By briefest way of giving encouragement to all hard-working pastors, elders and members, I just want to share my present delight at a harvest of first-fruits.
Two summers ago I purchased a couple of malus or apple trees from a local garden center - planted at the front fence, beside a street light, they have steadily grown-up, and today have borne ripe fruit.
Sadly, disappointingly, in the first year, no apple blossom was seen: this year, with a very blue-skied, sunny Spring, pretty delicate flowers appeared in abundance, to shimmer in sunlight. That filled me with hope - "I'm sure there will be fruit." Since I had never seen an apple crop before, I had to confess I remained only cautiously optimistic.
Only a few weeks later, I excitedly pointed out to my wife how I was pretty sure the little nodules that I saw were tiny apples that would grow into mature specimens - I knew by her nonchalant, skeptical, glance, she did not share my optimism.
Sure enough, however, as spring and summer rolled on, the fruit began to swell - yet, for months on end, these little Cox's Pippin apples paused at color card green.
By late summer, the first flush of pink appeared - I began to water and watch as day by day apples 'ripened and swelled. I took an early taster, early September, which was, quite frankly, a little bitter - I winced.
I'd become quite impatient, checking ripening times on-line with Google - late September or early October is the time, apparently, for apple harvest in Northern Ireland.
The moment and manner to pluck apples, so I'm told, is not to wait till they fall-off but to cup them in you hand, take weight off, and give a twist - if they drop the time is ripe.
So, today, 1 October, coming home from a walk, a looked at huge, nearly "cricket-ball-colored" samples, took out a bag, and plucked some to eat.
Now in the kitchen, leant on a bench, I sliced with my knife, and placed firm, juicy, flesh to my mouth and - guess what - this first-fruit was deliciously, succulent and sweet. "That was satisfying and well-worth the wait" I thought.
I'm sure you get the single point of the parable of the joy at firstfruits of my Ulster-bread, home-grown, Cox's Pippins - when you take good seed, position a tree right, observe steady growth, and prayerfully water and wait, God's good Gospel begins to bud and flower: the natural, spiritual, and proper expectation is to see much ripe fruit and taste the sweetness of your work.
Perhaps, for the moment, you are at the planting, positioning or praying stage of church: all you have, right now, is a little, modest, growth. Maybe in your estimation, all your exertions, to-date, look less blossoming and more barren. Brothers and sisters, I urge you don't lose heart, feel your labor is a waste, or that years and months of tears and prayers, with patient-waiting in between, in the end will bear no fruit. No matter how long a harvest-time delays, in this life, but especially in the next, if you continue to abide in Christ, you will be surprised and satisfied by the sweet reward for the work of getting the Good News of Jesus out.
Remember the crop of fruit - don't forget the Pippin Parable!