The following hymn will be familiar to most of you. We usually sing it during the Fall and Thanksgiving but I think it is appropriate for all times of the year:
We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand, who sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain, the breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain. We thank you, our creator, for all things bright and good, the seedtime and the harvest, our life, our health, our food. No gifts have we to offer for all your love imparts, but what you most would treasure—our humble, thankful hearts. Refrain: All good gifts around us are sent from heav’n above. We thank you, Lord, we thank you, Lord, for all your love.
A very dear relative of mine raised a family of four children with her husband who worked for the German Railroad. Money was tight no matter how hard both of them labored. Lissy grew wonderful vegetables in her large garden and canned the produce during many nightly sessions. They raised a few small animals to help put meat on the table and Lissy sewed most of the children’s clothes. Often sitting at the kitchen table and counting out her money and deciding that it just wasn’t enough no matter how she assigned the bills and coins, she somehow always managed to come up with the money her children needed or wanted for their endless music lessons, art projects, trips to meet pen pals…All that happened without complaint. There was never a word of regret over the fact that her generosity toward her family meant that she wore clothes that had long gone out of style and that her only ‘treat’ was a 20 minute nap every afternoon following dinner.
When I was in college and her children had left home as well, I once asked her: “How did you do all that?” She confided that, thanks to her mother-in-law, the greatest struggles were manageable. Whenever the check book was about to show a minus, there would be a letter with money from her mother-in-law. It never failed, it seemed. Nobody asked, nobody talked about it, nobody felt obligated to bring it to anyone’s attention but the gifts came year after year, decade after decade. “God always provided,” Lissy said, “and He did it through my mother-in-law’s generosity.”
I have lived most of my married life somehow connected to farming communities. With parishioners we suffered through the farm crisis in the 80ies and rejoiced during those years when everyone could stand at the edge of fields admiring the bountiful crop and thanking God for granting just the right amount of sun and rain. Likewise, I have seen those dark evening clouds that brought thunder, rain, and hail that flattened the beautiful crops to level ground. Farming and ranching, no matter where and what, certainly entails a willingness to gamble with our luck. There are no guarantees. What brings in a good living today can wipe out all that you have tomorrow. You know that much better than I do!
In former East Germany farmers lived under the ridiculous adage of their government that said: Ohne Gott und Sonnenschein bringen wir die Ernte ein. Without God and sunshine we will bring in the harvest. Just about everything is wrong-headed about this saying! We are not doing anything without God. While our work, sweat and efforts most certainly contribute in very large and significant ways to any harvest success – in the end it is God who provides.
One of the most humbling words I heard came from a farmer who looked at his washed out field (where he literally caught the fish that had found their way from the Mississippi River onto his land!!) and said: “God has provided for us in the past. God will provide for us now.” And God did! God finds a way to meet His children’s needs. Whether it is through the generosity of a mother-in-law, the powers that be, neighborly help and continued hard work or however God chooses to take care of us. Of course, nobody makes light of the troubles we meet. Nobody should engage in pie-in-the-sky thinking. Troubles are real! Being able to make ends meet is a critical aspect of life! We don’t just wish or think our troubles away! Yet, unfortunately we often erroneously think we alone can handle our troubles or that we are the ones who, without God and sunshine, can bring in the harvest.
Farmer Roger, sitting in his fishing boat on his corn field, was very correct: God has provided for us in the past. God will provide for us now. It is God who waters the land and who nourishes our thirsty souls, in both, days of joys and worry. When we know on whom we can depend, we can walk into the future with confidence. Amen