A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter: Rogation Sunday
May 15, 2022
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
The title of my sermon today is “Love Like a Farmer.” It’s not the best title. It sounds more like a country song than a sermon–or worse, like a five cent harlequin romance novel. But bear with me; you’ll see where I’m going.
Before we get there, though, we need to talk about what today is. Today, on the fifth Sunday of Easter, we are celebrating Rogation Sunday. We haven’t done this as a community before, although I have visited many of your farms and gardens on Rogation days in the last couple of years. Rogation days are an ancient custom of the church, when we set aside a special time to pray for our farmers, our land, our crops, and our communities. At the end of today’s service, before we dive into the pork butts and all that delicious food, we will go outside and we will follow the cross around our property. At each four spots, we will read a passage of scripture and say a prayer, beseeching God to bless our farmers, to watch over our crops, and to give us an abundant harvest for the good of the world. My hope is that our two churches will continue to gather here at St. Peter’s, year after year, to pray these prayers together.
These Rogation days were once rather common. One of my favorite poets, who was also a priest in the Church of England, is George Herbert. Herbert was the priest at a small rural parish like this one in the 1600s. He writes that “[the Country Priest] loves [Rogation] Procession, and maintains it, because there [is] contained therein [...] a blessing of God for the fruits of the field.” As you can see, Rogation days go way back. Over time, however, the Church got away from a regular Rogation celebration. As folks moved off the farm and into the city, the old customs and agricultural prayers were forgotten, even though they are still in our prayer book. We can’t do that here. Other parts of the country may have forgotten about rural America, but we cannot. We have chosen to live here. Many of you have chosen to work the land; for some of you, the very land passed down to you from generation to generation as an inheritance. You have chosen the hard work of agriculture, the work that Adam undertook in Genesis, the work of toil in the soil. If I’ve learned anything over the last three years as your priest, I’ve learned that your work is hard and honest, and that you truly rely on the Providence of God from seedtime to harvest. That means your work is holy. God bless you for it.
Our readings today don’t seem to have a lot to do with growing crops or blessing fields. The psalm is about how all of creation praises God, and that includes our soybeans, corn, and rice. They praise God in their growing. But other than that, there doesn’t seem to be much of a connection to agriculture work.
That brings me back to my title, “Love Like a Farmer.” It is inspired from today’s gospel passage. Our passage comes from the Last Supper, just after Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet. He comes back to the table, and he gives them a new commandment. “Love one another,” he says. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Our world doesn’t know much about love. We equate it with a warm fuzzy feeling we have while we are holding our beloved. We think of love as those butterflies we get in our stomach at the homecoming dance. In short, we think of love as an emotion.
Love can have an emotional element. We often feel love that way. Think of your wedding day, or when you first held your child, or when as a child you ran and jumped into your parent’s outstretched arms. All of those are emotional things; we feel love. The problem comes, however, when we stop there. When we say that love is just a feeling. If we stop there, what Jesus says today is shallow and vague. “Love one another,” he says. We can think he wants us to have warm, fuzzy feelings in our hearts when we’re around one another.
But that’s not what Jesus means. Jesus is talking about something deeper. Jesus is talking about love as a decision–a decision to show up for one another, to fight for one another, to sacrifice for one another, to lay down everything for one another. That’s the type of love Jesus showed us. For Jesus, love is a concrete action: It’s washing feet; it’s hanging out with the outcasts and sinners; it’s forgiving someone when they’ve hurt us; it’s laying down our lives so that someone else can live.
Farmers are called to love like that. They love the earth. They must take care of their land; make sure it has what it needs to grow; pay attention to the health and composition of the soil; think about how what they do today will impact the farmers who are caring for this land in 100 years. That’s love–real, concrete love.
They have to love their neighbor. They love the neighboring farmer–not their competitor, but their neighbor. When they’re in trouble, they show up to help in whatever way they can. I’ve seen it happen, and so have you. Farmers also love people they haven’t even met, working hard so that people everywhere will have something to eat, so they don’t go to bed hungry. That’s love–real, concrete love.
And in doing all of that, they love God. Not abstractly, but concretely. Caring for God’s creation. Caring for their neighbor and the total stranger they will feed. That’s holy work. That’s what it means to love like a farmer.
In whatever we do, whether we farm or work in an office or work on the road or build houses or volunteer or spend some well-earned time in retirement, Jesus tells us we must love. We must love concretely, with actions. We must love the world God has made and care for it. We must love our neighbors as ourselves and care for them. In doing so, we love God.
Love concretely. Love like a farmer. Because loving like that makes our work and our entire lives holy, offerings to God.
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