“Be patient…until the coming of the Lord.” That’s a tall order, whether we are waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus or the return of the Lord, as were the people to whom James offered that command. Nevertheless, James gives us a down-to-earth example of what such patience looks like: the farmer passing the time in between the sowing and the harvesting of precious crops. In Palestine, the early rains softened the ground so it could welcome the seed and give it the moisture needed to begin to sink roots and put forth shoots. The late rains provided the much needed boost to nourish the grain to grow to maturity. Between the rains there wasn’t much the farmer could do to foster the growth of the precious crop in the field. Or was there?
My earliest years of ministry were spent in farm country. Many a meeting was preceded by conversations about how and when the fields were being planted. It also gave a young pastor the opportunity to spend a fall afternoon harvesting soy beans in South Jersey, and to catch and stack hay bales in a wagon towed behind a tractor in New York State in the heat of summer. While feeding grain to the cows as they came into the milking parlor I heard a lot about what farmer’s do between planting and harvesting: the tractors, the hay balers and the harvesters required service; the vegetable garden the stocked the stand by the road needed tending; there was time to advise the children as they prepared their 4H calves for the county fair, and time to be there in the bleachers as their entrees were judged. The patient time in between seedtime and harvest wasn’t a time to be idle. It could be summed up in the phrase: “Don’t just stand there; do something!”
For those to whom James was writing, that “something” was two-fold: “Strengthen your hearts,” and “do not grumble against one another.” Though these commands appear to be directed to each individual hearing the letter, both of them have implications for the life of the community as a whole. The first provides encouragement individually and together to do those things which build strength and stamina for the long haul: feed on the Word, build the bonds that enable the bearing of one another’s burdens, work for the good of all and not just your own. The second command is a reminder not to tear down the community that is there to hold you up during the waiting. Grumbling about who did or did not help hang the greens, or who baked an elaborate dessert for the covered dish while another brought a sleeve of cookies bought at the last minute, breaks down what we are meant to build up and strengthen. James urges us to avoid the petty comparisons that undermine the integrity of the community, all while waiting together patiently for the coming of the Lord.
God of seedtime and harvest, sow in us the patience required to strengthen our hearts, and nourish us to maturity as we grow in love and service while waiting for the coming of the Lord. Amen.