For many people football is superfluous to the Super Bowl; merely an excuse for all those unpredictable advertisements they really want to watch. This year amidst some shockingly sloppy kisses, astronaut babies and a baby Clydesdale, one ad did more than just entertain, it flat-out inspired. When the scratchy analog-recorded voice of Paul Harvey (1918-2009), the legendary radio announcer, said, "And on the eighth day ... God created a farmer," many found themselves momentarily drawn into something entirely unique to this world event.
For 120 seconds, Harvey, the late and distinguished radio figure who for decades delivered the news in the most intriguing manner, articulated an honoring tribute to farmers across the America. Heard regularly for decades on 1200 radio stations, 400 Armed Forces stations, and in 300 newspapers, his voice was distinguished with his use of dramatic pauses and quirky intonations; it was unmistakable and soul soothing.
The speech that Chrysler group used to feature their Dodge line was originally given by Harvey at a Future Farmers of America Convention in 1978. Something about his words and the way they were said and portrayed set this ad apart from so much of the surrounding activities and events of the day. Harvey's "sermon" opened, "And on the eighth day God looked down on his planned paradise and said I need a caretaker -- So God made a farmer." He reminded us that the most common and overlooked among us are under the watchful eye of God and can serve something sacred, namely a world of hunger and need.
Something About It
Something about the Farmer ad that was rough-edged, yet riveting; a bit soiled, but compelling; common, but not at all commonplace. In fact, amidst all of the hype, glitter, showmanship, Boomers and Beyonces, and all the other sizzles, it struck a chord like nothing else during the entire game. Looking at the hard-working commitments of a rare breed, the American farmer, this ad did exactly what the New Testament tells us to do; it gave "honor to whom honor was due (Romans 13:7)."
Harvey's words continued, "[God said] I need somebody with arms strong enough to wrestle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild; ... God said I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bales, yet gentle enough to wean lambs and pigs and tend to pink combed pullets; who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadowlark.- So God made a Farmer." And with this he for but a moment turned our eyes from the fleeting achievements of athletic strength and power and placed them for a few seconds on images of those stellar souls that daily walk out a balance of gentleness and strength.
Harvey then took us away from the gridiron field to the fields of harvest, if for but a moment: "It had to be somebody who'd plow deep and straight and not cut corners; somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed, and rake and disk and plow and plant ... -- So God made a farmer." This forced our eyes away from the fabricated and contrived production to the dirt beneath our feet, the ground upon which we stand every day, the ground even buried under the Super Dome tundra; from the field of play to the land of work and produce.
The Parable of the Farmer
As a preacher and teacher myself, I admit that too often our sermons are so heavenly worded that we miss the very ones for whom they are most designed and needed -- the laborers, workers, and farmers. In the 1800s, the renowned British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, wrote a column for the London Times called "John Ploughman." Instead of pontificating words designed to dull the senses of the plain-spoken and impress with his theological oratory, he did just the opposite; he sought to make the Bible and God's love for people plain, clear and decipherable to all.
Farmers were a favorite subject of Jesus in his sermons, as well. The agrarian world in which he walked and taught was one he also drew from to convey his heavenly truths to the most common and daily realities of the most familiar of trades, the Farmer. One of his most famous "sermons" was, in fact, the Parable of the Sower, or the Parable of the Farmer. The Bible tells the story in nine short sentences:
"That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear." (Matt. 13:1-9 NIV)
The "seed" in Jesus' story represented God's words to man and mankind. In his simple story, Jesus was describing four types of soil or hearts that hear God's word, each having a different response and result. He used the most familiar images to them, the world of the Farmer, to describe something as heavenly and epochal as God speaking into our lives, to the human heart. I'm sure that in a sense, Harvey's words during the Super Bowl also fell on different types of "soil." Some absorbed them; perhaps others dismissed them.
While the stadium lights failed and delayed the game for over 30 minutes, Harvey's words and those unforgettable images of farmers turned on a light of honor appropriately placed within the short window of an ad. As Harvey spoke, he woke us momentarily from the dream we were in called the Super Bowl and reminded us of some of the things that really matter.
Dodge and Detroit got this one really right.
(Read Matthew 13:10-23 for the "Rest of the Story.")