The Harvest Is Great, the Laborers FewMatthew 9:35–10:8
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
The Twelve Apostles
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
The Mission of the Twelve
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
In both of today’s scripture readings, we heard about the harvest. A harvest is when crops are finally ready, and the farmer gets to reap what he sowed. Well, we have some exciting news about a harvest of our own. It has nothing to do with vegetables, and you may have heard about it on Facebook already: this past week, our YouTube channel reached one hundred subscribers!
For those of you that are new to YouTube, a subscriber does not pay money, like someone does when they order a magazine subscription. It just means that they sign up to follow our YouTube channel, kind of like the people in Galilee who were starting to follow Jesus. And since reaching one hundred subscribers, we got to make our own custom address for our church YouTube channel: youtube.com/oldtownucc Now, all of our at-home worship services can be found there, so you can re-watch them or share them with your friends whenever you want. Pretty exciting, huh? So now that we have a hundred subscribers, does that mean that the work is over, that we get to rest easy, and that YouTube will just take care of things for us? No. The work is still ours to do, but we celebrate the harvest of having more people connected to us and a web address that is easier to share.
In today’s scripture reading from the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples were excited about what Jesus was doing as well because he had more and more followers, and the word was quickly spreading about him and what he was doing.
Now the disciples were eager for God’s kingdom to come, and as they followed Jesus, they were waiting for God to act. But what they did not seem to realize is that God works through our hearts and hands. God’s peaceable kingdom was not going to magically appear. Healing and wholeness were not going to come to those who were hurting, and things were not going to miraculously change unless the disciples did something and worked to change them themselves. The same is true for us today.
Now, besides the time in scripture that Jesus teaches his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus does not often tell his followers what to pray for. But in today’s scripture, we hear Jesus tell the disciples to go to the farmer and beg him to send workers to help with the harvest. Jesus does not often give direct instructions, but rather he encourages his followers to think and to ponder and figure things out on their own. Over and over again when Jesus teaches, he uses stories and parables to open the eyes and the minds of his followers. What he was really telling the disciples that day was that it was not up to the farmer or to God to take care of everything. Instead, it was up to them to do something! They were needed to be the answer to the prayer. They were the workers for the harvest that were needed. So, rather than wasting time talking and waiting, it was time for them to act.
As followers and disciples of Jesus, we too are called to be helpers, healers, and people who bring life and hope to others. Jesus sent the disciples–just as he sends us–out into the world to share the good news of God’s love and compassion, especially with those who are struggling or those who are in need. And Jesus teaches us not only to tell this good news but also to heal those who are hurting and support those in need. Because it is not the things that we think about and the words that we say that make a difference. More importantly, it is the things that we actually do.
Jesus wanted the disciples to go far and wide to reach as many people as they could. He especially wanted them to follow his example by focusing on those who were particularly suffering or struggling.
The truth is that is the church was supposed to be about serving the weak, healing the sick, cleansing the unclean, and reaching out to those who face injustice. It is supposed to be about bringing others into the peaceable kingdom, where all people are treated with respect and dignity, all tables are open, all people are lifted up, and everyone is called to love one another. The problem is that somehow, over the years, the Christian church has worried more about converting people and making sure that they are “saved” rather than actually reaching out and helping them. The church universal has been more worried about filling their pews than truly working for justice and equality for all.
As we heard in today’s scripture reading, Jesus sent his disciples out saying, “Go, proclaim the good news, The kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” But somehow the church has changed that message to say, “Are you hurting? Then come and be like us. Come follow our rules. Come do what we do, and you will be good with God.” Friends, somehow, we have gotten confused over the years and totally changed Jesus’ plan.
Knowing the secret password and being part of the club was never a part of what Jesus taught us. It was never supposed to be about only taking care of our own and judging those who are different than us.
Friends, Jesus called the disciples and he continues to call us to go out into the world, bringing healing and wholeness, bringing justice and joy, and bringing unconditional love and grace to those who need it the most–not by telling people what to do and how to do it, but by meeting them where they are, truly listening to them, and assuring them of God’s unconditional love.
Friends, for so long in the church when we hear about people who are sick and suffering, people who are struggling with homelessness and addiction, people who are being treated unjustly and unfairly, and people who are grieving great losses in their lives, our response has been, “I will pray for you,” or, “I’ll add you to our prayer list.” But friends, though that sounds like a nice gesture to us, it is simply not enough. Yes, prayer gives us strength. It is an important way for us to take care of ourselves spiritually, and to look to God for guidance and inspiration.
But just like Jesus told the disciples when they were standing around and waiting for the peaceable kingdom to come, “Go to the farmer and beg him to send workers for the harvest.” Friends we need to remember that we are all workers for the harvest. The peaceable kingdom is not going to magically appear if we simply pray for it. Things are not going to miraculously change unless we work to change them.
So, friends, please do pray for peace in the world, but do not sit back and wait for God to do something about it. Go out and do something about it yourself, putting aside your opinions and listening to others. Stop complaining. Instead, share a sense of peace with those around you, that they might experience a moment of peace. And then they might share it with someone else.
Pray for the end of racism and injustice, but do not sit back and wait for God to do something about it. Because friends, that’s something that we have done for far too long! Go out and do something about it yourself. Protest, show your support, or spend some time learning more about what racism and injustice means. Don’t look for what other people should do, but instead figure out what you need to change in your life to help make change happen. And pray for an end to hunger, but do not sit back and wait for God to do something about it. Go out and do something about it yourself! Donate food to the food pantry. Work at a local soup kitchen. Learn more about what the causes of hunger and food insecurity in your area are, and then help to make the changes that are needed. Remember my friends, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” And when it comes to the harvest, we are all essential workers!
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into the week ahead, pray for God to give you guidance and strength. Then go out and bring change to your community and the world. Allow God to work in and through you as you share the good news of Jesus in all that you say, but even more importantly in all that you do.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!