Proper 6, Year A, Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Fayetteville

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38).

It’s appropriate that we’re gathered today, here in the midst of God’s creation, to consider Jesus’ words to the disciples about the plentiful harvest. We’re here because of world-shaking events, taking place on the global stage; these events have driven us outdoors today to help safeguard the health of the community. World-shaking events, in the time of pandemic: yet providentially, they bring us closer to the ministry of Jesus, and nearer to his words.

Jesus preached in synagogues, and he worshiped at the Temple in Jerusalem, but most of his ministry was spent on the road. He was an itinerant preacher and teacher, and so were his followers. His most effective sermon, after all, was preached on a mountain. Many of his most important teachings and acts of fellowship took place outside, on the boat in the sea of Galilee or in the crowd gathered in the middle of nowhere, at the feeding of the five thousand.

Jesus carried out his ministry in a society that lived close to the land. The cycle of planting and harvest, first fruits and gleaning, was part and parcel of his life and the life of his fellows. So, when he calls the twelve disciples to follow him and to share in his work, he compares it to labor in the field. It’s time to get the harvest in. It’s the season when push comes to shove, when the community rallies its forces and puts on a full court press for the harvest. Without the harvest there will be folks who’ll go hungry. Everyone is pressed into service because the harvest time has come.

That’s exactly Jesus’ point in the story: to increase the number of those who are sharing in the work. He chooses others to work with him, to join him on the road. Jesus is not in the business of enlisting subscribers, supporters of the work that others will be doing. He is not looking for spectators, folks who will watch while the rest of the company performs. Jesus is not in the entertainment business. He requires folks who will get in the field and on the field and join in the Gospel work of teaching and healing and reconciling.

The message for us is clear. Jesus is still doing the work, and he’s calling us to join in it. The need for laborers is just as pressing today as it was in his time. He’s calling us to walk the road with him, to join him in his itinerant ministry. We’re not called to be consumers in the life of faith, but active participants. Pay attention, those being confirmed today! As all of you know, the road that we are walking, the wilderness road we’re traveling in this time of pandemic, is not the usual well-worn superhighway, the shortest and safest distance between two points. When St. Philip left Jerusalem in the time of persecution, God did not send him on the easy way, but on the wilderness road (Acts 8).

That’s how he’s calling us; that’s the road we are traveling, in this time of pandemic. There are new opportunities that will come our way as a result of the shake-up around us. Philip the deacon was able to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the folks that came within his range, and so will we. There will be new needs and new opportunities for service, especially to those most vulnerable and lonely: the poor, and the sick, and those at most risk.

Remember, we’re called to work in the field, to join in the harvest; but God is the lord of the harvest. We should not lose sight of that, especially these days. We know that God is up to something, in the events of the past several months, but we don’t know exactly what. These are world-shaking events, but what we know is what is in the field that is right before us: the life of this church, the life of this community, the lives of our neighbors and friends, and of course our own lives.

We can trust God to be the lord of the harvest. We’re called to labor in the field, in confidence that God, through the work of many laborers, will bring the harvest home. That long list of names we’re given today, of Peter and Andrew, James and John, and all the rest, includes your name and my name and many others: workers in the harvest that God is bringing in, fellow travelers with Jesus on the road. Today, may we all pray that God will continue to send out laborers into the fantastic harvest that he’s preparing for the church.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt