Jesus came from farming country in the northern part of Palestine. The land is fertile and crops grow well there. I remember sitting on a hillside once looking down on some farmland up in the Galilee, and thinking how much it looked like some parts of the Midwest! And, while we think Jesus grew up in a town, perhaps not far from the “big city” of Sepphoris, he would have been surrounded by farmers and farm land.
That undoubtedly accounts for the frequency of agricultural images he uses – such as those in today’s Gospel – about scattering seed (“broadcasting” as it is known) and about the mystery of life and growth which all good farmers understand. Farming is not all about technique and expertise. A lot of it depends on geography and on the cycles of weather – God’s grace…or
Providence…or good luck (depending on your theology!)
In any event, harvests are often unpredictable and a yield of abundant crops is always an occasion for gratitude and for celebration. Farmers know something about such things. Which, I suppose, is why the Church sets aside the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day and calls them “Rogation Days.” Days on which we “ask” – ask for fruitful seasons, ask for a blessing on commerce and industry, and commit ourselves to be good stewards of creation.
It was a lot easier for me to get “into” the Rogations Days when I was the Bishop of Iowa! Every week I drove hundreds of miles through fields of corn and soybeans and watched the natural cycles of plowing and seedtime and harvest, and of letting some fields lie fallow for re-creation. Most of us in big cities are far removed from such considerations – and it is no joke than many of our children think that fruit and vegetables spring forth, full grown, from the grocery shelves at Gristedes!
But we can be involved in agriculture. Even here in the city. And we can make a difference. Our church is trying to make a difference. According to a recent ENS press release: “As Congress begins the work of reauthorizing the US farm bill, more than a dozen Churches and faith based organizations, including the Episcopal Church, have come together…to urge major changes in US agricultural policy aimed at reducing hunger and poverty, and promoting the livelihood of farmers and rural communities in the US and around the world.”
“The ‘Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill’ which includes Christian denominations, major faith based organizations and the National Council of Churches…has developed a statement of legislative principles for farm bill reform.” According to those principles, the 2007 farm bill should:
*Increase investments that combat rural poverty and strengthen rural communities
*Strengthen and expand programs that reduce hunger and improve nutrition in the US
*Strengthen and increase investment in policies that promote conservation and good stewardship of the land
*Provide transitions for farmers to alternative forms of support that are more equitable and do not distort trade in ways that fuel hunger and poverty
*Protect the health and safety of farmworkers
*Expand research related to alternative, clean and renewable forms of energy
*Improve and expand international food aid in ways that encourage local food security.” (April 24, 2007)
It’s too soon to know how fully the new farm bill will incorporate these principles but, as the former bishop of a rural diocese, I’m grateful to our church for such efforts.
I invite your prayerful support of such principles. Maybe we can do that by offering once again the prayer for this Rogation Monday:
“Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labor to gather them, that we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord…”