Plough Sunday 2016
Story: An old farmer who was about to die called his two sons to his bedside and said,
"My boys, my farm and the fields are yours in equal shares. I leave you a little ready money but the bulk of my wealth is hidden somewhere in the ground, not more than eighteen inches from the surface. I regret that I’ve forgotten precisely where it lies."
When the old man was dead and buried, his two sons set to work to dig up every inch of ground in order to find the buried treasure.
They failed to find it but as they’d gone to all the trouble of turning over the soil they thought they might as well sow a crop, which they did, reaping a good harvest.
In autumn, as soon as they had an opportunity they dug for the treasure again but with no better results.
As their fields were turned over more thoroughly than any others in the neighbourhood, they reaped better harvests than anyone else.
Year after year, their search continued.
Only when they had grown much older and wiser, did they realize what their father had meant.
Real treasure comes as a result of the hard work of ploughing and sowing the land. (Source unknown).
Plough Sunday appears to be a very ancient festival. Often the plough was fêted and drawn through the streets to be blessed in church.
This was thought to ensure food for the coming year.
However it was abandoned following the Reformation but revived by the Victorians.
Traditionally it is celebrated on the first Sunday after Epiphany, January 6th.
The following day, Plough Monday, was the first day that work in the fields recommenced after Christmas.
For me Plough Sunday reminds us that we should be grateful for God’s rich provision for us
Story: I don’t know if you are anything like me – but when I go to feed the ducks and the chickens, I grumble to myself.
You see the whole area where they are reminds me of what the Battle of the Somme was like
– walking on duckboards that are partially submerged in water.
But grumbling about the weather is a wrong attitude
It is good that we give thanks to God for our earth – and the rain for we need it for our agriculture to flourish.
The importance of agricultural life was something that was commonplace to the people of Biblical times.
God wants humanity to be involved with the land.
Until I had to prepare this sermon, ploughing wasn’t something I had particularly paid attention to in the Bible.
However it turns up a surprising number of times in the Old Testament.
Take the call of Elisha in 1 Kings 19: - he’s ploughing when Elijah comes to wrap his cloak around him and calls him to follow.
19 So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat.
He was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.
20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”
“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”
21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them.
He burned the ploughing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.
Elisha burns his plough – indicating that if he is going to be a full time minister of the Lord, he cannot be a part time farmer too.
Farming is often a full time occupation.
Farming was so commonplace the people of Biblical times that we see the metaphor of sowing and ploughing use to get over spiritual truths.
Take Hosea. Look what he says:
Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unploughed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.”
And of course the very famous passage from Isaiah where he says
2 In the last days
the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
3 Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
5 Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.
We see a similar idea in Micah where the prophet speaking about God says:
He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could use our defence budget to promote agriculture instead of defending ourselves against attack.
But the Bible is also realistic about the age in which we live
Sometimes we have to beat our ploughshares into swords to face down evil, as the prophet Joel suggested in Joel 3.
Here the prophet writes:
9 Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare for war!
Rouse the warriors!
Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.
10 Beat your ploughshares into swords
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weakling say,
“I am strong!”
11 Come quickly, all you nations from every side,
and assemble there. (Joel 3:9-11)
Sadly defence budgets are needed to defeat such evils as Nazi Germany and in more recent times ISIS and Al Qaeda
But the concept of sowing and ploughing is not just an Old Testament analogy.
We all know Jesus’ parable of the sower very well.
But it wasn’t just Jesus who used agricultural images.
The apostle Paul uses the concept of sowing and ploughing to show that there are different roles for people in life:
9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever ploughs and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. (1 Cor 9:9-10)
Story: I went over to David Cousins farm the other day – and it is the first time for a very long time that I have seen a plough in real life
In fact I had never even heard of a potato plough before David’s son, Cousie showed me one.
And even post Biblical times, Christians have been involved in agriculture
One famous farming Anglican cleric was a former Bishop of Chichester, St Richard, Bishop of Chichester (1197 – 3 April 1253), also known as Richard de Wych, who was canonised in 1262).
Richard began life as a plough boy ploughing his parents' farm before training to be first a lawyer and then later becoming a priest and then a bishop.
It was as a cleric that Richard is best remembered for
And in particular for his care for his people, visiting them on foot and ensuring everyone received services from clergy for free.
Richard is a real example of someone whose early beginnings were so rooted and grounded in agriculture that they later influenced the way he continued his life.
I’d like to end by looking at one of the times Jesus specifically refers to the plough
We read in Luke 9 that :
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus is urging those who are
willing to hear what he is teaching and
put it into effect in their lives
to find their path with Him and then to follow it as faithfully as someone endeavouring to plough a straight furrow.
Personally I find it hard to keep a straight furrow in my Christian life.
But then, as in real life, ploughing is very costly in time and preparation.
But if we sow and plough successfully in our spiritual lives we can expect the results that the apostle Paul waited for when he said
“whoever ploughs and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.” (1 Cor 9:10)
May I leave you with this thought – on Plough Sunday.
What sort of world are you hoping to leave behind from your ploughing in life?
Let us close with the famous prayer of Richard of Chichester
Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.
(My thanks to Sarah Brush for her excellent article that has given me ideas for this sermon. The article can be seen at http://easyasfallingoffablog.blogspot.co.uk/2009/01/plough-sunday.html)