from Brian Kingslake, Angel Stories (Worcester, England,  Arthur James, Ltd., 1982)

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God's Gift for the Bell

Do you know what a cracked bell sounds like? Not a beautiful note at all, but a dull thud - like hitting an empty dust-bin.

Many years ago, we are told, the church bell in a village in Northern Germany sounded like that; it had been badly cast, and had suddenly cracked right through. What can be done with a cracked bell? Nothing! It must be taken down, and a new one must be put up in its place.

But new bells are very expensive, and the village was poor. The pastor begged his people to provide the necessary money, but they shook their heads. At last he called a meeting of the chief parishioners in the church vestry, and talked to them for an hour, trying to persuade them to do something about it. But they said they were all hard up; and what did a bell matter anyway?

The pastor was sadly disappointed. The meeting was over; they all went out through the church door and stood under the porch with very sour faces. Suddenly a little bird flew round the corner of the building, and, seeing the group of men standing there, swerved, and dropped something from its beak, which fell at the pastor's feet. He stooped down and carefully picked it up. It was a single grain of wheat.

"Look, my friends!" he said, gravely. "A gift from God, given us by one of His messengers - that little bird ! A gift towards our new bell!"

"A grain of wheat?" they muttered. "What is the use of a grain of wheat?"

"We can plant it and sow from it, and in a few years it will produce enough to pay for a bell, without your having to put your hands in your pockets at all!"

The pastor went down on his knees, and loosened a patch of soil in the church-yard, and carefully planted the grain, putting a tiny circle of sticks around to mark the spot.

The following Sunday, after morning service, he gathered the congregation round the place, and solemnly consecrated the little grain that God had given them, and hung a card on one of the sticks, bearing the words: "GOD'S GIFT FOR THE BELL."

The villagers thought their pastor was cracked, like the bell! But nobody dared disturb the seed, because it had been blessed. So in course of time it sprang up - first the blade, then the ear, and, when autumn came, the full corn in the ear. By harvest-time it was ripe and golden; and, at the Harvest Thanksgiving Service, the pastor plucked the single ear in the presence of the whole congregation, and rubbed out twenty little grains in his hand. These he reverently placed in a small jar on the altar, and they remained there during the whole winter: "God's Gift for the Bell."

Next spring, the twenty grains were planted in the church-yard, with a larger circle of sticks around them; and, at the following Harvest Festival, four hundred grains of wheat were placed in the jar on the altar. In the spring, a pinch of these was given to each of the men who had been present when the bird had originally dropped the seed; they were to plant them in their gardens at home, and bring the ears with them to church for the following Harvest Festival. How many grains would there be, if each of the four hundred produced twenty? Why yes; eight hundred! That winter they needed a bigger jar to hold them; and in the spring a few grains were given to every householder in the parish for growing in his garden. At the fourth Harvest Festival, enough corn was brought in to fill a butterkeg.

A local farmer now lent a corner of one of his fields, and the lads of the village dug it over and carefully planted the consecrated corn. They cared for it during spring and summer, and reaped and threshed it in the autumn, storing it in a sack by the side of the altar.

Next year they had to borrow a big field and a barn; and so on and so on, until, by the tenth year, there were five hundred arid twelve thousand million grains! I don't think the pastor actually counted them, but he worked it out on a piece of paper. How much did they weigh? I haven't the slightest idea! But I know they sold the lot to a miller in the nearest town, and he gave them enough money to buy a bell. They had it specially cast, with an ear of corn on the side, and the two German words meaning "GOD'S GIFT".

As the beautiful mellow tones floated over the houses and fields, summoning folks to worship, they often thought how the bell had been bought with a single grain of wheat.

Had it? Well, yes! But with a lot of work as well! God gave the living seed with its marvelous power of increase; but the villagers had to care for it, and dig and plant and reap and thresh, and sow it again next year.

Doesn't this apply to everything? God gives us all we need: the fruits of the field, the animals, birds and fish; the materials for our building, and coal and iron and other useful minerals from the veins of the earth. Everything originally is a gift from God, and we thank and praise Him for it. But man must plan and work to make God's gifts available for our use. Work is all man can give; and if we are prepared to work, patiently and conscientiously over a long period, there is scarcely anything we cannot achieve.

We can even turn a grain of corn into a church bell!

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