October 25, 2009
God the Farmer
Psalm 65, A Thanksgiving for the Harvest, rouses us this morning. Verse 11 can be translated a number of ways:
“You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance” -NIV
“…and thy paths drop fatness.” -KJV
“…even the hard pathways overflow with abundance.” -NLT
“…your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.” -ESV
Literally the verse reads, “The tracks of your chariot overflow with fat.”
Now the “RHT” translation, the Revised Hallock Translation of Psalm 65:11 would read something like:
“You crown the year with your bounty, even 175, 75, County Road 1, and I-29, overflow with sugar beets abundant.”
Round about the 1870s, the town of Hallock began to take form. Charles Hallock, for whom the town is named, came to our area in 1880 all the way from New York City. Charles Hallock did not come to farm — his fortune was already made — but instead to enjoy the great outdoors, the hunting and fishing abundant in the area.
And so, throughout the 1870s, 80s, 90s and past the turn of the century, word must have spread about a new bustling community with rich farmland and good hearty people.
We can imagine the difficult conversations so many families must have had — to sell what few possessions they owned and uproot themselves from another place, then load up a wagon with what they had left, and come to farm in Hallock.
In the early days, wagon tracks came from the North, bringing English and Scottish immigrants who would soon found this church, the first congregation in the new town. But wagons came, too, from the south and east, as over the ruts and dusty roads settlers came to make Hallock their home. Later they could even travel by Ford’s amazing automobiles or the new train that came straight through town.
Farming in those days, I don’t need to tell you, was bone-tiring work. If the frost cooperated, and the rust stayed away, and the grasshoppers didn’t bother you too bad, and the price of grain held up, and your creditors cooperated, you could maybe squeeze by. But it wasn’t easy. And so the new farms sheltered hopes and dreams, as well as tears and disappointment.
Though Charles Hallock first came looking for an outdoorsman’s paradise, it was the farming that made Hallock tick. The Centennial History Book puts it this way:
Without mutual support of the town of Hallock and Hallock’s farmers, one wonders if Hallock would be celebrating a Centennial. The community of Hallock, which extends far beyond the city limits, has always recognized the vital role of agriculture in its history and in its future. -p. 231
Agriculture and Hallock are almost synonymous. So, on this Harvest Festival, it only makes sense to celebrate with a Psalm of Thanksgiving for the Harvest. Surely we’ve got that covered, don’t we?
Looking at the psalm…
- Carts overflowing with abundance? Sure. Check.
- Providing the people with grain? Check.
- Making right earth’s furrows? Check.
- Blessings for growth and wilderness made to pastures. Check.
- Valleys decked with grain? Maybe not “valleys” but fields for sure. Check.
Yeah, we’ve got the psalm’s number. We did it. You did it. The harvest — in these parts at least — is darn near complete so we can rest in a job well done.
According to the Enterprise, this year turned out pretty well considering the conditions. With delays due to moisture and seeding in less than ideal conditions, the yields turned out to be really not bad at all. Whew.
Those 12 hour shifts, night and day, paid off. The hundreds of drives to check the fields were worth it. Hiring all those hands to bring the harvest in was a good decision. You did it. It’s time to slap each other on the back, sit back enjoy a potluck and watch the Vikings game in peace.
Now that would be a nice sermon to give — reveling in the significant accomplishments of our farmers. But, try as we might, that’s not actually what the psalm does. We read it again and again and like a vehicle getting stuck in this spring’s mud, the trouble just gets deeper and deeper.
Remember those carts overflowing with abundance? Those people provided with grain? Those furrows made right in the earth and wilderness made to pastures? Those valleys decked with grain?
It’s honestly tough to say it knowing the months of work you’ve put in, but the psalm doesn’t seem to praise that work at all. The psalmist is not actually rejoicing in his farming accomplishments, or even in his people’s farming prowess. No, again and again, verse after verse, the praise and thanksgiving are directed at God. In fact, the psalm doesn’t even mention people farming at all, it’s all about God the Farmer. Farmer God.
“By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,” the psalmist sings,
“By your strength you established the mountains…
“you made the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.”
“You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.”
God the Farmer, in overalls and boots, jumping up in a combine to harvest the bounty of God’s own creation. Funny picture, huh?
Well, maybe the image shouldn’t surprise us. After all, it’s in only the second chapter of Genesis. God planted a garden in Eden, and what a gorgeous plot it was. And God walked about enjoying the plants and trees and flowers of all kinds. That’s how Adam and Eve found God after they ate of the forbidden tree, God was walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze — going out for an evening stroll checking on the fields.
But if that’s all not hard enough to take, Psalm 65 ends by driving things home even more.
“The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.”
Did you hear that ridiculousness? The hills and meadows clothing themselves? The valleys decking themselves with grain. It sure didn’t seem like that when you were itching to get the seed in this spring did it? There was a task to do, and those seeds definitely were not going to plant themselves.
The fields could have tried all they wanted to sing for joy this year, but without the seeding they wouldn’t have managed much of a song at all. And those beets and beans and wheat sure wouldn’t have harvested themselves. So what in the world is the psalmist up to? One verse seems to be about sugar beets falling on the roadsides, and the rest of the psalm is praise and thanksgiving for what God has done. What gives?
One of those Bibles we talked about at Young People’s Time was published last year. It’s called The Green Bible and, get this, just like some Bibles have Jesus’ words in red, this Bible has text about creation in green. It sports a cotton cover and soy-based ink too. And, it’s selling really well.
More than anything, The Green Bible says something about the time we live in. Some call it an age of ecological crisis. Thomas Friedman has written that just as previous generations of Americans had to overcome The Great Depression or a world war as the biggest challenge of their time, my generation’s challenge is climate change. And if you believe the United Nations and other international groups of scientists, the prospects are pretty daunting.
With all this in mind, Bible scholars have looked with renewed interest into what the Bible says about our relationship to creation. Their discoveries are too many to address now, but they may all be summed up with the basic idea: God desires our relationship with nature to be more like a partnership than possession. More like a healthy marriage covenant of give and take, than a relationship of slave and master. The soil and the seed, the tractors and the farmers, working together with God in partnership.
So now with that in mind, maybe we can look at Psalm 65 in another light. If the psalmist is assuming partnership with creation, partnership with those furrows and fields and hands that work them and God who made them all, then it is only right to praise God who set the world into being. The psalm is not about diminishing human accomplishment, but reveling in the ultimate accomplishment of God the Creator, God the Farmer in chief.
Since we praise God for all the things God has provided, we can surely give thanksgiving for God who called this community to farming. If we’re in a partnership with creation, creation needs good farmers, blessed farmers, farmers called to their holy work by God Godself.
Wendell Berry, a Kentucky farmer, has a poem of just such a farming child of God:
The Man Born to Farming
by Wendell Berry
The Grower of Trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
That the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
Like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
Descending in the dark?
The man born to farming. That’s an apt descriptor for many of us here. Born to farming. Indebted to those folk who came to Hallock over 100 years ago to found a town, to start a church, to farm God’s land.
So we can indeed give thanks. For farmers who tilled and sowed before us, and for God who partners with us in caring for creation. Thanks for harvest. Thanks for this beautiful corner of creation. Thanks for implement dealers and crop insurers. Thanks for diesel and and co-ops. Thanks for all God provides.
And ultimately, thanks that we can join our praise with the pastures and plants, fields and furrows, sugar beet and semis, all praising in one joyous song of thanks to God. God who has provided once again. Thanks and praise to God the Farmer, now and forever. Amen.