Sunday, November 9, 2014

Lord of the Harvest

“Lord of the Harvest”

Ruth and Boaz
             Like many farmers in Rural Virginia, Boaz grew up in a good home, learning to love God and take care of his neighbor.  He came from generations of farmers before him.  His family grew wheat and barley that provided bread for the people of the small town of Bethelehem, which literally means “House of Bread.”  Like many of our local farmers, he was raised with a good work ethic, and believed that people who can work should work to provide for themselves.  Yet he also took care of those who couldn’t meet their own needs. 
            In Boaz’ day there were no welfare plans or social security systems in place.  Those who could not work begged for bread.  The poor who could work but had no jobs gleaned in the fields.  Going behind Boaz’s grain harvesters, gleaners picked up the bits left behind, the pieces that fell to the ground unbundled.  It took gleaners a long time to gather enough to eat, but at least there was enough to eat.  Boaz had compassion for the gleaners, and followed the tradition of leaving the edges and borders of his field uncut, just so there would be more for the poor.  He instructed his reapers not to pick up pieces that were accidentally left behind, so the gleaners could have even more.[i]  In this way, Boaz honored God by caring for the less fortunate.      
When Russell and Lois Harris, members of my church, first told me about the gleaning ministry they work with, it was in explanation of all the boxes of produce they had sitting around their house.  Occasionally they would give me a bag of apples or potatoes, telling me about the ministry that they help that goes around to salvage food and distribute it to the poor.  In my mind, I pictured a few people with trucks going to farms and collecting fallen apples off the ground to give to the poor.  But I found out it is much more than that.
In 1998, Rev. Ron Davidson was so convinced of the need for an organization that met human needs in a way that other relief organizations did not, that he left his church of 1,200 members in order to work full-time to start a non-profit ministry called Gleaning for the World.  Modern gleaning is where corporations donate their overstock supplies or goods that are close to expiration to charities like Davidson’s, and those organizations distribute them to people in need.  Gleaning for the World partners with other local groups that help with the distribution.  They have developed a crisis response plan that helps them respond to disaster situations.  Now, every year his volunteers distribute over $40,000 worth of food, medical supplies, clothing, and other life-sustaining care to people around the world.[ii]
Rev. Davidson remembers a man in Guatemala with four children who were sick, whose family got the food, medical care, and clothing that they needed.  He recalls toddler twins who were starving to death, who got the nourishment and care they needed, and who are now healthy six-year-olds living in an orphanage.  He tells the story of a grandmother in central Virginia who was trying to raise five grandchildren on social security, who now has a full pantry because of his ministry.[iii]  Gleaning also has a Teddy Bear Brigade that distributes stuffed animals to children in crisis, providing a sense of emotional well-being to kids who just need something to hug.  Now, Gleaning for the World is continuing to meet local needs, and is also working to stop the spread of Ebola in West Africa and protect Christian refugees from the spread of militant Islam in Iraq and Syria.[iv]  As it does its work of humanitarian aid, Gleaning for the World is blessed to lead over 30,000 people to Christ every year.[v]  People like Rev. Davidson, and Russell and Lois, make that possible.
You know, it’s easy for people who are blessed with plenty to have a lying attitude in which they’re convinced that they don’t have enough.  “I don’t have enough stuff,” they say, so they have to hoard more.  “I don’t have enough time,” they tell themselves, so whenever they’re asked to volunteer to help others they make excuses.  They say, “I don’t have enough money,” so when they’re asked to donate of their resources in order to help the poor they tighten their grip on their wallets.  Metaphorically, they never leave the edges of their fields unharvested because they’re convinced that they need it all.  They forget that the Lord of the Harvest provides enough for those who trust Him to have their needs met, and to have something to share.
As he was in his fields, Boaz met a poor young widow named Ruth.  She was gleaning on the edges, picking up the leavings that she could find.  Before he had ever seen her, he had heard of her reputation.  She was that foreign girl who had left her father and mother in the land of her birth, giving up everything that she had previously known, in order to accompany her widowed mother-in-law to Bethlehem.[vi]  He knew that she could have chosen selfishness, but believed instead that somehow if she was faithful, her needs would be provided. 
Boaz believed the Lord had called him to provide for Ruth and Naomi—to be the caretaking agent of God in the world.  He could have had an attitude of poverty, convinced that he had to harvest to the edge and keep it all for himself.  Instead, his grateful heart knew that the Lord of the Harvest would provide his needs so that he could take care of others.  So he invited Ruth to drink from the water that his servants drew, to feel safe among his workers, to eat the food that he provided, and to harvest the extra that he commanded his servants to leave behind. 
God calls believers to provide for the needs of the poor in the same way.  You might do this by donating to Gleaning for the World or working for a local relief organization.  You could help those in poverty by contributing to the relief efforts of your church or denomination.  During this season of harvest we need to remember that the Lord of the Harvest will meet all our needs so that we can be generous with those in need.  This is how we put our faith into action.
James 2:14-17 (NASB) says:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

2 Corinthians 9:11 (NASB) reminds us that if you give to the needs of the poor, “you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.”  Acts 20:35b (NASB) says, “…You must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” During this season of thanksgiving, as we give thanks for what God has provided for us, our natural response should be one of gratitude and charity.  I pray that you, like Boaz and Rev. Davidson and Russell and Lois, will put the needs of others ahead of your own.  I pray that as you’re generous toward others, you’ll trust the Lord of the Harvest to provide your needs.

[i] Leviticus 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19
[iii]  November 8, 2014.
[iv]  November 8, 2014.
[v] If you’re interested in helping Gleaning for the World, or making a donation, they can be reached at 7539 Stage Rd., Concord VA 24538.  Phone: 1-877-913-9212. 
[vi] Ruth 2:11

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