Autry’s Johnson’s father was a sharecropper. Had he owned any land of his own, land that Autry could have claimed as his one day, Autry might have farmed for a living. He loved the earth and what the ground would give you if you tended it.
He scratched out a garden where ever he hung his hat, whether it was in Texas, Oklahoma, or Georgia. He always had enough vegetables to feed his family and most of his friends. He kept Eudene busy shelling peas, butterbeans, hulling peanuts, and canning tomatoes.
Autry learned all of his crop raising from his father and his father was very proud of his star student. On one occasion Bruce overheard his grandfather give Autry some high praise.
He spoke in between spits of tobacco and puffs on his cigarette, which he managed to do at the same time, something some people might call a disgusting habit and others might call a skill, but it is a testament to the terrible addiction to nicotine.
He said to Bruce, “Out of all my sons, brothers, your daddy could plant the straightest row of any of them.”
In a family of eleven brothers and sisters, eight of them brothers, when you could shine above the others with anything, that was notable. Autry caught his Daddy’s eye when it came to setting rows.
Now planning straight rows might not mean much to us, but that’s because most of us have never tried to harvest a crooked row of corn or cotton.
Straight rows make for easier planting and easier harvesting. Otherwise, you are wasting time and energy trying to keep the tractor from running over your crop.
I know that none of you will need to know what I’m about to tell you about planting straight rows and some of you may wonder why we need a horticulture lesson while we are honoring the life of our dear friend Autry Johnson, but I think I can wed the two.
Setting the first furrow you plow and plant is the most important.
If the first furrow is straight, especially when you have acres of land to plow and plant, it makes the rest of the field easier to get straight.
After the first rows are set, each time you put the right wheels of your tractor into the furrow you had just plowed, you have yourself a guild.
If that first row is crooked, the entire field is going to be crooked and out of square.
Autry started his life on the straight and narrow path.
He was ten-years-old when he gave his life to the Lord in Pelham, Georgia, where he will be laid to rest today.
He was baptized in a creek not far from the church.
He placed his life in the furrow of God’s word, where it has been his entire life.
Proverbs 9:10-11 says:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
11 For through wisdom your days will be many,
and years will be added to your life.
The number of a person’s years don’t mean a lot if we never gain the wisdom and the knowledge of following God.
The other key to planting straight rows is that you must keep your eyes looking ahead.
It’s crucial to pick out a tree or a rock or something to aim toward as you move ahead.
Peter’s problem as he walked on water was he took his eyes off of Jesus, so he sank beneath the waves. There’s a good lesson there for us.
When you are planning or setting a row, the one thing you don’t ever want to do look back.
If you look back, you will veer off the line and plant a crooked row.
A lot of people grow up going to church. They learn about the love of Jesus, but they get their eyes focused on a lot of other things in this life. The turn away. They look back.
They decide that they know how to live their own lives and set their own course.
In Luke’s gospel, there is a group walking along the road with Jesus.
“I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62 NIV).
Why? Because if you look back, you veer offline.
Avery Johnson didn’t look back. His lived his life as straight as an arrow.
He was a bit obsessive compulsive in everything he did. He was straight.
He was a humble man who knew that if he took his eyes off of Jesus, his
life would be a crooked tangled mess.
Cecilia asked him one day if he’d ever prayed the sinner’s prayer, “Every day,” he said.
Is there anybody here that can relate to our need to do that?
Every day, we are planting and sowing and reaping. Anybody here need help keeping your rows straight?
I pray that your rows are straight and that you have your eyes fixed on Jesus.
But let me say that if you’ve looked back or if you didn’t get that first furrow started straight, it’s springtime. It’s planting season.
Why is that Good News?
Because we worship a God of new beginnings. We worship a God whose grace is available for all us, and like Autry, you can pray the sinner’s prayer. You can pray it today.
All of us are sowing and reaping something. The Bible teaches that we are going to reap what we sow.
Autry is realizing the grace of God today because he prayed for God to help daily set a straight row.
You know, today, farmers are blessed to have technology on their tractors. Their GPS systems are connected to satellites and their tractors do most of the work in setting straight rows. They just need to know how to work technology.
The GPS we use is God’s Positioning System. God did all the work when Jesus came and gave his life for us at Calvary.
When we position ourselves to live a life as his disciple, we acquire parts of his character.
Autry acquired the Lord’s compassion and gentleness. He sowed seeds of love for his family and his friends.
He was slow to anger and slow to complain.
He was dependable, kind-hearted, hard-working, grateful, and sacrificial.
Even though Autry was quiet and unassuming, people were drawn to him and to Eudene.
Eudene and Autry are the only people I know that could drive up at McDonalds and someone inside would say, “Mamaw and Papaw are here,” and they would drop their order.
By the time they could get in and sit down, someone would bring them two hash browns, a McChicken, a hamburger, Sr. Cokes, and an ice cream.
Their order was $4.08 every time unless someone picked up the tab, which happened a lot.
I’m not a spokesman for McDonald’s, but if Autry lived to be 89 eating that food twice a day, it can’t be that bad for you.
His daughter Martha said she had to time her phone calls around their daily trips to McDonald’s.
As we conclude today, Murial is going to sing a song about letting our light shine.
People who knew this family best know that in their humble, quiet, way they have been a light to many others. They have believed in allowing the light of Jesus to shine through them.
They have freely shared the light of Jesus with others. For the generations that follow them, they have both set a straight furrow, and they have planted the seeds of the gospel and harvested many results.
While life has changed in many ways since Autry was born, in more ways than not, it is still the same.
God’s Word is still the same. Truth is truth. Integrity is integrity. Love is love. Stewardship is stewardship. Faith is faith. Hope is hope. These things don’t change.
So set your lives in the furrow of the same Word of God as did Autry.
Follow in his footsteps. Live your light shine for the glory of God.
May the candles we light symbolize the love of Jesus and the memory of Henry Autry Johnson.