Friday, April 3, 2009

Into the wheatfield

Rev. Ahva John Clarence Bond [1875-1958] was pastor of the Plainfield, New Jersey, Seventh Day Baptist Church in 1928 when The American Sabbath Tract Society published a collection of his children's sermons, When I Was a Boy. They are good children's sermons, but I had an additional reason for interest when I recently acquired a copy. A.J.C. Bond's boyhood was also the boyhood of my maternal grandfather — they were brothers — and my mother spent the first years of her life on that farm on Canoe Run near Roanoke, West Virginia, too.

My brother and I heard many stories about life on the farm before Grandfather and Grandmother Bond, our mother, her sister, and their six brothers, moved into Salem so the children could all get an education beyond that offered by the one-room country school. I have always enjoyed learning more about what it was like before they left.

One of Uncle Ahva's sermons:

The Sabbath Service Tree in the Weatfield
Text: And it came to pass, that he was going on the Sabbath day through the grain fields. Mark 2:23

DOUBTLESS you wonder just what the theme of our sermon for this morning means: "The Sabbath Service Tree in the Wheatfield." Are we to talk about a Sabbath service under a tree, or about a service tree in a wheatfield?

Possibly you did not know that there was such a tree as a service tree; that sounds like such a funny name for a tree. Another name for this tree is "shadbush," and still another, "June berry tree."

The first thing about the service tree that attracts your attention and makes you love it is that it blossoms so early in the spring. Before the leaves come out on the trees, or any green is seen in the woods, and before you realize that winter is over and spring has really come, some fine day you wake up to find that on the hillsides and in the woods the service trees are blossoming out in purest white. These trees in full bloom are beautiful in themselves, and then they always say to you in beautiful and unmistakable language, "Spring is here."

By and by the white begins to disappear, and along with the rest of the trees the service tree begins to deck itself out in green. For a month or two this tree is lost sight of and forgotten hidden as it is among the many trees of varying shades of green. But it is not entirely forgotten, or at least not for long.

Along about "knee deep in June" the berries on the service tree begin to turn red. The tree that was so pretty and white in April is a beautiful green in May, and becomes green and red and very pretty again in June. And now it has another attraction. Before, it appealed to the eye only. Now, not only is the tree beautiful with its loads of red berries, but those berries are good to eat. In clearing the land it was my father's custom to leave all the service trees. I think he did this because he knew the children in the home were fond of the berries.

There was no tree that my boyhood knew which brought me more happiness than the service tree. Some of the trees with the finest berries were likely to be found in the wheatfield. When the wheat was headed out and began to ripen yellow, the berries on the service tree began to ripen red and invited us to come and help ourselves.

As I look back upon my boyhood days I seem to remember better than any other the Sabbath afternoon visits to the service tree in the wheatfield. How carefully we walked, single file, parting the wheat with our hands so as not to tread it down, till we reached the tree with its abundance of red berries. During the week it had been planned, and the tree had been picked out for this Sabbath afternoon visit by the whole family.

As I think of it now I am sure the thing that gave most pleasure, the thing that now makes the visit to the service tree in the wheatfield a happy and helpful memory is the fact that it was Sabbath day, and that all the family were together. And I think it must have had the approval of the One who so long ago walked through the wheatfield on the Sabbath day in friendly chat with his disciples.

Matthew says the disciples were hungry, and that is why they plucked the heads of wheat, rubbed out the grains, and ate. Neither Mark nor Luke seems to think it worth while to mention their hunger in order to justify the act. The Pharisees who found fault with them worked so hard to keep the Sabbath that they really lost its spirit. It is fun as you pass along through a wheatfield to nip the ripened heads with your fingers, rub them between your hands, and blow away the chaff. You eat the grains not because you are hungry, but because now that you have them in your hand, plump and clean, you do not want to throw them away. I imagine it was in some such happy, playful mood that the disciples plucked the wheat as they swung along the path that Sabbath day with the Master.

Doubtless if you had the chance you would be glad this very Sabbath afternoon to walk right out of winter into June and straight to a service tree in a wheatfield. Spring is coming and soon will be inviting families to walk out together. But most of you have automobiles; how about a drive into the country?

Some years ago I was a guest in a Plainfield home, and Sabbath afternoon we went out for a drive. Cars were constantly passing us, when suddenly my host said, "Too much speed for the Sabbath," and he turned to the right and entered a quieter road.

When you have attended the morning worship, as you do; and have been present at Sabbath school, which you enjoy; and have gone to the Christian Endeavor meeting, to which you are faithful; then I think it might be a helpful and happy thing to take a drive with the family into the country. That is, provided you always turn to the right.

And it came to pass, that he was going on the Sabbath day through the grain fields.
The black and white pictures, from the top, are the old farmhouse with Great-Grandfather Bond on the porch, one of the farm fields, and Great Uncle Ahva - who was also a pastor and, later, Dean of the Seventh Day Baptist Seminary at Alfred University, Alfred, New York. I saw the house, long after all the family had left the area and shortly before it was moved and the fields around it were inundated by a reservoir.

1 comment:

  1. The Roanoke, WV SDB church closed after a federal dam flooded the valley where the church was located. Literally, the church is underwater now. There's some good stuff in those children's sermons. They were published in the Sabbath Recorder as well. Thanks for sharing it.


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