One summer long ago I needed to make some extra money. I was a young twenty-two year old minister in training, making $65.00 a week with housing provided and although Mary was working full time for the University of Kentucky things were tight. We budgeted pretty carefully but had very little left over at the end of each week. As summer hit full stride I was asked if I wanted to “cut tobacco”. Having grown up in the suburbs my whole life I had no idea what that involved but the pay was darn good and I was young and could do anything. It has been a long time but as I remember I was paid twenty-five dollars a day and worked from around seven or so in the morning until three or four o’clock in the afternoon. It was hot, dirty, demanding, tough work.
Little did I know was learning a time honored task that would have no relevance anywhere else I ever went in my life but would leave lasting memories in my heart. The work of harvesting tobacco involved long, hard, hot hours in the sun and I’ve never been more exhausted than I was then at the end of the day. The farm men were, of course, faster and better many times over than I was but I did the best I could and worked hard. The cutting involved picking up a tobacco stick (a four or five foot long stake sharpened on both ends) standing it up in the ground, placing a metal spear point which was hollow inside and putting it on the end of the stick, taking one quick cut of the tobacco stalk with your “tobacco knife” (a thin bladed, very light sharp hatchet like tool), and driving the stem through the brass spear point and moving on to the next stalk. Each stick would hold six stalks as I recall. It was all one very labor intensive, rapid, sequential process. At some point in the process the stakes with the tobacco stalks on them would be handed up to someone on the flat bed of a farm wagon being pulled by a tractor and eventually hung up in the barns to dry out. It was a long way from life in Washington, D.C. although in those days there were plenty of tobacco fields in Maryland (the process of harvesting was different here though).
The process was a time honored, labor intensive process and everyone involved worked hard and worked together to make it work. The farmer’s wife usually served an unbelievable lunch out on the farm to the workers and owner and hired hands all ate together, worked together, laughed together and bonded over their common goal. It was a long hard day for everyone involved but one in which you felt good at the end of the day. Working together, side by side brings people together, now that’s a fact.
Isn’t that what life in the church should be like? Shouldn’t we all work long and hard together for the common good of the church and of the community and people we minister to? Shouldn’t we all do whatever it takes to bring in the harvest in time honored and committed ways? Shouldn’t we all have a role in the shared mission of what we are all about? We’re not just coming to church to be entertained or praised or challenged or to have our spiritual backs scratched. We’re here to do a job together, we’re all workers in the fields together and we all have a job to do. Are you ready to go to work?
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37