Bringing in the Sheaves - Sermon for Lent 5C (Psalm 126)

Psalm 126

Once upon a time, the nineteenth-century “singing evangelist” Knowles Shaw wrote a gospel song titled “Bringing in the Sheaves.” While it isn’t in our hymnals, it regularly pops up in popular culture. You might have heard versions of it in episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, Batman, and especially the Simpsons. For some reason, it appeals to the popular mind, even if Mainline Protestants rarely sing it.

Shaw found his inspiration for the song in the King James Version of the sixth verse of Psalm 126: “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”  And so we sing:

Bringing in the sheaves, 

bringing in the sheaves,

We shall come rejoicing, 

bringing in the sheaves.

If we’re going to bring in the sheaves, what’s a sheave? The answer: It’s a bundle of grain. Since  Shaw was the son of a farmer from Ohio, he knew what a sheave was. The same was true of the people who heard him preach. Since they would have understood and relished agricultural images, it’s not surprising that Shaw picked this image to convey his message of God’s welcoming grace.

The people of Israel and Judah were an agricultural people and their festivals often centered on the harvests. They would pray for God to bless their crops with rain. Then, when harvest time came they would take the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple as a thank offering to God to celebrate their good fortune.

As the season of Lent draws to a close, the Psalm invites us to make our way to Zion, which is Jerusalem. It prepares the way for Palm Sunday, which is on the near horizon. When the time comes, we’ll celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem singing “All glory, laud, and honor to thee, Redeemer King, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring!” But first, we must bring in the sheaves!

The message of the Psalm is that God has restored the fortunes of the people. Yes, those who weep, carry with them the seed of their restoration. You can sense the excitement building as the people see the gates of the city. Joy fills their hearts because they know God is faithful. So, we begin singing songs of praise and thanksgiving. Yes, “we shall go rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.”

This Psalm probably was written sometime after the Jewish people returned home from exile in Babylon. Even as the people wept as they left behind their homes and became refugees in a strange land, they returned carrying the seeds of their restoration. When the time of harvest came, they went up to the Temple, carrying their sheaves as a thank offering to God who blessed them with a fruitful harvest.

If we use our imaginations and read between the lines, we might hear an invitation to dream dreams with God. Then, as we dream, we can join in laughter and shouts of joy, because the nations say that “the LORD has done great things for them.”

The prophet Isaiah told the exiles who mourned their situation in Babylon to remember when God delivered the people of Israel from Egypt. Isaiah reminded the people of God’s faithfulness and invited them to move with confidence into the future (Is. 43:16-21). They may have begun the journey with tears, but those tears will water the seeds of their future restoration.

Both Isaiah and the Psalmist remind us of God’s past acts of grace and deliverance so that we might go forward into an unknown future with confidence that God is with us. Even if we find ourselves sowing precious seeds while weeping because of what is happening in our lives, there will be joy in the morning. Yes, our weeping will turn to shouts of joy. 

This psalm ends with a call to bring in the sheaves, but it begins with a word about dreams. Because there are different kinds of dreams, what does the psalmist have in mind? 

When I was a child, my teachers told my parents that I was a daydreamer. Apparently, I would get lost in my thoughts and ignore the teacher. I think I’m still something of a daydreamer, but I’ve learned to focus my attention better than I did when I was a child.  

Many of the figures in the biblical story were dreamers. Consider the stories of Joseph and Daniel. Then there’s the word spoken by the prophet Joel, who revealed that one day in the future God would “pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). Peter picked up on this word from Joel on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-21). He rooted the Pentecost experience in this outpouring of the Spirit that gives rise to dreams and visions. 

The dreams the psalmist speaks of here are signs of God’s faithfulness. This is why the people can laugh and lift up shouts of joy. These dreams are reminders that God is present in our world, bringing about goodness and mercy. It’s the kind of dream Martin Luther King dreamed that day in Washington, D.C. 

So, what are your dreams? What are your visions? How do they reflect God’s acts of restoration and renewal? How do they lead to shouts of joy? Remember, while we might start out on the journey weeping, we go forward “bearing the seed for sowing.” 

The opening line of Knowles Shaw’s gospel song reveals the identity of these seeds we will sow as we move from weeping to shouts of joy. So we sing:

“Sowing in the morning, 

sowing seeds of kindness.” 

Now, “sowing seeds of kindness,” might sound a bit underwhelming in a day when people are feeling unsettled and even lost. But, a word of kindness, aptly spoken, at just the right moment, could transform that moment into a time of blessing. Yes, this word of kindness might bring a sense of hope and peace to a person or group struggling to make sense of their situation in life. You never know how a word or act of kindness might lead to further blessings for yourself and for others down the road.  

There’s another beloved gospel song that speaks of a spark that gets a fire going. Perhaps a spark of kindness can lead to great things. 

I’m not sure how or whether it works, but some people swear by “the butterfly effect.” This is an expression of “chaos theory,” which I don’t particularly understand. According to this theory, a small event at a particular point in time, like the flap of a butterfly wing, can trigger a series of events that lead to a much larger event down the road. The theory itself is over my head, but perhaps sowing seeds of kindness, while they are small things at first, could have a big effect down the road. So, let us sow seeds of kindness believing that God will use them to bring a blessing to our neighbors near and far. 

  In fact, I believe our world needs us to sow seeds of kindness. By sowing these seeds, we become God’s agents of hope to a world that seems to be in disarray. While “sowing seeds of kindness” may seem a bit too little, too late, it could be a way for us to participate in God’s work of transformation in this world we inhabit. Even though a smile or a gracious word might not change everything overnight, it could be a seed of healing planted in a weary heart. Once that seed is planted, only God knows where it will lead. So, let us start by planting seeds of kindness, that can lead down the road to a harvest of blessings. Then, “We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves!”

Preached by:

Dr. Robert D. Cornwall

Supply Pastor

First Presbyterian Church 

Troy, MI

Lent 5C

April 3, 2022

Image Attribution: Rossano, Federico, 1835-1912. Grain Harvest, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved April 2, 2022]. Original source:


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