Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Harvest Begins in Winter

I am preaching at Inlet Community Church for the month of January.  Inlet is a small village in the rustic Adirondacks.  This post is an abbreviation of the sermon I preached this last weekend, the first in a series on references to snow.  This post is a transitional step between sermon and article.  At some point I may tighten it up more and see if I can find a publisher.  For now, it finds it's place in the blogosphere.

When you think of things that are quintessentially Adirondack you may think of an Adirondack chair on the shores of a lake or pond, or maybe a solitary loon, sunk low in the water, or a handwoven fishing creel.  But not in January.  Not on the heels of a nor’easter.  Not after we were blasted with artic chill.  Maybe better, here in winter, an old pair of wooden snowshoes.  Like it or not, snow is characteristically Adirondack.  Of all the seasons, winter seems to have the hardest grip on this place.

In January, we’re not thinking about the harvest.  We’re just trying to dig ourselves out of the snow banks.  But the harvest really begins in winter. Mountain snows act as natural reservoirs in the winter, when agriculture is largely dormant.  Then, in the spring, the mountains unleash a steady supply of water as the ice pack melts just in time for the germination of crops. 

This is a reliable way to hydrate the land.  A way that has worked for generation after generation. For farmers, and forests, and fields, and flowers.  It doesn’t require sprinklers, reservoirs, canals, or aqueducts.  The skies open and unleash snow in the winter.  Gravity and warming temperatures do the rest.

Seeds are typically very dry, which sets them in a state of dormancy.  Keep them dry and they will remain in this state of dormancy.   This is how seeds can be stored for many years in pouches in your cupboard or on a shelf in your garage.   They must be roused, awakened, jump started.  Water is the jumper cables for seeds. 

Seeds store some food reserve inside them – starch, protein, or oils.  Miniature doomsday preppers who have a cupboard full of MREs, food reserves that provide nourishment for the infant seedling.  When the seeds absorb enough water, enzymes are activated, breaking down this stored food into useful chemicals.  Those MREs are opened with a pull tab of hydration.

By the time initial the food reserve is used up, the plant has grown an initial set of roots and leaves.  Before long the seedling has grown into a plant, a plant with bud and bloom and blossom.   It flourishes, yielding, in the words of Isaiah “seed for the sower and bread for the eater.” (Isaiah 55:10).  Grain for the storehouse, fruit for the preserves, vegetables for the canning cellar, flowers for the pressing board, herbs for the drying rack.  Call it what you will.  This is harvest.  Harvest that began months prior with a snowflake.  By the time we reach the harvest in autumn, we have full stomachs and abundant surplus. 

This is the analogy of Isaiah 55.  “As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth:  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

This is a promise, not a hope, not wishful thinking, not an uncertain variable.  God’s word is like snow in that it is effectual.  Snow does not evaporate without accomplishing its purpose.  And so his word.  These are not empty words, toothless threats, powerless promises.  All that is predicted by the prophet, now 55 chapters in, will come to pass.  All of it.  Every jot, every tittle.  Every snowflake of revelation will water the earth, will saturate the plants, will accomplish its purpose.

This reference to snow comes is in a section where Isaiah is pleading with Israel not to miss what God has in store for them.  In verses 1-7 there are 12 imperatives.  Command after command after command.  Come, buy, eat, listen, delight, seek, call, turn.  God, through Isaiah, is imploring the people to return to him.  These are words of repentance.  He’s inviting us to restore what was lost, to repair what was broken, to undo what has been done. 

Much of Isaiah has dealt with the inescapability of coming judgment.  Their stubborn rebellion would result in their living under the heavy hand of judgment.   This judgment is harsh and relentless - chapter after chapter of it. 

And when they are under this judgment, their tendency would be to see no further than the surface and lament their physical bondage and oppression.  But that is just a bur to remind them of their deeper bondage.  They are sinners.  This sin is what holds them in bondage.  Not another nation, not a drought or famine.  Their bondage and oppression is from within – they have turned away from God.

He is inviting them to return. To drink deeply to satisfy their parched souls.  To feast on the richest of fares (verses 1-2), not for their bellies, but for their souls. That their souls may live (v.3). 

And here is what hangs in the balance.  The word goes out and will not return void.  That is promised. What he intends will be accomplished.  We can orient ourselves to that and plunge into that current, finding blessing and satisfaction.   Verse 12, “You will go out with joy and be lead forth in peace, the mountains and the hills will burst forth in song before you and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. “ This is exuberance that will saturate the soil.  Blessing – joy, peace, celebration, fruitfulness, abundance.   This is what the word of God can bring.  Mountains and hills are singing, trees are clapping in joyful celebration of this restoration. 

But beneath the din of this raucous celebration is the possibility.  What if all these imperatives – come, buy, eat, listen, delight, seek, call, turn.  What if these are ignored?  The subtle implication is that even then, his word does not return empty.  It will not be powerless.  For those who will not return his word will stand as an accuser, condemning us to the judgment that we ourselves have chosen - to live with aching thirst and empty belly.  In going my own way, I may get pummeled by the force of this current that I’m resisting.  Our ways and thoughts are not God’s (Is 55:8).  We are bent, a gnarled stick against the plumb line purity of God’s holiness.  His word can straighten us, if we submit.

God’s word is effective.  It does not return empty. It will accomplish his purpose with or without our cooperation.  The snowflake of revelation will moisten the earth.  It will sweep us up in blessing or sweep us away in judgment. 

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