Sunday 14 June 2020
Achieving a plentiful harvest?
Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8
Context: a largely middle-aged to elderly congregation of 35 committed to community service and mid-week children’s clubs and worship
Aim: to recognise and embrace the consequences of being a disciple of Jesus
‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore, ask the Lord of the Harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ A common plea of many churches with a mission! Or perhaps even many farmers and hospitals in the light of Brexit! But for churches with a mission beyond self-survival it is a call to prayer! Ask the Lord of the Harvest!
Good causes always struggle for adequate support and funding.
The whole of Matthew chapter 10 is a discourse addressed not to a general audience anxious to hear Christ’s message or to be entertained, but specifically to the teachers or would-be deliverers of that message. There is speculation as to at what stage of Jesus’ ministry it would have occurred: unlikely a verbatim record of what Jesus had to say on a single occasion but rather what was recalled decades later when written down, imparting the flavour of what Jesus had said on numerous occasions. Was Jesus sending out the disciples at a relatively early stage of his ministry, or was he telling them how they should operate when the time was to come when he was no longer physically with them? Either way we must embrace what Jesus had to say in our own contexts, both in the church and in community: in the church through the celebration and proclamation of the Good News, and in showing Christ and his love for all by working for justice and peace in our society.
Which involves counting the cost of discipleship. Which Jesus without equivocation lays out.
First of all to be addressed is the need of a world full of people ‘harassed and helpless,’ lost without leadership. It is to these that disciples must minister. And it comes with a personal challenge taking us beyond our comfort zone: ‘I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves’ (10:16). Paul, in the extract from Romans, confirms how disciples should share the sufferings with Christ himself. He reminds us that ‘Christ died for the ungodly’ – the undeserving. Something perhaps we would rather not hear in the comfort of Sunday morning worship! Metaphorically we have to die to bring justice and peace. I am not sure how many of us would wish to identify with Paul in saying that ‘suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.’ But perhaps we could at least identify, drawing on our own varied personal experiences of life, good and bad, both in sorrow and in joy, occasions when ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through God’s Holy Spirit’. As often as not this is through the personal cost of a disciple of Jesus offering support, actions and prayer.
Jesus, right from the start of his ministry, and before, was a regular Sabbath Day attender at the synagogue. Like Jesus, the modern-day disciple needs the regular renewal of strength and purpose which comes through worship and meeting together with friends in faith, rather than in splendid isolation. But if it goes no further than that, then, to pursue the metaphor, the crop, whether sparse or bountiful, remains unharvested and is presumably left to rot, its value limited to providing manure for the following year. Christ instructs his appointed disciples not to be confined to barracks, but to go out unfettered to proclaim the Good News: ‘cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leper, cast out demons’. A call for disciples to minister to whatever contemporary needs require addressing. And all without counting the cost or expecting compensation. ‘You received without payment, give without payment.’
It is worth noting too that Jesus’ instructions are to go in the first instance not to the Gentiles, but to the ‘lost sheep of Israel.’ First ensure that one’s own house is in order – one’s personal way of life, and the public face of the institution – before telling everybody else what to do and how to behave!
Contemporary issues abound. They are overwhelming and ever increase on a daily basis. Jesus provides no off-the-shelf answers. Like the early disciples we each have to decide and rise to the challenge of determining priorities of response and adaptation in diverse situations. Today, as individual disciples, and collectively as church, we are particularly challenged to serve justice and work for peace. It brings controversy and demands sacrifice. And Jesus goes before and with us!
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