THE BLESSINGS OF FRUITFUL FIELDS
by Douglas Clark
based on Deuteronomy 26:1-11; John 6:25-35
Two of my favorite childhood memories have to do with gardening and Cape Cod. For many
of my childhood years, my parents and my brother and I raised large vegetable gardens.
When the harvest time came, we would enjoy fresh vegetables straight from the garden--and
theres nothing quite like sweet corn that you harvest and husk and drop immediately
into a pot of boiling water on the stove. My mother also canned large quantities of green
beans and tomatoes and corn, and I can remember shelves in the basement of our home in
Springfield bending under the weight of food for the winter. And I remember peddling fresh
vegetables in the neighborhood from my red wagon.
My Cape Cod memories have to do with family vacations. For several summers, we rented a
cabin in Orleans for a week and spent much of our time at the beach, both on the bay side
and on the ocean side. We would also visit Provincetown, and I remember one year we
visited Nantucket Island and rented bicycles and rode the bikes up and down the moors of
Nantucket. For the Pilgrims who crossed the north Atlantic ocean on the Mayflower in the
fall of 1620, and who built the little settlement they called Plimoth Plantation,
gardening and Cape Cod were also indelibly engraved on their memories. And these memories
were mixed in tone. Here, for instance, is how William Bradford, who wrote his history Of
Plimoth Plantation in 1647, more than 25 years after the voyage of the Mayflower,
remembered the voyage and the landing at what is now Provincetown on Cape Cod: After
they had enjoyed fair winds and weather for a season, they were encountered many times
with cross winds, and met with many fierce storms....In sundry of these storms the winds
were so fierce, and the seas so high, as they could not bear a knot of sail, but were
forced to hull, for divers days together....After long beating at sea they fell with that
land which is called Cape Cod.... Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought
safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought
them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries
thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element....
Even though Provincetown on Cape Cod was firm and stable earth, it wasnt
exactly their proper destination. The violent storms during the crossing of the north
Atlantic had driven the ship significantly off course, far to the north of the mouth of
the Hudson River, their original destination. Nor was Cape Cod in November a land
flowing with milk and honey. This past summer, as I walked on the beach at Wellfleet
and looked across Cape Cod Bay to Provincetown in the distance, I tried to imagine how
barren the land must have seemed in 1620. As Gov. Bradford recalled: Being thus
passed the vast ocean,...they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or
refresh their weatherbeaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for
succor....And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country
know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to
travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast....For summer being done, all
things stand upon them with a weatherbeaten face; and the whole country, full of woods and
thickets, represented a wild and savage hue....If they looked behind them, there was the
mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar and gulf to separate them
from all the civil parts of the world.
On the one side, the Pilgrims faced the cold, forbidding and uninviting New England
wilderness, populated by natives of whom they had reason to be afraid, given the prior
history of conflict between Europeans and native Americans. On the other side, they face
the vast and furious ocean, and a crew of sailors who had cursed them
regularly during the voyage and were now threatening to leave them to their own devices.
In view of all the hardships facing the Pilgrims, wrote Gov. Bradford, What could
now sustain them but the spirit of God and his grace? And he continued, in words
that paraphrased verses from Deuteronomy 26 and Psalm 107: May not and ought the
children of these fathers rightly say: Our fathers were Englishmen which came over
this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the
Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversity. Let them therefore praise
the Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure for ever. Yea, let them which have
been redeemed of the Lord, show how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor.
When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in,
both hungry, and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the
Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men.
The faith of the Pilgrims was a faith that was firmly grounded in the Hebrew Bible.
Like the ancient authors of Deuteronomy 26 and Psalm 107, they were convinced that God had
heard their cries for help and looked on their adversity and delivered them from
affliction and brought them safely into a kind of Promised Land. For William Bradford, the
voyage on board the Mayflower and the settlement at Plymouth were a new Exodus. The first
winter in the promised land was a hard and bitter time. Half the people who came over on
the Mayflower did not survive the winter; Bradford himself was gravely ill for a time. But
by the time the fall of 1621 arrived, the Pilgrims, blessed by much assistance from
Squanto and others in the matters of gardening and hunting and fishing, and by favorable
weather conditions, were beginning to enjoy a time of prosperity and security, and the
land was beginning to flow in milk and honey. In Gov. Bradfords words: They
began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and
dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength, and had all
things in good plenty....All the summer there was no want. And now began to come in store
of [water]fowl, as winter approached....And besides waterfowl, there was great store of
wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck
of [corn] meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.
Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in
England, which were not feigned, but true reports.
So it was that the deep adversity of their first winter was gradually trnsformed into
abundance. So it was that they celebrated a three-day feast of thanksgiving, to which many
of their native American hosts and mentors were invited. And so it was throughout their
years at Plimoth Plantation that they remembered the voyage across the ocean and the
bitter first winter and the blessings of fruitful fields that they later enjoyed. For the
Pilgrims, thanks-giving and thanks-living were grounded in their collective memory of how
they were sustained by the spirit and grace of God.
More than two centuries later, the nation the Pilgrims helped to found was being torn
apart by the Civil War. In the midst of that terrible war, President Abraham Lincoln
issued a thanksgiving proclamation. He invited every citizen of the United States, whether
at home or abroad, to set aside the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving and
praise to God, and of humble penitence for the nations perverseness and
disobedience. President Lincoln observed that the nation was prospering everywhere, except
on the battlefields. He believed that this mixture of adversity and abundance was a clear
sign of Gods judgment and Gods mercy on the nation. And he believed that all
citizens, regardless of their religious persuasion, should pray to God to heal the
wounds of the nation, and to restore it...to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony,
tranquillity, and union.
There is a common thread in all these memories and stories, and that common thread is
the conviction that God is with Gods people, not only in times of abundance, but
also in times of adversity. · When the ancient Hebrews looked back on the liberation of
their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, they were convinced that God had heard their
prayers and seen their adversity and brought them into a land of abundance, a land flowing
with milk and honey. And during the celebration of the harvest festival of thanksgiving,
they recited and remembered this journey from adversity to prosperity.
· When William Bradford looked back on the first twenty-seven years of the settlement
at :Plimoth Plantation, he was convinced that God had heard the prayers of the Pilgrims
and looked on their adversity and brought them into a land of abundance. And so he recited
and remembered the Pilgrims journey from scarcity to abundance.
· When President Lincoln looked at the condition of his country in the midst of the
war between the states, he saw evidence of Gods judgment in the adversity of the
battlefield, and evidence of Gods mercy in the abundance of the plough, the
shuttle, and the ship; and he was convinced that God would hear the prayers of the
people and heal the wounds of the nation.
When we as individuals or as a congregation look at our own experiences of adversity
and abundance, what do we see? What do we sense? Do we sense the guiding and blessing
presence of God? Do we find gratitude and thanksgiving welling up inside? And in whatever
experiences of adversity or abundance that may greet us in the future, what will we sense?
Will we also sense the guiding and blessing presence of God? Will we also find gratitude
and thanksgiving welling up inside? The answer to these questions is, I am convinced, a
Last Sunday, when you brought forward your pledges of time and talent and treasure and
placed them in the basket lined with prayer stones, it was a deeply moving celebration of
gratitude and thanksgiving. Some of you who came forward last Sunday have been supporting
this church for perhaps a half-century or more; some of you for a quarter-century or more;
some of you for the last few years, when much was uncertain and in flux; some of you made
a financial and personal commitment to this church for the first time. To all of you,
whether you came forward last Sunday or have sent your pledges of time, talent and
treasure to the office or plan to do so in the near future, thank you. Thank you on behalf
of this wonderful, challenging church, with its heritage and its hope in equal measure.
Thank you for trusting and celebrating the guiding and blessing presence of God in our
lives and in our midst. Thank you for giving generously of your own resources to help
bring our vision and our mission to fruition. To borrow from Pauls words to the
Thessalonian congregation: How can I thank God enough for you in return for all the joy
that I feel before our God because of you? Amen and amen!