Sunday, June 18, 2017

Workers in the harvest

Matthew 9.35-10.38

Well, here we are back to the middle of Matthew’s version of Jesus’ story, where we will be for most of the summer. Today we enter the green season of learning from Jesus along with the disciples.
In the earlier chapters, Jesus calls the disciples and he teaches them the Beatitudes, and how to pray, and that he has the power to heal. In today’s story, Jesus thinks the disciples have learned enough so it is time for them to go out and share what he has taught them. He gives them the power to heal, and the authority to teach and preach.
But he wants them to go out dependent on God, and on the generosity of the folks they meet in the towns they visit. Grant peace to all, he says, but shake the dust off your sandals where you are not welcomed.
Jesus assures the disciples, and us today, that there are plenty of hurting people (they are the harvest) wherever they go. Go and show them compassion. Go and be the workers bringing in the harvest.
I have long imagined Jesus sending the disciples out in this way: they go, by twos or fours, or maybe sixes, into a town together but soon they split up. The men go in search of townsfolk who do what they (the disciples) do … they go where the men are fishing, or milling grain, or collecting taxes. They helped the men do their jobs, and talked as they worked.
The women – let’s not forget that there were women followers of Jesus – head to the well, where they can encounter the women of the town. They offered to help the women they met with the daily tasks, making bread, preparing vegetables for dinner, washing clothing. As they worked, they talked.
As these disciple-tourists engage the folks, they learn about the people who are ill and in need of help. One to one, they tell about Jesus and his power, love, and forgiveness.  They offer healing, and acceptance, and share Jesus with them.
… Today, our calling and sending is no different. I should share with you that I serve this congregation, and enjoy being with those members who are hurting and doing the other *stuff* pastors do. But my focus is always on helping y’all reach those who are not yet here. I will constantly encourage you to be Jesus’ disciples and remind you that we are sent to bring in the harvest by sharing Jesus’ love and compassion and healing with others.
… So, a few stories. You may or may not know that I was in Colorado last week because Joe, Mike’s brother, died. At the Visitation, the first person there was Joe’s secretary of 20 years. She took one look at Joe in the casket and broke down. I had just met her, but I put my arms out and held her as she sobbed. After that, we were friends, and she talked openly with me about her future, which includes finding a new job. It was easy to offer her compassion.
… I can also talk a bit about Joe himself. Joe was a high-powered defense attorney. As such, he had assets and plenty of income. Some of his neighbors were at the funeral home and shared how Joe had helped them with a couple of situations. Of course, he had done it pro bono, without charging them. Now, Joe was not a particularly religious man, but he was determined to express his faith by being kind and just to others. He shared Jesus by providing justice for a lot of people.
… Ruth ran the soup kitchen in Benton Harbor, Michigan, for many years. The kitchen is a joint project of about 30 congregations and organizations in the area, each taking a day a month to provide a free lunch to anyone who comes to eat. Ruth was in charge of coordinating the churches, maintaining supplies, and making sure the kitchen was spotless, and so much more.
Ruth called the people who came for lunch guests, and often friends. She knew them all, and shared the local gossip as well as the Gospel with them. When she talked about the soup kitchen asking for volunteers, it was as if she were inviting us to help her serve a state dinner. She literally fed hungry people daily and gave them the respect they deserved as children of God.
… Mary and her family moved from California to Florida because of a new job. They had not found a church they liked in their new town, and, in the busy-iness of everyday life, had given up looking. But Easter was coming, and God was calling them to try again.
 They had not been at Trinity Church because it was farther from home than they liked. They went once, and then twice. With middle school aged youth in the family, they talked with the pastor about confirmation classes.
Before long, they asked to join the church. And they brought friends, a family with more confirmation students, who had also given up on finding a church. The members of Trinity welcomed these new members and found ways to use their gifts in the various ministries of the church.
… We can share Jesus with others, with those who are hurting and need some compassion, with those who are seeking justice, with those who are hungry and deserving of respect, and with those who are looking for Jesus in their lives or in a new place.
Most people are looking for Jesus. They may not say so, but when we offer compassion, justice, respect, and a warm welcome, we are helping them find Jesus.
Are you willing to be a worker in Jesus’ harvest, seeking out the lost and hurting and hungry?  As a follower of Jesus, you / we are called and sent just like the first disciples were. As followers of Jesus, we have access to his power and ability to heal hurting people. As followers of Jesus, we can trust him to be with us, just as he was with those first disciples.
This week, I hope you will look for opportunities to share Jesus in some way. You don’t need to say anything, but you do need to do something. You can trust Spirit to show you someone, and to help you know what to do. Offer what is needed: a hug, a connection with your lawyer, a plate of food or a ride to Interfaith Ministries, or an invitation to worship at St John.
The harvest of hurting people is plentiful, and we are the workers sent to be Jesus to them. Let’s go to them trusting that Jesus goes with us.
Please pray with me… Jesus, you have called us to follow you and serve you by serving your children. Teach us to be better disciples, to trust you to be with us wherever you send us. Amen