12th Jun, 2005

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Sermon preached by Fr. Mark D. Stuart

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest.”

Strange as it may sound, it’s actually harvest time in America’s heartland right now; due to the principle crop of winter wheat sown in the Fall, germinating under the winter snow, growing tall in the warming days of Spring, and ripe for harvest in early summer. Huge combines as wide as the nave of our church are rolling across the fields as the farmers pray for a bumper crop.

It a hard job and the results are dependent on capricious Mother Nature, who continually reminds us that we are ultimately not in charge; no matter how much we irrigate in the dry years or load the soil with fertilizers and spray for pests; I saw a hail storm roll across the prairies one year a week before harvest destroying the whole crop.
Now the modern gigantic combines (which look like something out of Star Wars and cost more than a house) are comfortable and safe. But in the “old days” without enclosed cabs and with smaller machines, the farmers were subjected to a miserable experience with dawn to dusk hours in the sweltering heat and choking dust; and as their years increased suffered from asthma, emphysema, and multiple pulmonary & respiratory ailments from unprotected breathing of the dust and wheat stalk fibers.

I once asked a farmer why he still farmed his small family farm with such thankless back-breaking work, so dependent on the whims of nature. He looked at me sort of baffled, “My great grandfather homesteaded this farm, my Daddy farmed it all his life, and now I farm it. I was raised on this farm, I’ve done it all my life, and I just can’t imagine doing anything else.”

When Jesus talks about laborers to the plentiful harvest, I think of that farmer I knew back in Kansas, who I respected for his dedication and commitment because he simply could not imagine doing anything else! Those are the kind of laborers and disciples our Lord is calling, in His day and in ours. As we listen to the Gospel lesson and step into their shoes today, let us pay attention closely, because it is our story, too. We are His disciples today and His Body. St. Matthew tells us that when Jesus looked on the multitudes he had compassion on them… Com-passion = feeling with. Christ is the compassionate One: the Head of the Body, where the commands to the Body come from.
We, as Christ’s Body, need to listen more carefully to Christ, our Head.

What is Christ telling us to do? To go out and just be “do-gooders” in the name of the Church? Not exactly! Some folks see this passage from Matthew’s Gospel as a mandate for evangelism. Oh-oh, there’s that “E” word again! When the Episcopal Church declared the 90′s to be the Decade of Evangelism, someone quipped that an Episcopalian plan for evangelism would be to build a really attractive aquarium next to the ocean and wait for the fish to jump in! That’s certainly not what Jesus is calling us to do!

He is sending us to do the work that springs from a heart filled with compassion; not because it’s comfortable and safe and convenient; but because like the Kansas farmer we simply cannot conceive of NOT doing it! It is not the work reserved for and extended to the sanitized and proper, or to those we feel merit it by our own standards. In truth, it is really not our works or help at all, but the healing, saving, hope-filled works of Christ through us.
To be obedient to Jesus, we must be authentic, real, and grounded in compassion.
Our com-passion is grounded in our Lord’s Passion. He loves us so very much that He was willing to take our pain and brokenness to Himself. And that Passion through the power of God, creates for us the possibility of complete authenticity. As we grow deeply into our identity embodying Jesus today as 21st century disciples, evangelism is the natural outgrowth as a consequence of our authentic, compassionate discipleship. Evangelism happens because the “evangel” is Good News indeed! And as we do the will of the One who sends us out, our own lives become daily more filled with the love and grace of our Saviour.

We follow a Saviour Who sees the world as it is and chooses in response not to wash His hands of the situation, but instead roll up His sleeves and get His hands dirty. In his ‘Church Dogmatics’ Karl Barth makes a point on this: “Solidarity with the world means that those who are genuinely pious approach the children of the world as such, that those who are genuinely righteous are not ashamed to sit down with unrighteous friends, that those who are genuinely wise do not hesitate to seem to be fools among fools, and that those who are genuinely holy are not too good or irreproachable to go down “into hell” in a very secular fashion.”

Jesus sees the crowds and He has compassion for them and calls us to spend our lives among them, proclaiming and serving. In less than an hour Fr. Davies and I will put on our cassocks and head down to Santa Monica Blvd. to walk with our people among the crowds in the Pride March as visible signs of a compassionate Christ. We do so as Priests, because we know that freely we have been given and freely with compassion we are called to give, to serve, and proclaim the Good News of God’s unconditional love by being present to the world.

The harvest is plentiful and every one of us are the laborers in a field filled with weeds and ready for the harvest. Nourished and strengthened with the Blessed Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hear these final words as the Mass ends: “Go forth in the name of Christ.” We need nothing else. We have been chosen and we are being sent.

The kingdom of heaven is at hand! It’s time to go!

 

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