Hauling Hay

This is “Hauling Hay,” a short story and illustration from A Prairie Boy’s Winter by William Kurelek:

No matter how much hay was laid up in the barn, there was never enough to last the winter. So, William and his father had to hitch up the team and drive across the frozen ground to the hay stacks piled high in the fields the summer before.

The horses pulled hard, and icicles hung from their nostrils soon after William’s father took the reins and called out, “Giddap!” He and William turned their collars up and wrapped the horse blanket around themselves, for the frosty-crisp winter air easily brought on a chill if they were not well covered. It didn’t take long for exhaled breath to coat their eyebrows in hoarfrost as they set out on their slow, wobbly ride.

William liked the drive across the frozen fields to the hay stacks, but not the work after he arrived there. The stack usually had a cap of snow packed into it by the wind and glazed hard by the sun of warmer winter days. The cap had to be broken with fork or shovel and stripped off; otherwise, one would be forever tugging at strands of hay rooted deep in the snow and ice.

William had built many of the stacks himself in the summer, and he had learned that it didn’t pay to do the work carelessly. If the stacks were not made properly, rain would seep in and cause moldy patches – and bring a scolding from his father.

William learned at a tender age that it pays to do things right, because that’s the only way of reaping a bountiful harvest and taking good care of God’s creatures entrusted to one’s care.

To cut corners carelessly is to fall short dangerously, and the consequences are severe, extending far beyond a mere scolding to include matters of hunger and survival, life and death.

I’m reading to you from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Listen with open ears and eager hearts for the Word of the Lord.

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.

Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh. But if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So, let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. (Galatians 6:1-10)

When we moved here nearly 10 years ago, one of the ways people described Waukon was that the folks in these parts know each other’s business.

It sounded a bit like a warning: Watch your step. Brace yourself. This is a small town, and people talk about each other. Waukon-ers aren’t very good at minding their own business, and plenty of gossip, rumor and half-truths fly around town. So, gird your loins.

Oh, and by the way, welcome to Waukon. People here are really friendly.

Then, along come these 10 verses in Galatians, where Paul describes what community is all about, and as it turns out, being involved in each other’s business is actually quite biblical – just not so much in the gossipy way that it sometimes plays out here and elsewhere.

The picture Paul paints is of a community that functions like an extended family where everyone bears the mutual responsibility of caring for one another. God intends followers of Jesus to share responsibility for one another’s lives – friend, neighbor and stranger alike.

There is no minding your own business when you’re part of the body of Christ. Led by the Holy Spirit of God in Christ, life is not one of lonely striving, not a life restricted to a zone of iron-clad privacy, NOT an isolated life of minding your own business.

Instead, we live life together in community where hearts and minds are woven together so intricately and completely that the community function as one body with many parts.

Like an extended family of brothers and sisters, our life together in community is characterized by the interdependence of each and every member, because we need one another, not only in times of physical need but also in times of spiritual need, and the Lord expects each of us to confront our sisters and brothers in the spirit of love, when necessary, with words of gentle correction and sincere concern when we see them being tempted and led by things other than the Holy Spirit – those times when personal desires and political powers are calling the shots, ruling the day, and leading the way for precious little else than individual gain.

In our culture of individualism that values “doing your own thing,” personal responsibility, and minding your own business, Paul’s picture of community seems, well, strange – maybe even to some of you, downright offensive.

I don’t have to answer to you!

Who are you to hold my feet to the fire!

Who do you think you are?

Are you sayin’ you’re better than me?

And so, up go the walls and the privacy settings.

What gets lost in all this self-imposed exile is the biblical reality that mutual support and mutual accountability are really two sides of the same coin.

Both are rooted in our belief that we are a people with a shared calling and identity. We belong to God, plain and simple. And because we have been baptized into the body that God created in Christ, our common welfare hinges of the spiritual health of each member, so each of us has a stake in helping the person next to us walk faithfully and thus live fully.

It’s a concepted deeply rooted in Scripture.

“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your brothers and sisters. You shall correct your family members, in wisdom and in love, and if you don’t, you incur guilt yourself,” according to the Old Testament book of Leviticus.

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: for I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:17-18)

And as we heard last Sunday in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches those who believe in him to confront one another openly when wrongs are committed – and to forgive one another freely when those wrongs are acknowledged. (Matthew 18:15-22)

If Christ came to repair that which is broken in the world (and that is why he came), and if that work of healing and mending and making each other strong and whole and ready to serve is the work that Christ has given to us (and that is our common calling), then we can only fulfill our calling when we rely on the courage found in the Holy Spirit to share one another’s burdens and to trust that the Holy Spirit will place on our tongues gentle words of loving correction.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, was so concerned with mutual accountability and loving correction that he devised a “method” that he believed would build a healthy and righteous community of Spirit-led Christians.

Wesley came up with a series of questions for his followers to ask each other every week when they met together in small groups. There are the five questions:
+ What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
+ What temptations have you met with?
+ How were you delivered?
+ What have you thought, said, or done, that you think might have been sinful?
+ Have you nothing that you desire to keep secret?

Some found Wesley’s rigorous system of accountability too demanding and left the community. Today, the very idea of such in-your-face inquiry would horrify many of us, and we’d be out the door, too.

Admittedly, Wesley’s questions might not be the best conversation-starters, but they’re the kinds of questions that Paul says we should be asking of one another.

How is it with your soul?

Where’s God working in your life these days?

What parts of yourself do you hope and pray for God to heal?

May God grant each of us the grace to ask with love and the grace to listen without judgment.

May God grant you and me the grace to answer honestly and the grace to be healed completely.

For in the asking, and in the listening, and in the answering, there is living, because Christ is there and wherever two or more of us gather, bringing healing and offering hope, and reweaving the blessed ties that bind.

Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all. That’s the right thing to do in the eyes of the Lord.

As William learned the hard way during those winter days on the prairie, when you don’t do it right, that’s when mold and decay set in, and you cannot reap a rich harvest, and nourishment is in sorely short supply. Those who live only to satisfy their own desires surely harvest nothing but decay and death from that sinful nature.

But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.

May it be so for you, for me, and for all God’s people. May we forever and always live in the light and shine with joy and the love of the Lord – acting justly, loving tenderly, serving one another, and walking humbly with God.

Amen, and amen.

Pastor Grant VanderVelden shared this message during morning worship on Sunday, January 24, 2021. It is the second in a series of sermons based on the children’s book A Prairie Boy’s Winter by William Kurelek. Our song this morning, “We Are Called,” comes from the Cathedral Choir at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Dr. Mark Potvin directs the choir.

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