Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Second Sunday after Pentecost
14 June 2020
[ video ]
It is so hard to pass by the iconic story from Genesis 18, when Abraham and Sarah offered hospitality to three strangers only to discover—with hindsight, as always—that it had been God who was at their table all the time.
Actually, perhaps we do not have to entirely pass that story by.
Maybe we can park that idea to one side as we reflect on the theme of the bountiful harvest and the need for more workers if the harvest is to be finished. Hold that thought for a bit.
A plentiful harvest
How many sermons have we heard over the years about the potential harvest out there, if only we had enough people and enough resources to go fetch it?
In my experience as a child raised within the life of the church, this theme was developed especially with reference to missionary work (“the great harvest” to be found in faraway lands). To a lesser extent, it was applied to local evangelism as well, with our neighbours and friends imagined as a field ripe for harvest.
Both those common ways of using this theme, at least in my own experience, have tended to be about finding ways to persuade other people to see things our way.
When used in a more appropriate manner, it becomes a sense that there is so much good to be achieved for God, for our human community and for the earth herself that it would be tragic were it left undone or incomplete.
Too often, I fear, it becomes a passion to “save souls” from something terrible rather than a desire to achieve wonderful things for the benefit of everyone.
How big do we draw the circle of blessing?
Is it a tight circle enclosing a small group of rescued sinners, or do we have a sense that we exist to be a blessing for others? Not just for some, but for everyone?
Now that would be a bountiful harvest!
Only a few workers
As the preacher describes the size of the harvest, they usually lament the lack of people to go gather it in.
As church membership shrinks and participation rates collapse, this sounds familiar.
The workers are not just clergy, but people willing to serve on Parish Council, school boards, cleaning rosters, serve in the OpShop, teach Sunday School, lead youth groups, etc, etc
But today’s Gospel reading subverts that response, based as it is on fear for the future; and a sense of loss when we compare things now with the past.
Interestingly, having spoken about the need for more workers to be sent by the master of the harvest, Jesus sends out just 12 people. That’s right: 12!
The truth is, of course, that even a small group of passionate people can achieve amazing results.
Twelve uneducated men from Galilee. Maybe Matthew (Levi) was able to read and write. None of them was well-connected or had any kind of serious social status. No physicians, engineers or artists in this group.
Only Peter was to make an impression on the memory of the church, and almost everything we know about him is legend.
The others all disappear from the stage of history and leave no trace of their efforts.
But almost exactly 300 years later (in 325 CE) a Roman emperor called Constantine would convene the first Church Council in the city of Nicea to approve the first draft of the creed we say in this Cathedral most Sundays. The emperor had become a follower of Jesus a few years earlier and before long Christianity would become the official religion of the Roman Empire.
That may not actually have been a good thing, but it still demonstrates what an amazing result can be achieved by a handful of ordinary people whose hearts have been possessed by a big idea.
Maybe we do not need to ask for more workers, just a few workers with bold dreams.
The lord of the harvest
Who is the lord of the harvest? and what are his instructions for the workers gathering the harvest?
In the Gospels it is God, but for us—in a sense—it is Jesus himself.
Our gospel reading began with Jesus active in the work to which God had called him, and later sending out his twelve disciples to keep doing the same stuff.
What was Jesus doing and what did he send the others out to do?
CONNECT – went about from village to village, engaging with people where they were. He did not try to persuade them to come to him. He went to them
TEACHING – Jesus offered practical wisdom, spiritual wisdom for everyday life. It was not arcane religious knowledge or philosophical speculations. It was wisdom to live by. Daily bread indeed.
HOPE – Jesus gave people hope with his talk about the coming kingdom of God and he encouraged people to start acting as if the reign of God was already here.
HEALING – as Jesus did all that people were finding healing, they were being saved, their broken lives were being put back together.
COMPASSION – Jesus embodied (literally) the compassion of God
That is the work of the harvest as understood and practised by the lord of the harvest.
If we are struggling to recruit people to help us could it be that we are working in the wrong paddock, seeking to gather the wrong harvest?
Are we driven by compassion for them or by our need for their assistance to keep the church going?
If it is not the former then there will be no blessing s from the lord of the harvest.
Jesus did not send the twelve out to repair, maintain or expand the synagogues.
Jesus did not ask for money: “You received with payment, give without payment!”
Jesus transformed lives, communities, society and the world.
That is our mission as well.
If we focus on that mission, we will find we have all the people we need to achieve the most remarkable results.
We started with a brief reference to Abraham and Sarah welcoming three strangers to their tent. They shared what they had with these strangers who had walked into their lives. They did not ask for anything in return. But they later discovered that God had been among them.
May that be our story and the story this town as well.