‘…in a rut’
June 30, 2019
Scripture: Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62
At the outset, it seems to me that it is far easier to get used to not doing the hard work of being a faithful follower of Jesus and rather, just living each day as it comes before you. It is much more difficult however to approach each day with an openness and willingness to take on whatever task the Spirit places before you…to stay the daily course of faithfully living for, and loving, one another.
Our scripture today from Luke’s gospel has always been one of those that is just packed with points of view and interesting things to consider. However, the last verse of today’s passage in particular, gained much more color and clarity for me after I began farming full-time in the late 90’s. It was then, in the second or third year of developing the community farm project at Cascade, that we secured use of the large 16-acre field on the farm that had been previously leased out to Utter’s farm for hay.
We set about plowing and tilling the field a third at a time as it was so extensive, and over the course of three years brought all of the field back into agricultural production including an annual 4-acre corn maze that brought fall harvest-time delight to many children and adults in our community.
But it was in the initial development of the plot that I truly began to learn how to plow a large field in order to prepare it for planting. With advice from several older and far wiser farmers I knew, I started out down the field trying my best to make a straight line. However, it was not until I began the second row that I realized that one of the two plowshares needed to go into the outer row of the first pass, effectively making the first pass ever so crucial in having a finished field with straight and even rows.
Obviously, not knowing that previously and thinking erroneously that I could just correct minor turns or bends in course, my first efforts at plowing were less than boast-worthy. Efforts later on were much improved as I put far more effort into that first row, that would then guide all of the rest.
And then, the next time I came across the scripture passage we have for today it all came into focus, giving me a much clearer perspective into what Jesus was trying to convey. And probably foremost in that understanding, is the realization that in order to plow in a straight line, one needs a reference point…one needs to fix their eyes on a point far down on the end of the field and to drive straight towards that point, not turning to the left or to the right whatsoever, in order to establish the first and guiding row for all of the rest.
Aside from that perspective however, that firm fix on the future point, was also the need to be fully attentive to the actual lay of the land during the plowing of all of the subsequent rows, including potential large rocks hiding beneath the surface, or the slope of the land, which if it were significant might cause the tractor to drift towards the downhill side, thereby pulling the guide plowshare out of the row and spoiling the guide furrow for the next pass.
Not to mention what our scripture passage points out specifically…heaven forbid if you were to actually turn around and look back behind you to see how your work was progressing, to see if you were doing a good job, for surely in doing so it is impossible to keep plowing in a straight line, much less keep your eye on a point far off in the distance.
Which is to say that even in what seems to be the little things when it comes to farming, or to life in general I suppose, it is important to set the course up front and to stay focused all the way through. It is hard to correct an errant first row if it was not straight or if it jumped to the side after striking a rock or hard spot. And if one is not careful, the whole field will look more like ‘op-art’ of the 1960’s when you are done than straight and even rows…which of course greatly impacts the efficiency of follow-up operations like planting, irrigating, or harvesting, all of which are much easier to do in straight lines and with evenly spaced rows. Losing that fixed point of perspective, looking back, losing concentration, making one bad row, is an error that unfortunately will repeat over and over across the field.
Which in some ways reminds me of a very human tendency we all have at times, to occasionally seek out an easier or less difficult pathway through life. It seems to me, that by nature, many of us seek to avoid confrontation, seek to avoid allowing oneself to get caught in situations or relationships that are potentially stressful, or may require a certain degree of commitment. And, as I said at the beginning, sometimes it seems easier to just live life unto yourself, to stay uninvolved with other people if it seems as though they might need something from you, or want you to do something for them.
Unfortunately however, a close reading of the gospels seems to indicate that a Christian life, lived in a way that is faithful to the teachings of Jesus, is a life that is anything but uninvolved, anything but uncommitted or free from care or potential personal cost.
Once we let ourselves slip into a routine absent daily attention to the work of our Lord, once we get used to ‘taking time off’ from our responsibilities as Christians to each other, to ourselves, and to our community, then it is so much harder to get back into that first row. So much more difficult to reset our gaze unflinchingly on that distant point, that call of the Spirit to stay the course on that straight and narrow path towards that soon to come day of our Lord’s goodness.
Indeed, looking back to an easier time of carefree life before making a commitment to follow after our Lord, back to a time of routine and repetition may have seemed a bit tedious and boring at times, but at least it was familiar and predictable. But a Christian life, a life spent in the service of our Lord Jesus is supposed to be so much more! It is supposed to be a living faith, a faith that as it grows, does indeed bear fruit, not only for the one who is faithfully seeking after God, but for those whom the seeker engages as well.
In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul notes the characteristics of a life that is lived solely for oneself, versus a life lived within the embrace of, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He says that a life that is absent the guiding grace of the Spirit is characterized by a useless preoccupation with idols, with bitterness, anger, strife and disagreements…in general, with the worst of human behaviors and tendencies. In contrast he notes, a life surrendered to and under the control of the Spirit will be known by a deep love that emanates out to all around, a joy and peace that seems without bounds, and an ability to demonstrate patience, generosity, and gentleness, all within the framework of self-control. In short, a life lived for God versus a life lived for oneself is a study of the deepest of contrasts.
And yet, sometimes it seems like it is so much easier to just sit back, to take some time off, perhaps to find some convenient excuse like ‘it is summer after all’…to kick back and let others do the work of God’s kingdom for a while. And in truth, our God is absolutely that patient, and absolutely that forgiving of our moments of weakness…in fact, I am sure God understands completely when we are overwhelmed with the stress and demands of life and has no trouble whatsoever with our desire or need to stop for just a moment.
But the truth of the matter is that the work will not get done until we do it. The day of the Lord, when peace shall truly reign, when justice truly shall at last flow down like a never-ending stream, waits on our willingness to engage the work that has been placed before each one of us by the Spirit of our God.
We can take a break…we can let the plow share slip out of the rut of grace for a moment if we must…but once it is out of that guiding row, once it has jumped the track and begins to plow down into different ground, into different soil and away from its first intent, it is much, much harder to get it all back in line…
…it is possible…
…but not without much more stress and strain than would have been needed to just stay the course and remain in that initial straight and narrow row in the first place.
So…fix your gaze on that distant point of the grace of our God. And just as Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem, set your heart on an unwavering course towards that point of grace. Have faith that if indeed your intention is to seek and to find the Lord, then the Spirit will keep you on that path without fail and without swerving to the left or to the right. Do not look back to see where you have been, but press forward with your eyes on the prize of serving our Lord without hesitation and without compromise.
Give all you have to find and establish that ‘first plow row’ towards our Lord of love, making the pathway clear for others to follow along beside you. And then celebrate the gifts of the Spirit you will receive there as you are filled with a joy and peace that passes all understanding and wells up from within you unceasingly. Demonstrate gentleness and patience towards all to whom the Lord leads you, and above all else, love as our Lord first loved us, without ceasing, and without fail.
Being in a rut is not always a bad thing…if it is the first and straightest rut into which the Holy Spirit has led you to and through…for if that initial path is towards grace and goodness, if it is made with your eye fixed on the unwavering point of Christ’s love and grace, then any momentary pauses we may feel we need to take for rest or refreshment will not deter us when we are ready to resume our travels on that first row of grace and love…
That first row makes all the difference…and it will never be straight unless our eyes are fixed on our Lord of love and mercy…
…make straight the paths of our Lord…
Song: Healing Love
Image from Pixabay