A Hand On the Plow

Luke 9:51-62

“No one who puts their hands to the plow
and then looks back
is fit for the Kingdom of Heaven!”

Why? Farmers will tell you that to plow a straight furrow in a field you have to keep your eye on a landmark somewhere ahead of you on the fence line. Until now. As I have mentioned to you before, my son works as the lead maintenance hand at a corporate apple farm in Collingwood. Apple trees are only productive for a certain number of years at which time they need to be harvested and replaced with younger trees. Consequently, on a farm as large as the one my son works on, they are constantly replanting fields. To help facilitate this process, my son built a machine which is pulled by a tractor and digs the furrow, plants the trees and then tamps down the soil around them. He also incorporated a GPS system into the steering mechanism of the tractor so it will correct any deviation of the tractor from plowing a straight line.
So now, David can indeed look backwards, sideways, up or down or anyway he chooses, while the tractor continues on a straight line. In fact, once when I was visiting, he was operating this tractor and he got out of the tractor and came down to talk me while the tractor was still moving! “Ah, Dave! Aren’t you suppose to be driving that thing?” “Naw, it will be awhile till it hits the end of the field and I need to turn it around.”
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I see this as a real metaphor for our day. Because of technology, we can become so easily distracted and lose our focus on where we want to end up as people, as a society.
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I held my own personal rant last week about cell phones. I was pulling into Zehrs and was stopped by a woman standing right in the middle of roadway texting someone. Cart and all. During the time I waited for her, another car was stopped coming from the other direction, and a third car was trying to back out of their spot and had to sit there with their blinkers on. And there she stood, oblivious. My personal opinion on this is that whoever this person was texting was obviously more important that the rest of us.
The student who texts in class is saying that whomever they are corresponding to is more important that the expertise of the lecturer whom they are paying for with their tuition money and we taxpayers are providing for them. The people who still text and drive are saying that whomever they are talking to is more important than securing the safety of others on the road.
The mother who takes her child out in a stroller while talking to a friend on the phone. During the walk the child fusses, the mother says, “Just a minute…” sticks a soother in the child’s mouth and then goes back to her friend on the phone. Who’s the important one here and is she not missing out on engaging with her child?
Parents who sit on park benches talking on their phones while watching their kids on the playground. You don’t realize until you’re older how precious and short this time with your kids really is. You’ll miss it.
Nancy I were hiking in Algonquin Park one time out about 7 kms in to see the remains of an old saw mill. On the way, we came across a group of young people who were, you guessed it, all on their cell phones. The person who texts at the table is telling the others around them that whomever they are texting at that moment is more important to them than the person sitting across from them.
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I’m not advocating the evils of technology, for the advancements that have been made through engineering, medicine, environmental interests are truly staggering. And, admittedly, cell phones have their uses. But with all the convenience they provide, IS there a down side to this? Do they not cause us to miss being fully present in the moment? To be centered in the now? Do they not cause us to be distracted as our minds are both here and somewhere else? Are we missing what is really important in life?
In C.S. Lewis’ book Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, the senior devil writes letters to his young apprentice Wormwood.
In one such letter he states,
“My Dear Wormwood,
Be sure that the people you deal with
remain completely fixated on politics.
Arguments, political gossip
and obsessing on the faults
of people they have never met,
serves as an excellent distraction
from advancing personal virtue,
character
and the things people can control.
Make sure to keep people in a constant state of angst,
frustration and general disdain
towards the rest of the human race
in order to avoid a kind of charity
or inner peace from being developed.

Ensure people continue to believe
that the problem is ‘out there’
in the ‘broken system’
rather than recognizing
there is a problem with themselves.
And keep up the good work.”

Quite simply, keep people distracted from reaching that landmark at the end of the field, of planting those good seeds in their lives and allowing them to grow.
There’s a wonderful old shaker song in our hymnbooks that says,

“‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free,
‘tis a gift to come down to where you ought to be,
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
we’ll be in the valley of love and delight.”

Jesus tried to make the goal of our lives the purpose of our plowing those furrows very clear to us. Love your neighbour as yourself.
That’s it. Every other commandment is summed up in this one. That’s the landmark we head for that brings fertility to what we plow in life.
Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, befriend the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, heal the sick and look for the Christ in everyone. That’s all that matters. In all that St. Paul experienced in his life, what did he say matters? St. Paul, the great orator, proclaims,
“I could speak with all the eloquence of men
or even of angels
but if I speak without love,
I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.

I could have the gift of prophecy
and know everything there is to know in the whole world
even have a faith strong enough to move a mountain,
but without love
I am nothing at all.

I could be a martyr
give away everything I own,
even give over my body to be burnt for a cause,
but if I do it without love,
it does no good at all.

Love. That’s the landmark we keep our eye on while plowing our
Furrows through this life. Mother Teresa once said, “Few of us can do great things, but all of us can do small things with great love.” No life is ever wasted that has known love, has felt and given love. Living the good life, doing the right things in life, only becomes confusing when we become distracted from a moment of offering love, or receiving love; by all the other voices in our ear demanding our attention.
Just love one another. Everything else in life is just a distraction.

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