The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Series C, RCL

Preached at Lutheran Summer Musc, Luther College in Decorah, IA
on June 30, 2012

No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

 

My father was a plowman.  Each spring he would bring the John Deere out from its winter resting place, flush the fluids, have the plow points replaced, and head to the fields.  There he would spend hours turning the soil.  From last year’s corn stubble and wheat fodder would emerge the rich, deep soil for this season’s planting.  It was very mysterious, how from what was rotted and decayed, dad would pull the plow through the fields and turn over from that dead surface the new hope of planting, of growth, of life.

 

Those of you who live on farms know the urgency of this work.  Preparing the soil for spring planting, though done differently these days, is a precisely timed art.  Squeezing the work in between the spring rains and the summer heat is a farmer’s art.  The work needs to be done when the time is right.  It is urgent.  Or else, the entire season is lost.

 

Just so, Jesus speaks to us today of the urgency of our work as his disciples.  No looking back.  No delays.  No excuses.  The time to live into the life that St. Paul outlines with his beautiful list of characteristics of the people of God is now.  No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.  And the list of characteristics is clear.  And beautiful, isn’t it?  You heard the list just in the second reading:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  What a crop to be raised up and harvested in each of our lives.  Not an easy crop to tend, but certainly one worth cultivating.  A world in which love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are the hallmarks of our interactions with each other is a world that begins to give us a glimpse of God’s kingdom right here on earth.

 

It’s so interesting that Jesus underscores the urgency of our living into these qualities by saying that if we look back, if we turn aside from them, we are not “fit” for the kingdom of God.  Not fit.  It’s an athletic challenge, don’t you think?  There’s nothing final or judgmental about it.  Jesus simply says we’re not yet in shape.  Now is the time for us to get to the spiritual gym, and get toned:  well exercised in the athletics of love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and self-control, we are better equipped to serve God’s world, we are in shape to reach out to the neighbor who needs us, whether that neighbor is our roommate, our stand mate, a hungry person here in Decorah, or the victim of violence or war somewhere across an ocean.

 

Those who are fit for the kingdom of God are those who embrace a daily work out of life in Christ.  It’s not that we HAVE to do it so God will love us.  It’s that we GET to do it, confident in the faith that God already DOES love us.  It’s a way of giving back, a way of saying thanks.  A way of living that honors and recognizes God for all that God has done for us in our very, very blessed and privileged lives.

 

The work needs to be done when the time is right.  It is urgent.  Or else, the entire season is lost.  The season of our living lovingly, faithfully, kindly, generously is now.

 

An apprentice to the devil was summoned by Satan for a conference.  Your assignment is to go into the world and wreak havoc, the Prince of Darkness instructed.  Tell me what you will tell them, he said, to test his young protégé.

I will tell them there is no heaven.

Satan snickered.  They have all staked their lives on heaven.  What makes you believe they will listen to you?

Then I will tell them there is no God.

This time Satan laughed aloud.  I want you to wreak havoc on them, not entertain them.  Do you not know that they see evidence of their God written in every leaf of springtime?

Then I will tell them there is no hurry.

Go, replied the devil.  Go.  And you will destroy them by the thousands.

 

No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

 

Our call to serve is urgent.  Our broken, weary world is hungering and thirsting for the gifts of God we have to offer.  It is urgent, holy work.  And we are just the ones God calls to do it.  There are dazzling sights and tempting sounds, hard trials and great tribulation in the world which will try to distract us and keep us flabby.  But here is food and drink at the training table, and you are invited to be filled with the very life of Christ, where the nutrients are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

 

Poured out for you.

 

In the name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.