Mar 29 2014

Sharon’s Harvest

_CES4270I participated in another funeral today.  The woman who died, Sharon Cates, was a remarkable person on numerous levels.  Sharon was a retired school teacher and someone very involved in both her church and community.  For the past 22 years she was a full-time farmer.  She took over the farm when her husband died at a young age.  She expanded the farm and became, as noted in her obituary, an “advocate for local farmers, caretaker of the land, and passionate in teaching children and youth about agriculture with her vegetable garden, corn maze, and pumpkin patch.”  Sharon was also a champion for the poor and a strong supporter of missions.  It came as no surprise to me that our church was completely packed this morning for her funeral service.

_CES7414Jesus once told a parable about a sower who went out to sow seeds. (Mark 4:1-20)  In his story the scattered seeds fell on a variety of surfaces.  Some fell on the hardened path, some on rocky places, some among thorns and some on good soil.  Jesus indicated that how the seed responded was directly related to the surface on which it fell.  Some of the seed died quickly, some began to grow but withered due to shallow soil, some tried to grow but were choked by the weeds, while the seed that landed upon good soil produced an abundant harvest.  For some reason Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand the meaning of his parable so he had to go on and explain it to them.  He told them that the sown seed was “the word,” or what we might call the gospel.  The various surfaces were examples of people’s response to the word. In the end it was only those who heard the word and accepted it that were able to produce a crop—“thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

Since Sharon’s death a few days ago I have thought about Jesus’ parable a number of times.  It is quite obvious to me which type of soil she was—she was good soil, very good soil.  The gospel permeated Sharon’s life and it produced a remarkable harvest.  I saw that in her work at the church.  I saw it in her work on the farm.  I saw it in her work in the community.  I saw it in the way she bravely fought a long battle with cancer.

_CES8928Sharon’s farm produced what many would consider the best vegetables in Henderson County.  I know vegetables were her focus but when I think about her real harvest I think of fruit—the fruit of the Spirit.  In Galatians 5:22-23 the apostle Paul wrote “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”   These are the things I saw produced in Sharon’s life and they are the things I will remember her for.

Today I not only thank God for Sharon’s example, I am challenged by it.  In the lives of all of us who claim to be Christians there should be a great harvest.  In each of our lives there should be an abundance of the fruit of the Spirit.  Our time here on earth really ought to count and make a difference.  In the future when I pause to think about the difference one person can make, one of the persons whose life I will have to consider is Sharon Cates.  Her body, like a seed, now rests in the ground but I have a feeling the life she lived will continue to produce a harvest for years to come.


(I took each of the above pictures in Henderson County.  Unfortunately, none of them were taken at the Cates Farm.)

Jul 27 2011

Bearing Fruit

Jesus frequently used nature as a teaching device.  The best known examples may be his charge to “consider the lilies” and “consider the birds.”  Both Matthew and Luke record these words of Jesus intended to elicit faith and combat worry in our lives.  In the fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel we find another one of Jesus’ references to nature.  Here he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” (v. 5)  Jesus used this illustration from the natural world to explain a number of vital truths.

 In verse 4 Christ noted the obvious—“No branch can bear fruit by itself.”  If a branch from an apple tree is cut off it will no longer be able to produce apples.  It has to remain connected in order to live and bring forth fruit.  In the same way, Jesus insisted, his followers must “remain” or “abide” in him.  He said, “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (v. 4)  In verses 4-10 Jesus used the word “remain” ten times.  He wanted to make sure that his disciples did not miss the point that staying connected to him was critical.  We simply cannot live the Christian life in our own power or strength.  We have got to stay attached to Christ.

Jesus’ call to “remain” in him implies a close communion or fellowship with himself.  This communion brings us much joy and peace.  Its purpose, however, goes far beyond this.  This communion is also the source of our strength and enables us to fulfill our purpose of bearing fruit.  Jesus said, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (v. 6)  In v. 8 he adds that by producing fruit we bring glory to God and reveal ourselves to be his disciples.

 There can be no denying that Christians are called to bear fruit but in this passage we are never explicitly told what that “fruit” is.  Over the years I have heard numerous suggestions offered.  Some say the fruit of a Christian is another Christian.  Others point to the “fruit of the Spirit” mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5.  Both suggestions may be implied but it seems to me that in this context what Jesus was referring to was love.  In the latter part of John’s Gospel Jesus speaks often about the priority of love and calls repeatedly for his followers to love one another in the same way that he has loved them.  By pointing to the example of vines and branches Jesus let it be known that the only way we will ever be able to love in this way is if we stay connected to him.  My own personal experience validates this.  I know all too well that I cannot love as I should on my own.  I need help. 

I am convinced that each of our lives do, indeed, have purpose and meaning.  I also believe that this purpose involves making a difference in our world through acts of selfless love and compassion.  When I see an apple tree, or any other fruit hanging from its branches, I am reminded that if I am going to love the world and those who inhabit it I will, likewise, have to remain attached or connected to the ultimate source of love—my Lord and Savior.


 (I took the pictures above this morning at one of my friend’s home here in Pikeville.)