Bringing in the Sheaves

  

Those who sow in tears
     shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
     bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
     bringing his sheaves with him.

                            – Psalm 126:5-6

Bringing in the Sheaves

By Knowles Shaw

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

     Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
     We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
     Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
     We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

     Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
     We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
     Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
     We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,
Though the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

     Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, 
     We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
     Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
     We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Knowles Shaw (1834-1878) was a preacher, singer, and songwriter (of both words and music). In his day he was one of the best known figures in the American Restoration Movement. He was a member of the churches of Christ, which many of you know is a non-instrumental church. Perhaps Shaw’s best known work is the popular gospel song “Bringing in the Sheaves.”  Shaw was an exceptional singer by all accounts, and integrated hymns into his sermons as a natural extension of his message.

“Bringing in the Sheaves” was written in 1874, and was dedicated to the memory of Augustus Damon Fillmore (1823-1870), a fellow preacher and songwriter. For some reason this hymn has taken hold of the popular imagination as the go-to cultural reference for American “old-time religion.” It has appeared in a lengthy list of movies and television episodes. It is often associated with the Salvation Army because it is played by the Salvation Army band in the musical Guys and Dolls.

Ancient Israel was an agrarian society, and Jesus himself grew up in the farming country of Galilee, so the Bible naturally is full of references to the commonplace sights of planting and harvesting. It was difficult work to get a crop out of the dry, drought-prone land of Palestine, and then as now the farmers relied on their store of practical knowledge to get the most from their land. Jesus referred to this common knowledge in John 4:35, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’?”

The harvest was a joyous time, especially if there was an assurance of a good yield after the uncertainties of the planting and growing season. Reapers would cut off the stalks close to the ground with a scythe, tying up convenient arm-loads and stacking them in groups for loading onto carts. The book of Ruth gives a detailed description of the ancient harvest practices, including the harvest feast when the crops were taken in and the work was over.

The Bible makes at least two spiritual applications of this earthly process. On a personal level, our actions and course of life, good or bad, are often compared to planting seed that grows to a harvest–good or bad, which I wrote about last week in the “Parable of the Soils.” And in a more outward-looking sense, our efforts toward spreading the gospel and leading others to Christ are frequently compared to sowing seed that will bring about a harvest in the lives of others.

Also, in the parable of the tares (or “weeds”) in Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus taught:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

Jesus concludes with the warning, that although the wheat and the tares were growing side by side, and impossible to separate, the final reckoning would sort each out. God will not be mocked; His just judgment will return a harvest fitting to the seed that is sown.

The Old Testament spoke this truth in proverb and prophecy, and often with great poetic beauty. Proverbs 22:8 says, “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,” returning on himself the misfortunes he causes to others. Hosea 8:7 goes a step further, famously warning, “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” The result of continued sowing of wicked deeds is presented in terrifying language in Joel 3:13–“Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great.” When God “tramples out the vintage” of His “grapes of wrath,” it is not a sight any wise person wants to witness. But even in the absence of great wickedness, the lack of good deeds has its consequences: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”(Jeremiah 8:20)

On the positive side, the Bible also presents the harvest as a long-awaited recompense for the righteous person’s struggles. Hosea, though so much of his prophecy was of punishment, also exhorted the people with this beautiful picture of a better harvest to come: “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.”(Hosea 10:12) James seems almost to echo these words in this passage: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”(James 3:17-18)

In this sense we are all farmers, planting seed every day in the words we say and the things we do, for either good or bad; our harvest is being determined now, both in quality and proportion. “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”(2 Corinthians 9:6)

As I said last week, we all will reap what we sow. God tells us that in numerous passages of the Bible. Many who call themselves Christians will tell us that as LGBT individuals, that we will reap Hell because we have sown a life of sin with our homosexuality. Even if I didn’t think they were wrong about this, their hatred is sowing not seeds of kindness but seeds of hatred and ungodly behavior. However, we cannot allow people like that to sow seeds of discord, nor can we allow them to push us away from God. Instead, we must continue to sow seeds of kindness so that we can nourish and grow in great faith within the Christian community.

We are already sowing the seeds of this with the faith initiatives of the Human Rights Campaign and within congregations who are LGBT friendly, such as the United Church of Christ and the Metropolitan Community Church. Some congregations are merely non-discriminatory and LGBT-affirming while others are specifically oriented toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. Some local congregations, especially those designated as “Welcoming churches” in the Disciples of Christ, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Methodist, Episcopal, and Brethren/Mennonite denominations, may consist of a majority of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members.

We cannot let the weeds of discord choke our growing faith communities and we should continue to celebrate the harvest of churches who are welcoming to all. The welcoming churches show the true spirit of the message of Jesus, and I believe as the LGBT community continues to gain acceptance and equal rights, we will see more churches opening their doors to the LGBT community.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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