“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Sermon in a tweet: The Christian life and mission is a participation in Christ’s own life and mission.
A little while ago now I preached a sermon here about how we ought to understand the Christian life within the paradigm of being a student of Jesus. I suggested that the Christian life is about maintaining this posture of learning, of always learning from Christ, of always being open to the Holy Spirit who wants to lead us deeper and further into the knowledge and love of Christ. Last week in Luke’s gospel we saw where much of this learning happens—on the way. The Christian life is about being students of Jesus and being students of Jesus means learning to follow him on the way of self-giving love. His self-giving love, for us and for the world. And this is not an easy way, we learned. It is challenging, rigorous, perilous. And yet, it is the way of life for by it God makes us more like the one who became like us, His Son.
This is all true, of course, but the Christian life is deeper still and this morning Luke the apostle turns the gem of the gospel so that another facet of life with Jesus comes into view, which enlivens and enriches the whole. What we learn this morning is that Jesus not only gathers people and calls them to follow after him but that he also sends them on ahead of him. Being a Christian is about being enrolled in the redemptive purposes of God for the whole wide world. We do as we learn and we learn as we do, apprentices of Jesus Christ.
And so in our reading this morning Jesus gathers 70 of his apprentices and sends them on ahead of himself, two by two, into every town and village, into every place where he himself intended to go. Now, we’re not told that Jesus himself actually visited all of these places just that he had intention. But this points us to a greater reality which we will return to in a moment, namely, that wherever Jesus sends his disciples on his behalf there he himself is.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few,” he says to them, “therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” There’s a sense of urgency here in this statement, isn’t there? The harvest is plentiful! It is ready to be harvested! But there’s a problem, a labour shortage. What should the disciples do? Well, they should pray, says Jesus: “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” It’s important to note whose harvest this is. It is Christ’s, he is the Lord of the harvest. Therefore, the responsibility of bringing it in lays ultimately with him. And yet, we are invited to pray, with a sense of urgency, for more labourers.
Faith in Christ immediately opens us up to a reality far bigger than our own personal piety which we can be rather tempted to keep private. It isn’t simply about making our own lives more meaningful, but about our lives finding their true meaning as we are swept up into the reconciling work of Jesus, Lord of the harvest.
So, the harvest is plentiful, the workers are few, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers. But, be careful what you ask for. The next words out of Jesus’ mouth are, “Go on your way.” Those to whom Jesus calls, “follow” he says, “go.” Go! “And greet no one on the road,” he says. In other words, the same resolve, the same urgency, that marks Jesus’ own journey to the cross—“he set his face to go to Jerusalem”—is meant to mark the journey that Jesus sends his disciples on. He also bids them not to take anything other than the clothes on their back relying on God, of course, but also on the hospitality of others. Which is an interesting point. As the church we are very good at extending hospitality to others. And that is an important part of the Christian life for we extend the hospitality which we have received in Christ. But in this passage, receiving the hospitality of others is central to the spread of the gospel.
And they’re sent out with a message, a word: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” This is more than just a greeting. It is rather, a shorthand for the gospel. Peace—God’s peace—shalom, is the deep and abiding sense of rightness that comes with the very presence of God. It is the fulfillment of all of Israel’s hopes, and thus our hopes and the hopes of the whole world as well, that God will set the world right. That he will straighten out that which is bent and crooked. That the poor will receive good news; the captives and the oppressed, liberation; the blind, sight! And the good news is that God has indeed come near and done this and that He has done it specifically in His well beloved Son Jesus Christ. (Luke 4:16ff)
This, of course, is why the proclamation of peace that Jesus entrusts to his sent ones is fleshed out with another saying that he gives them: “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” In the gospels Jesus is always drawing near, near to the sick who were in need of healing, near to his friends even those who would betray him, near to those who outright rejected him and secretly plotted his death. And where Jesus is there the kingdom of God is in all of it’s fullness and beauty even though it be not fully realized.
Here’s the really fascinating part: if the kingdom is wherever Jesus is then in what sense can the disciples proclaim the nearness of the kingdom as they do? This is part of the message that Jesus gives them. I wonder then, what conclusions we are meant to draw from this? If the kingdom is wherever Jesus is, and here are the disciples proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom, then does it not follow that Jesus must be present in some real way, even with those whom he has sent on ahead of him? Indeed, a little later Jesus says, “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” Jesus is really present with those he sends so that to accept or reject the sent ones is to accept or reject Jesus himself and the one who sent him. Friends, we are ambassadors for Christ. He has given himself to us, wholly, so that wherever we are we know there he is with us and we with him. Really.
As we go from this place into the world, we are Christ’s presence there. We should take more time to allow the awesome weight, and responsibility, of that to set in.
At any rate, the disciples are told to be generous with their proclamation of peace, as a farmer would sow the whole field with seed we are to sow the whole world—or, in our case, the whole neighbourhood—with the proclamation of God’s peace. “Whatever house you enter.” Wherever you go, there in that place announce this peace. Don’t worry about how well you will be received, just be faithful to the work. After all, it is Christ’s own harvest, he will accomplish all that he will accomplish.
In fact, the disciples are sent out expecting both to be received and to be turned away. Because it is only in the generous sowing that we discover people who are open to this message, people who are open to Christ. People who Luke calls, “children of peace,” or those who “share in peace,” (10:6). And they may be the most unlikely of people, you never know.
I’ve been meeting on-and-off over the last few months with a gentleman who is a fairly prominent member of the community here in Mount Dennis. This week we were in a meeting together and as we left and were walking to our cars all of a sudden he asked me, “So, what’s your theology?!” Now, he didn’t ask me this the first time we met, or the second or the third or the fourth. But he’s known that I’m a Christian this whole time and I’ve been quite open about that fact. So, when he asked me what my theology was I got a chance to share with him about my faith and hope in Jesus Christ. And you know what, he didn’t turn me away. I’m not sure that he agreed and he isn’t here this morning but he didn’t turn me away. He was, we might say, receptive.
Now, it isn’t my goal to convert the man, that is a work that only God the Holy Spirit can do. It is my task, it is our task, to generously proclaim peace and discern where there might be receptivity. But notice that whether the message is received or not it is the same: “the kingdom of God has come near,” (10:9,11). The kingdom of God has come near to all, the sun has dawned and there is no one upon whom it has not shone in Jesus Christ. Announce that and leave the rest to him.
And do you know what? We might just be surprised at the ways in which God uses us. Can you sense the joyous surprise in the disciples when they return to Jesus? “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” Every week we gather together like this and consume Christ’s Body. But this is a meal that, in fact, consumes us. As we take Christ’s body into ourselves Jesus makes us his body, the body through which he continues his work in the world. To be clear, we do not continue the work of Christ, but rather, Christ continues his own work through us, giving us a share in his own authority. Let us then be bold! Let us go from here with a sense of expectancy! Let us rejoice, not in ourselves, but in our union with Christ Jesus. For the sake of the world. Amen.
Sermon was preached by Fr. Jonathan Turtle at the Church of St. Mary and St. Martha on The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (C), July 3rd, 2016.