produces a bountiful harvest.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
for amber waves of grain,
for purple mountain majesty
above the fruited plain!
So goes the familiar hymn. Grain stretching before us for miles. Mountains that shadow the fields and fruited plain. Lakes and rivers. Dunes and forests. Living here is a blessing.
As we were driving home from the trip to Georgia, we got to see some of this great land. Even as the hours dragged on and we finally got to Indiana—which takes an absurdly long time to drive through, I might add—I found my attention drawn to the rows of corn everywhere. I thought, “knee-high by the Fourth of July,” and I was grateful that farmers sow so that we might eat the harvest.
I know many of us tend to small gardens at our homes. Some of us even are farmers for real, although we don’t see our farmers as much at this time of year. It’s the busy season for them. Gardening and farming are hopeful activities. There are no immediate results. In fact, results aren’t even guaranteed. You plant. You water. You weed. You feed. You wait. And wait. And wait some more. Months later you have something you can eat.
One of Jesus’ most familiar parables is about a sower. The sower scatters seed. Some fall in rocky places. Some fall on the path. Some grow and get choked by weeds. But some, blessedly, grow and produce, more than making up for the seeds that didn’t produce. I’ve always seen the sower in this parable as hopeful. He goes about his work knowing not everything will produce as it could but still believing that his labor is not in vain. It’s faithful work. It’s productive.
In our Luke text, Jesus sends seventy-two ahead of him with a mission. They go in pairs throughout the region where Jesus would eventually go. They were his advance team, getting the ground ready for Jesus. He tells them, “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.”
I find it so interesting that God is capable of doing all of this without us, but that God chooses to use normal people—like these seventy-two, like you, like me—to do the work. We are the answer to their prayers for workers. We are the ones the Lord of the harvest sends to do the work. Just like our youth were a small part of accomplishing Adam Wainwright’s mission to feed the hungry sustainably, so we are a small part of the productive work God is doing even right now through this church and through us as individuals.
Yet, we are not alone. Notice that Jesus sends the seventy-two in pairs. If each went alone, I wonder if they could have accomplished the work more quickly or gone to more places, but the Christian life is not meant to be lived alone. It’s something we do with each other, which may make the journey a little slower, but it also sustains it.
Just before our passage Jesus makes this stunning and provocative statement, “No one who puts a hand on the plow and looks back is fit for God’s kingdom.” Every follower of Jesus—each and every one—has a purpose to work in God’s field to help produce a harvest in due time. So, I ask each of us today, are we about God’s work? Are we proclaiming that God’s reign has drawn near in our lives and in this community? Are we doing this as a church together? Are we doing this with a sense of individualized purpose when apart?
Jesus says, “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers.” Are you an answer to another’s prayer? Are you working for gospel purposes? Are you sowing seeds? It’s not a role merely for professional church workers or missionaries. It’s for all of us.
The harvest shows up in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. “A person will harvest what they plant. Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant for the benefit of the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit.” Paul assumes that we’re all sowers. Some of us plant seeds for God’s purposes. But some of us plant purely for ourselves.
If you were here last week, you’ll recall that we focused on parts of the chapter right before this one. It describes what the Christian life looks like. Paul calls this “The fruit of the Spirit,” and it’s no accident that he continues to think about fruit and harvesting as he wraps up his letter. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We harvest what we plant. If we plant for God’s purposes, this is what the harvest will look like. It produces in a way that brings life and flourishing to the community. It’s evidence that God’s reign is at hand.
But Paul also warns about sowing seeds merely for ourselves, apart from what God is desiring to do in and through us. The result of a life totally disconnected from God’s purposes are what Paul calls “the works of the flesh. The list is long. Sexual immorality. Doing whatever feels good. Hate. Fighting. Selfishness. It goes on, but you get the picture. When we sow seeds aimed only at our own purposes, those seeds produce a harvest that is destructive to us and others.
It’s hard to keep our hand on the plow. Life is constantly beckoning us with distractions. Things are complicated. We can grow weary. But I’ll give Paul space here to encourage us. “Let’s not get tired of doing good,” he writes, “because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity.”
Deep down I know that we want to participate in what God is doing. We would sign up to be a part of the seventy-two who went out. We are ready to work. We want to help. So, let’s not get tired of doing good, friends. The harvest is here. It’s all around us. It’s calling out to us—even now.
Life can be discouraging. It can feel like the odds are stacked against us. It can feel like nothing is getting better. It can even feel like things are going backwards. Don’t give up. Let us work for the good of all whenever we have the opportunity. Not just some. All. That’s the call of the gospel.
The harvest is bigger than you can imagine. Will you join with Jesus in living out the good news? Will you be one whose harvest nourishes and sustains God’s children, calling them to life lived eternally? The harvest is waiting for you.