Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 15:7-11
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
Farming in Iowa has changed a lot in the last hundred and fifty years. Before 1850 or so, planting and harvesting a field of wheat, the main cash crop back then, required many hands and simple tools. A skilled pioneer farmer with only a bit of land could cut up to two acres per day with a grain cradle, a type of scythe. One or two people following him would gather the wheat, tie it into bundles, pile those into shocks, and let them dry in the field. Once dry, the shocks were moved into a barn for storage until threshing time. It was hard and inefficient work, and often the person cutting the wheat or those gathering it missed some spots and had to go back to cut and gather them.
Between 1850 and 1900, everything changed with the invention of the horse-drawn mechanical reaper. Farmers could harvest ten to twelve acres a day. As wheat production increased, equipment and methods became more and more refined until the labor required to harvest grain dropped from twenty-three hours per acre to eight hours per acre in 1900. By then, wheat was only the number four cash crop, after corn, oats, and hay. At that time, it took thirty-eight hours to plant an acre of corn (10,800 kernels, yielding an average of forty-five bushels per acre). By 2000, farmers could plant an acre of corn (28,000 kernels) in about an hour, yielding 144 bushels per acre. And modern equipment combined with efficient row planting techniques could ensure that every stalk was harvested.
What’s the point of this little bit of farming history? (By the way, all the information here came from the Living History Farms website at https://www.lhf.org/learning-fields/.) In the Biblical book of Leviticus, which instructed God’s people in proper worship and right living following their Exodus from Egypt, God ordered that grain and grapes missed by the harvesters in fields and vineyards were to be left behind to be gleaned by the poor. To be told not to collect every bit of a crop might seem odd, even wasteful, to us, but the people of that time understood. There were no food pantries or soup kitchens. There was no Welfare or Social Security. Communities were commanded to care for the poor in their midst by allowing them to work the fields and vineyards behind the regular harvest crews and take home whatever they could find along the margins. (See the book of Ruth.)
This idea of allowing margin that serves the poor, who will always be among us, no matter what political party is in power or what legislation is passed or what local ordinances are in effect, is a radical notion. Here in the United States, we rugged individualists believe in working for a living and in keeping what we make. And many of us really have no margin for ourselves: we spend whatever we earn, trying to keep up with societal expectations or other external or internal pressure to feel and look successful. The book of Deuteronomy, which means “second law” and reiterates the laws given to Moses, has some specific instructions for how the poor and needy are to be treated: be openhanded. Give generously to them, and not with a grudging heart. And it reveals a promise: “Then because of this, the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.”
Notice anything interesting about the order of events there? First we are to be generous and openhanded, not selfish and tightfisted, in our dealings with the poor and needy. If we are, then God will bless our endeavors. This is the way we followers of Jesus are intended to live. After all, the King of heaven withheld nothing from us, giving up his very life so that we could live, free from the burden of sin and death. Who are we to be less than generous to others, when we have been given everything?
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (Children’s Worship and nursery care available) and stay afterward for Discovery Hour (all ages).