This isn’t a rural, agricultural area – although of course, it once was. And your preacher today is a city and suburb boy, so some of the rural and agricultural themes of today’s Scripture readings threaten to pass us by. And that would be too bad, because these themes are at the root of our call to worship, of our need for growth in faith, and our invitation to holy recreation. And all of these themes are perfect ones for our observance of summer.
Someone asked me recently how I was enjoying my summer, and noted that things must be slower during this time of year for me. I thought about my schedule of weddings, complete with preparing the couples for the sacrament, I thought about the fact that we still worship all summer long, day in and day out and that we still have to give a homily, however brief, on these warm days. I thought about the appointments I have for pastoral counseling, the projects I’m working on for the fall, and all the daily emergencies that come up. Slower in the summer? Not so much.
And how many of you find yourselves in similar situations? If you have children, then you have them more in the summer, and they’re going more places and doing more things. Working for any company these days hardly ever allows for slow seasons, since every workplace is working leaner, or even completely understaffed. Even professions like teaching, which traditionally pause in the summer, only give people the chance to pick up summer jobs. And with the price of gas and the difficulty of air travel, how many of us are even traveling as much as we might these days? Slower in the summer? Not so much.
Full disclosure here: I am just today returning from a week’s vacation with my family. It was nice to have the time off, and I really did appreciate the opportunity to recharge. And that’s as it should be for all of us, because there really is a need for a Sabbath. That’s what we’ve been telling our staff these days. We encouraged every ministry to pause during July so that we can clean the buildings, touch up the paint, wax the floors, make repairs, and even just take a break from the normal hustle and bustle of parish life. Even the Church needs a Sabbath now and then.
From ancient times, farmers would observe a pattern of crop rotation. They would plant soil-enriching crops a year after soil-depleting crops. And one year they would leave the land fallow – that is, they’d leave it crop-free, so that it would have a chance to rest and re-charge. And that’s crucial in order to avoid a field that isn’t good for anything except to harbor rocks, weeds, and thorns – all those things that prevent a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold crop.
Isaiah prophesies a time when the word of God comes down to settle on fertile ground, a ground that lets that word accomplish the end for which God sent it. This is a ground as fertile as a field enriched by rain and snow, “making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats.” Clearly he was thinking about that good soil that can be sown with the seeds of God’s word, that will produce that harvest of a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. And this is the kind of soil God wants all of us to be. We need to be fertile ground so that God’s word, sown in us, can grow up to feed multitudes.
But clearly that takes a certain care of the soil that is in us. It has to be kept from the poison of the world: profane entertainment, relationships that kill the soul, poor use of free time, becoming embroiled in the things of the world instead of the people of the world. That soil has to be watered with quiet time, reflection on our faith, and yes, given that fallow time, that Sabbath that allows us all to recharge.
And so this summer provides us the space for all of that. Whether our situations provide for extended vacations, or even stay-cations, or whether we keep on going doing what we always do, we need to take time for a Sabbath. Even if that’s fifteen minutes of quiet in an otherwise chaotic day. Worship, faith growth, and holy recreation cannot happen if we don’t take time out to let God’s word permeate our being. We have to give the Lord time to let his word fertilize and water us, so that we can become fertile ground for anything God wants for us, or anything God wants us to do. Because the Psalmist is right: “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.” Blessed are we when we pause to become that good, fertile, fruitful ground.