The Rev’d Matthew David Larsen
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Proper 9, Year C
July 3rd, 2016
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I admit it. I was sorely tempted. I am moving this coming week and the lectionary presented me with a real gift. The epistle reading (at least the optional part of it) has the part of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians where he commands them to “bear one another’s burdens.” What does it mean to bear one another’s burdens? To bear, of course, literally means to carry something. The apostle urges the church to help one another by picking up their oppressive, heavy burdens, like boxes or sofas, and carry them in such a way that relieves them of their trouble. So, … [gesture with hands]. The application would seem pretty clear.
But I would never do that. You all are far too smart. You would have simply responded, “Yes, but Father, three short verses later, St. Paul he says, “Every person must carry their own weights.”
In our Gospel reading, however, something far more urgent happens. And that’s what deserves our attention this morning. Jesus sends out seventy ambassadors to do and preach what he himself does and preaches. God invites the church to play a critical role in the mission of redeeming the world. This is an important idea for the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Acts opens by saying, “In the first book, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when he was taken up to heaven.” The clear implication is that the church, by the Holy Spirit, is what Jesus continues to do and teach in the world after his ascension. Folks, that’s you and me.
Now, if you stop and think about the finitude of each of us and the monumental claim of God’s mission, you feel overwhelmed. God will take all that is broken and fractured and make it whole again, and God plans to use the fallible people of the Church, equipped only with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the sacraments, to accomplish this.
To think locally, God’s plans for Christ Church are even greater than we know. God want to do immeasurably more than we can think or imagine. What God plans to do for the city of New Haven is beyond what we can understand right now. And Christ Church has a critical role to play. All through the hands of fragile, busy, finite women and men.
Jesus understands this tension. As always, he is always one step ahead of us. That’s why he says, “The harvest is huge, and there’s only a few laborers.” Before Jesus sends the church out on his mission, he gives them some directions. He anticipates their response, “Jesus, you are going to redeem the whole world through rag tag bunch? But that’s a ridiculously huge mission, and there’s only a few of us!”
Yes, but you have to understand the whole message and its metaphor. Jesus says next, “So ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” It is an agricultural image. God’s mission is analogized as a field at harvest time, ripe with food. We are agricultural laborers in a huge field. Day laborers are asked to show up each day and do their job. Our job is to show people Jesus, in our lives and in the sacraments.
The image is not “The cathedral is huge and there are so few people to fill the seats.” We are not just supposed to come, be still, and receive. We are all called to get involved in whatever ways suited to our gifts and abilities.
But, at the same time, it is not our job to make the harvest happen. It’s the Lord’s harvest. Ask the boss to send out laborers into his harvest. When Jesus spoke to Peter, he did not say, “You are Peter, and upon this rock you will build my church.” He said “upon this rock I will build my church.” It’s God’s job to build God’s church, not ours. We are just the laborers. It is our job to show up and work each day for the Lord. Day laborers don’t worry about anything except doing the one job given to them to the best of their ability.
Jesus does, however, give the laborers a few other instructions. One of them is to invite other laborers to come and share the work. All are welcome here. That’s a radical statement, and we often forget that. But it’s not just that all are welcome to come and sit. All are welcome to come and join in God’s mission. To help do the work with us. To help lead our worship of our Triune God and to enter into that fellowship in this space. To help tear down divisions in our city and community. To replace bigotry with love. To fight for justice in the face of inequalities. All together.
But to do that, Jesus says we need to pray for more and more laborers. To show people Jesus and also to invite people to join the work. God may be calling you today to help with our worship, our community building, our work in the areas of social justice. To join the laborers. And God’s also calling you to invite others into our life to do the same. When we prayed in the interim for our next rector, for Fr. Stephen, do you remember what we prayed? We asked God to send us a faithful pastor who would care for us and who would equip us for our ministries.
There are a few more instructions. “Don’t greet anyone on the road.” Father, I have that one down. I walked all the way to church this morning, and I didn’t greet anyone at all.
Well, that’s not quite the idea. Traveling in the ancient world was extremely dangerous. The point is to stay focused on the one thing to which God has called us. We are not called to do everything. Christ Church has a specific charge in God’s larger mission. It is our job to stay focused on that. To show people Jesus, in the sacraments and in our lives.
“But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’” Got that one down Father. I got into a theological argument with some Baptists the other day, and I did exactly that. It was a little awkward but I removed my shoes and shook them haters off.
No, that’s not quite right either. The focus for us is on the last line. The point is to show people where they can find God. And to tell them where God’s isn’t. At the altar and in the hearts and minds, the hands and feet of God’s faithful people everywhere; that’s where God is. To tell a hungry world where they can find bread. To point to injustice, bigotry, injustice, oppression, violence in all forms and to declare that’s not where God is.
Friends, we are laborers, doing work for a harvest that we ourselves may never get to enjoy. But we also enjoy the fruits of thousands are laborers who have worked in the field long before we were here.
And we know our work is not in vain, because we labor in the service of the God of life who conquered death with death so that all may have new life in Christ Jesus. An old preacher once said, “Hold up an acorn and a casket, which one wins?” The casket is so sturdy, and the acorn could be crushed under your foot. The answer is clear. Put the acorn in the casket and both of them in the ground, and the same one will win every time. The acorn will turn into a tree and burst the casket’s grip.
Church, we are laborers working for the Lord of life planting seeds of resurrection. It’s not our job to make resurrection happen. It is our job to show up, to plant seeds, to show people Jesus, to invite hungry people to the altar where they can find bread, find God. Today, we worship the Lord and receive the nourishment to do that work. And there is much work yet to be done.