My second sermon: The Harvest is Plentiful

Here’s the sermon I preached over the past weekend at my home congregation.  And because they have my amazing, techie-wizard dad running things, they regularly record their worship and post the sermons online.  So now anyone (who is not me) can enjoy listening to me putting on my pastor-voice and delivering my sermon this past weekend!  It’s based on the following two texts:  Luke 10:1-11, 16-20; and Galatians 6:1-16

The script is below for anyone who’d like to read along (or just read).  Also, if you’re interested, you can read my first sermon here.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  With these words, Jesus sends out 70 of his followers into the unknown to preach the good news of the kingdom of God.  He sends them out totally unprepared, armed with nothing but the word of God and the clothes on their backs.  Can you imagine?  How would you feel if Jesus showed up right now in our midst and told you to hit the road?  I don’t know about you all, but I think I’d be at least a little hesitant!  It’s not a mission for the faint of heart.

Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat the risky nature of this mission, either — he tells them plainly, “see, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”  Jesus talks about treading on  snakes and scorpions and overcoming the power of the enemy.  Although they are going out to preach about a kingdom of peace, they all know that the nature of this kingdom is one that profoundly challenges the existing order — a kingdom where rulers are cast down from their thrones and the poor are lifted up, where God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.  This is news that might not sit too well with certain folks. There were those who certainly stood to gain from the existing order with its laws and traditions — people in power, like the pharisees and sadducees — and still others who were simply uncomfortable with the idea of anyone bucking the system because it’s what they were used to, the way things had always been.

But there were many more people who already understood that salvation would not and could not come through a system of obeying the law and maintaining the status quo.  For these people, news of a kingdom where everyone was saved through grace and sins were forgiven was like a breath of fresh air.  It was a message of liberation to a world enslaved by sin.  And the world was ready to hear it.  In verse 17, Luke describes how “the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name, even the demons submit to us!”  Despite perhaps having expectations of rejection and danger, Jesus’s disciples found that their message was actually embraced by many people.

This is the plentiful harvest Jesus was talking about.  He was referring to those whose hearts were open to the Gospel, who were ready for news of a better way.  Jesus sent the disciples out as the laborers into the harvest to preach this completely new message of salvation, and it’s a command that echoes down through millennia and still applies to us, here, now.

I may have just lost some of you in saying this.  We’re supposed to go out to the world and preach about God’s kingdom?  Seriously?  The church is everywhere, all over the world, and  after two thousand years, it’s not like what we’re preaching is exactly “news” anymore, right?  Surely, we can feel pretty confident by now that the world knows what we’re about and that they can be part of it if they want to.  What harvest is there left to gather?

I think this kind of thinking leaves us a little bitter.  The world knows we’re here, but they don’t come.  Christians across the whole spectrum of the church look around each week to see more and more empty pews where there used to be people.  The world knows our message, we think — why don’t they come?  Why don’t they come to church anymore?

I feel like church people ask this question a lot about my generation in particular — people in their 20s and 30s.  Why do so many of us not come to church?

To understand the answers to this question, you have to understand how the church looks to your average young adult or to any other unchurched person.  Although the church’s message has not changed in two thousand years, its image certainly has.  It’s developed an unfortunate reputation for being a hidebound, morally self-righteous, exclusive institution that values rules above people;  an institution that actively oppresses women and minorities, promotes hatred, and covets power above all else.  If you think I’m exaggerating, I ask you to think about how many times you’ve seen the Westboro Baptist Church pop up in the news, or how many times you’ve heard news of yet another child molestation scandal in the Roman Catholic church.

No matter how much we protest and say to ourselves, “But that’s not us!” it doesn’t matter.  The non-religious don’t make such fine distinctions between us.  Anyone who calls themselves Christian is automatically implicated in whatever form of the church is most visible.  Unfortunately, this means they are steadily fed an image of the church that embraces violence and hate.

That’s why it’s SO important and SO urgent for us to speak out NOW!  Christ’s message of a new kingdom of love, peace, equality, and salvation has been co-opted by a very vocal group of people who have twisted his words to promote a very different agenda.  And they are MUCH louder than we are, especially because they have taken their message to the streets.

We need to do the same, and with even greater passion.  In a world that loves scandal and division, a message of harmony and peace is simply not broadcast in the same way that a message of hate is.  Just like in Jesus’s time, there are people who just don’t want to hear it, because peace doesn’t sell and change is hard.  Really hard.

So we have to be all the more vocal and all the more persistent in proclaiming the true message, because — and this is a big BECAUSE — the harvest is plentiful, and I don’t need to tell you that the laborers are few.  The world is being torn apart by poverty, war, economic crises, and the disintegration of traditional institutional culture.  People are desperate to hear the message of hope we have to offer.  They just don’t know that the church is the one preaching it, because so often we keep it to ourselves here, within our walls where it’s safe.

We have to be bolder about sharing the message, about sharing our faith — whether it’s with a neighbor or on Facebook or with your kids and grandkids — and a great way to start figuring out how to go about this is to start asking ourselves some serious questions:  Who are we?  What is the church, and why should people come?  What are we inviting them into?  And even more importantly:  How can we bring this message to people where they are?

It isn’t enough to simply be open and inviting and to say that all are welcome.  The harvest Jesus is talking about is out there in the fields.  I think you’ve all lived in a farming community long enough to know that if you just sit around in the barn all day waiting for the harvest to bring itself in, you’re going to be waiting a long, long time.

And to be clear, I’m not talking about going out trying to convert people to Christianity.  There’s no need to go door to door asking people if they’ve found Jesus.   When Jesus sends out the disciples, he simply instructs them to pass along his peace and to tell the people that they meet about the kingdom of God.  That’s our mission, too, and we can take some encouragement from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “…let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”

We live in such an exciting time for the church.  We have a chance to get back to the roots of the Gospel and to do mission the way Jesus and his first followers did — by forming relationships with others outside the church and sharing with them the wonderful things that God has promised to us.

The harvest is plentiful — so let’s go out to the fields and get our hands dirty!  Amen.

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