Plough Sunday 9th January 2022 – Rev Alison Way
Amos 9:11-end, Luke 9:57-end
In the name of the Living God, loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit. Amen.
As I said at the start of today’s service – we are marking Plough Sunday today. It celebrates historically the long hours of tilling and preparing the land before the seed can be sown. The festival was originally celebrated after the 12 days of feasting for Christmas as a way of inspiring people back to work. The plough for the town or village was often stored in the church. It was then decorated, blessed and taken around the town or village, and money raised to keep a ‘plough light’. This light was a candle kept burning in the church until harvest, reminding people to pray for the land and those who worked on it. Sometimes seed and soil were also blessed, and if we have brought some seeds with us today, we will be praying God’s blessing on them symbolically a little later in this service.
Many of our traditions have changed since the height of Plough Sunday activities. For example, marking the 12 days of Christmas as the feast has shifted to Christmas starting on 1st December (or earlier) and ending pretty smartly on Boxing day for some. Likewise preparing the ground after the harvest is now much more of an autumnal activity than a winter one! Some things have stayed more constant – I think the idea that we should pray for the land and those who work it has remained pretty constant, especially in more rural parts of our country.
Talking about ploughing may seem a world away from the lives of many of us today – but the start of a New Year often brings with it a sense of new beginnings. Penny talked briefly last week about New Year resolutions and encouraged us to have a new year resolution to walk in the light of Christ all the days of our lives. Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father, based on the words from the Baptism Service.
Our new beginnings today build on that and are represented by any seeds we have brought with us. These seeds are ones I am going to attempt to grow in my green house this year. Having a green house is a relatively new thing for me. My gardening help insisted I couldn’t have a greenhouse lying idle in the spring of 2020 even allowing for my absence of green fingers! (I have not had a Rectory with a green house before!). For the last two years I have had a good crop of courgettes and tomatoes, and less success with cucumbers based on plants someone else had sown as seeds and nurtured into life. This year I am hoping to have some similar success but with plants I have nurtured from seed myself!
Looking at these seeds has made me reflect somewhat! The seeds are tiny in relation to the size of the plants that result (particularly prolific courgette plants which have some triffid like qualities!). Yet for seeds to grow they have to germinate and lose this form to take on another. They need water, light and the right kind of preparation of the soil. They need all these things at the right time and in the right amount to flourish well. Not every seed will spring into life – yet that so much can come from something so small is quite startling – and nature as it often is – is deeply impressive.
I think the same is true of our new initiatives – our seeds of planned growth in 2022. In both churches we are heading towards fanning into flame something aimed at families. We are taking different approaches, aiming to re-energise our work with the under fives and their grown ups in Wincanton via WOW! and moving towards a monthly more family orientated offering with worship, craft and breakfast in Pen Selwood – called ‘Rise and Shine!’. These things are very much seeds at the moment, waiting for the right time to be sown. There is much preparation of the soil going on behind the scenes, and this needs to be supported by our diligent prayers. It is difficult with the state of things at the moment with the pandemic to be entirely clear when we are going to start with either, and this looks like it may still be later than we had hoped before the Omicron strain of COVID hit! We have also found some extra preparatory work that needs doing as the requirements for safeguarding have developed significantly in recent times. It is really important that we take these developments seriously and prayerfully. So any seeds we are using as an aid to prayer will represent these things too so important in the life of our churches moving forward.
The Bible readings I chose for today, which took the theme of ploughing have some other slightly different ideas embedded within them. The Old Testament reading is from the prophet Amos. Generally, the content of Amos was written at the time before the exile – where Amos call to account the people of God who were acting in immoral and socially corrupt ways at the time. He was warning them of difficult times ahead and to turn from ways where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, and predicts their downfall through the exile . The reading we got today doesn’t reflect that but is the end of his book – where Amos is talking of better times to come following the exile – that the faithful people of God will eventually be restored back to their homes and be fruitful in the land. It is reading looking not to the current circumstance but a far away future horizon.
Sometimes we too seem to endure the difficult times of the present, whilst keeping our eyes on a longer term goal like Amos did. I have found the journey we have been on in and out of covid restrictions somewhat limiting to our horizons. It seems each time we have a better patch, the situation changes and takes us back to places we really did not want to revisit. We have at the very least been enduring a long period of uncertainty about some things which hitherto we took for granted as part of the fabric of our lives. Our long term horizon, our eternal rest in the love of God is not changed by any of this – but the short term stuff has been very disrupted! I recognise in myself a need to approach this differently, giving thanks for what is possible, and sitting light to what isn’t, in the knowledge that our God of love is both constant and eternal. We each have hope that rests on things above rather than earthly things which pass away.
In contrast to Amos’, the words of Jesus encourage us to keep ploughing on, looking forward. My commentary described this section of scripture as ‘Following Jesus without qualification’, without letting other things get in the way This relates to the reality that if you are not looking forward when ploughing, looking backwards would tend to set the farrow we are ploughing out of line! I think this is probably as much about NOT setting our sights on things past, rather than the days ahead of us. Since the autumn, I have been consciously trying to use the language of moving forward, rather than getting or going back to normality. Moving forward is what we can do, what we can’t do is do anything to change the past or get back to exactly how things ever were. We can learn from the past, but we cannot replay it or change it.
When we set out on our journey together back in February 2020, I could never have imagined some of the things we have faced or the path we have been travelling. All these steps are behind us, we carry the experiences of them with us, but what matters is the next step and then the one after that. Taking each step living with God’s hope in our hearts. I have said a number of times, I would like it to get a little easier with less time spent on risk assessments – and it is true I would, but I also know that God’s strength will support us in the days ahead come what may! Things will come to fruition in God’s time – if we need to travel further in the wilderness of COVID uncertainty so be it. Let’s keep looking forward and praying.
Praying particularly for the seeds we will plant, for those who work the land and for our seeds for growth in our churches. It may not be for tomorrow or the day after, but let’s be diligent in our prayer. We are going to use the Blessing of the seed prayer in our service books to conclude these thoughts. If we can hold any we have brought with us for blessing in our hands and if we can hold in our hearts WOW! and ‘Rise and Shine!’ as I say these words asking God’s blessing on these ventures. Let us pray.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation: in your goodness you have given us this seed to sow. In it we perceive the promise of life, the wonders of your creative love.
By your blessing, let this seed be for us a sign of your creative power, that in sowing and watering, tending and watching, we may see the miracle of growth, and in due course reap a rich harvest.
As this seed must die to give life, reveal to us the saving power of your Son, who died that we might live, and plant in us the good seed of your word. Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
All: Blessed be God for ever.
By itself the earth produces:
All: first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain shall appear.
Common Worship: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
Word Biblical Commentary for Amos
Arthur Rank Centre – Plough Sunday https://arcentre.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/09160026/ARC-Plough-Sunday-Material-A4-Jan-2022-v216939.pdf