I’ve never got to plow a field the old way and here we are this week with Elisha plowing away with 12 yoke of oxen in the first lesson and Jesus talking about plowing in the gospel. Jesus comes off as sounding pretty harsh and the Elijah story is pretty confusing. Thankfully I have had the opportunity to talk to grandparents and others about the experience. It really is all about your focus. If you look a certain way you tend to wander that way, and you don’t have to have a twelve yoke oxen team to have experienced it. I stopped to really wonder why this was such a big deal in plowing. I had some suspicions but I really wanted some info from the experts. This serves several purposes for the straight, evenly spaced rows. First, it is more convenient to plant in rows, and second, when the seeds sprout it is easier to distinguish the seedlings from the weeds. Third, planting in rows simplifies cultivating the garden as the crop matures. Grouping of plants is not only for its looks, but it also helps plants grow better. They create their own community, plants in groups always grow better than plants that grow alone. Spacing is important for yield and wandering rows or furrows is a waste of time, resources and lowers yield. So if you find an optimal spacing, you want to stick to it. So the secret to the straight row is focusing on a fixed point in the distance and not wavering, being distracted or looking elsewhere. I helped a friend of mine mow some lawns and he would stripe them, that is mow in straight lines in alternating directions. You can check out major league baseball fields and see the cool, seemingly flawless diamond or checkerboard or quilted effects that the lawnkeepers achieve by diligence, planning, practice and focus. It’s the same principle. I worked on learning it and it’s tough. I struggled with perfectly spaced, perfectly straight lines. Watching for obstacles, cars on the adjacent road, nearby playing children would steal your focus. I guess it’s just an excuse, but they don’t allow all those things on major league baseball fields or golf course greens while they are working. So I’m not fit for the kingdom of God. Unfortunately, that’s not the worst of it. In North Carolina, I had a big space to mow and used one of those riding zero- three-sixty riding mowers. I was trying to make pretty stripes for my own enjoyment, but I developed yellowjacket nests. Yellowjackets are wasps that live in the ground. They are black and yellow and are very aggressive and rank really high on the painful sting index. You often get one free pass over a nest, but when an unsuspecting interloper comes back they pay for it. The swarm viciously attacks en masse. A couple of times I didn’t notice the kind of difficult-to-see swarming from a distance or the tell-tale way the yellowjackets enter or leave the nest and I got stung, thankfully only two or three times. The second time with two bites on one leg, shooting pains and cramps in that leg and it lasted for quite awhile. The mower sat for a few days abandoned in the yard. I developed a phobia while mowing and all the joy was gone. Only the dread of having to mow was left. My head was on a swivel, straining my eyes and attention watching for those insects and fearing the pain. There were ugly turns, missed spots which meant a second pass and destroyed lines. My name is Jonathan Gantt. I’m the pastor of Living Faith, an ordained minister for 25 years, the Dean of the Broward-Bahamas conference of the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and I am miserably unfit for the kingdom of God because of the things that cause me to lose focus or steal my attention and the mistakes that I make. It appears as though there is no excuse. That’s the whole point. That is why Jesus has “set his face toward Jerusalem” because that is where the cross awaits. The law demands perfection, keeping all the ordinances, plowing a straight tight furrow, or mowing a great stripe so to speak, and failure brings condemnation. In the cross of Christ however, there is grace and forgiveness. It says in Romans chapter, For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to demonstrate at the present time his own righteousness, so that he is righteous and he justifies the one who has the faith of Jesus. Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. Through what kind of law? That of works? No, rather through the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” That’s the Good News, but the law is still important. Martin Luther said that it serves as a curb, a mirror and a guide. It helps us to stay in bounds, it helps us see where we fall short, and it shows us what we should be doing. If you’re going to plow a field, do your best, understand the way to do it, strive for focus, check how you’ve done, and strive to make corrections. If we turn our eyes and travel our own path, we miss the opportunities that God intended. I like parables, and I found this one some time ago and filed it away for later. I think it shows how focus can be lost as individuals, churches, christian organizations or the Church with a big C and how focus and our mission can get lost. Our focus must forever remain on the cross of Christ and extending that love and grace to others. I’ll close with The Parable of the Lifesaving Station” On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding areas, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew. Some of the new members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in an enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they redecorated it beautifully and furnished it as a sort of club. Less of the members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The mission of lifesaving was still given lip-service but most were too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to take part in the lifesaving activities personally. About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, some looked different, some spoke a strange language, and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside. At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal pattern of the club. But some members insisted that lifesaving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the life of all various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did. As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. They evolved into a club and yet another lifesaving station was founded. If you visit the seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but now most of the people drown. Lord, we pray that your Holy Spirit will help us to stay focused on the cross and our hands upon the plow that all of your children might find welcome, love, grace and forgiveness, that your glory might be reflected in us. Amen.