Reaping What You Sow
(sermon by Mark Parent)
(Hosea 8:1-7, Galatians 6:7-16)
“You shall reap what you sow.” “They have sown the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind.” At its simplest level these biblical sayings, the first from the Apostle Paul and the second from the book of the prophet Hosea, tell us that our actions have consequences.
As the poet Charles Reade puts it:
Sow a thought, you reap an act
Sow an act, you reap a habit.
Sow a habit, you reap a character.
Sow a character, you reap a destiny.
We know this to be true don’t we? On an individual and societal level it holds true that what we do today effects what happens to us tomorrow. And often the effects are far- reaching indeed. As the biblical passage puts it – “the fathers have eaten wild grapes and their children’s teeth are set on edge.”
We may think that our actions have no long term effects but we delude ourselves. Everything that we do builds in either a positive or a negative manner. We become tomorrow the people who we are constructing today. We live the lives tomorrow which we are building today.
When Leonardo da Vinci was painting his masterpiece, The Last Supper, he selected as the person to sit for the character of the Christ a young man, Pietri Bandinelli by name, connected at that time with the Milan Cathedral as chorister.
Years passed before the great picture was completed, and when one character only-that of Judas Iscariot was wanting, the great painter noticed a man in the streets of Rome whom he selected as his model. Having an expression of cold, hardened, greed, saturnine, the man seemed to afford the opportunities of a model true to the artist’s conception of Judas.
When in the studio, the man began to look around, as if recalling incidents of years gone by, decisions made which had seen some very bad choices. Finally, he turned and with a look half-sad, yet one which told how hard it was to realize the change which had taken place, he said; “Maestro, I was in this studio twenty five years ago. Then, I sat for Christ.”
The message is clear you reap what you sow.
If you put your trust in violence to achieve your ends do not be surprised if violence claims you in the end.
If you put your faith in money to buy what you want out of life than do not be surprised if money defines who you are in end.
If fame is what you seek then do not be surprised to spend your later years alone and friendless.
If physical beauty is what you seek do not be downcast when the years pass and physical beauty disappears.
If you lean on your own strength and understanding do not be shocked when you find that it is not enough, your strength fails and your understanding becomes a rut which is nothing more than a grave with ends knocked out.
If, as Hosea puts it, you put your trust in that which is futile and empty like a desert wind which blows across the wilderness and is gone, than do not be surprised if futility and emptiness claim your life.
If, as Paul puts it, you sow that which is of the flesh, do not be shocked that you reap that which is of the flesh.
C. S. Lewis tells of a woman he knew who complained habitually. Finally, it was no longer possible to describe her accurately by saying that she had a complaint; the truth is that she had become a complaint. It was impossible to separate her from her complaining.
As Paul puts it, “be not deceived God is not mocked for whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap.”
“You shall reap what you sow.” “They have sown the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind.”
The message is clear, our actions have consequences which build upon each other until the wind which we can bear becomes the whirlwind which we cannot.
But these sayings can also be interpreted in a positive manner as well. The Hebrew word for wind is ruach. It stands for at least two things. The first is the desert wind, tearing violently across the land with primal energy and elemental force, destroying everything in its way. But, because this word ruach also means spirit, its stands as well for the Spirit of God, that supernatural power that sweeps across the ages, bursts into history and takes possession of the lives of men and of women, turning us into individuals who are alive in the Spirit and whose hope does not dim with the passing of the years but grows stronger and purer day after day.
The wind of the Spirit comes upon a young medical student who has just completed a brilliant University degree and seems set to reach the heights of the medical profession with all its monetary and non-monetary rewards. The Spirit begins to blow and disrupts his plans for a glorious career and sends him out as a medical missionary to Africa on a miserable pittance.
The wind of the Spirit comes on a woman immersed in the ordinary, innocent pleasures of life and she feels constrained to witness for God in shop or factory, school or social set.
The wind of the spirit comes upon a cantankerous person wrapped up in their own concerns and needs and wants; living only for themselves and turns them around so that they become concerned for others, for the less fortunate, for the woman down the street who has lost her husband, or the man who has lost his job.
The wind of the Spirit comes upon the person who claims there is no God, that love is another name for being a patsy, that this life is all we have and there is nothing beyond this life and turns them around so that they begin to believe and to live in the light of God’s love and in the hope of eternal life.
Before God’s Spirit there is no citadel of self and sin that is safe, no unbelieving cynic secure beyond the Spirit’s reach. There is no ironclad bastion of theological self-confidence that is immune; no impregnable self-sufficiency which the Spirit cannot disturb into a living faith; no ancient animosities which the Spirit cannot reconcile. There is no winter death of the soul that the Spirit cannot quicken into the blossoming springtime of life; no dry, bleached bones that God cannot vitalise into a marching army of faith. There is no life of despair which cannot be turned into a life of hope; no life of the flesh which cannot be turned into a life of the Holy Spirit; no young maid who cannot be taught to sing for joy, no old man who cannot be taught to dream of a better world to come.
As individuals, as citizens of this province and this country, as neighbours and churchgoers, as children of a loving God, we have a choice. We can sow the whirlwind of secularism and unbelief, of selfishness and hatred, of despair and anxiety, of selfishness and greed. We can sow the whirlwind of disunity and lack of compassion, of self-satisfied individualism. We can sow the lusts of our bodies and not the dreams of our hearts.
Or, by surrendering ourselves to God and opening up our hearts and spirits to God we can sow the whirlwind of God’s Spirit. We can immerse ourselves in God and God’s word and turn our backs on that which is harmful and wrong, petty and cruel and thoughtless. We can work towards that day when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, when every mountain will be brought low, the rough places made plain and the crooked places straight. We can long for that day when the Lord Jesus will come down out of heaven as a bride adorned for her husband and there will be neither pain, nor crying nor death any longer for the former things have passed away. We can sow that which is of that Spirit, that which reaps life in all its fullness, life that is eternal.
Yes, we can sow that which of the Spirit. We can sow the wind of love and grace and faith and hope and we will reap eternal life. We will reap the whirlwind of the Spirit of God.
But there are two provisos. The first, as I mentioned, is that we set our heart upon doing the things of God; open up our spirits to God’s spirit; immerse ourselves in God’s Word, God’s church, the life of prayer and the attitude of giving. And the second is that we do not give up, that we do not grow weary in well-doing.
Any farmer knows that there is a lag between what is sown and what is reaped. A life of selfishness and spurning of God does not instantaneously lead to destruction. You may travel through many years before bad actions of the past catch up with you. A nation may forget God’s way and God’s will and continue to prosper — for a while that is. But, sooner or later, it catches up with you. Sooner or later it all comes crashing down, if not in this life in the one which is to come. Sooner or later all of us, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, beautiful and homely, strong and weak, all of us alike will have to stand some day before our maker.
And so, we must sow to the spirit and we must not give up, not grow weary in well doing as Paul put it. For we will reap at the harvest time, if we do not give up.
And my, oh my, what a wonderful harvest it will be!