Sermon text: Matthew 9: 35- 10: 8
I want to begin today by telling you a story about my first full day of work as an intern in ministry. To be exact, it was Saturday, July 3, 2010.
I woke up that morning, donned by new, black clerical shirt and collar and suit, a process that was still very new and odd, and drove to the church. There I met my internship supervisor, Stan, and he drove us through the city of York to one of the local funeral homes. We walked into the funeral home, jam packed with mourners and family. I did my best to be polite and to give my condolences to these complete strangers. Then, in what seemed to be the blink of an eye, the funeral began. Stan gave me the nod to read my portions of the services, some scripture and some prayers. He preached and officiated the rest of the service. Before I knew it the service was over, we were making our goodbyes and walking out into the blistering July heat.
Back to the church we went, our day was just getting started. There we helped to make the finishing preparations for the wedding that was taking place that afternoon. Then, in a blink of an eye we were robed, standing in front of the church with the bridal party. Stan gave me a few nods. I read some scripture. I said some prayers. We smiled for a few pictures and ate the dinner in the fire hall. It was all very lovely. Then, in the blink of an eye we were making our goodbyes and heading for our homes.
A funeral. A wedding. And all the prep that goes into each one. That was my first full day, awash in the emotions of a mourner’s grief and a newlywed’s bliss. It was a crazy snapshot of what ministry could be like and a good reminder that we were live. This wasn’t the classroom anymore. My ministry was now a part of people’s experiences—milestone experiences like weddings and funerals.
In this instance, in my first day on the job, I was fortunate. I had my supervisor there, showing me the ropes—a man with years’ of experience who was amazing at his craft. Of course, the very next week he went on vacation, and in the blink of an eye I was running a wedding rehearsal without him, promising the bride and groom that he would be there to marry them the next day.
It’s scary to start something new, especially a new job. It’s also exhilarating, filled with promise, filled with hope of what the future might bring.
In our gospel lesson it is “Go Time” for the 12 disciples of Jesus. For a while they followed Jesus around. They observed his every move. They watched as he proclaimed the Good News, as he cured every disease and sickness, as he acted with compassion on the crowds, because they were harassed and helpless.
But then, in what must have felt like the blink of an eye, Jesus turns his disciples into Apostles. Disciples are ones who follow. That is what they did as they learned and observed. They followed Jesus. Apostles are ones who are sent—sent to continue the ministry that Jesus started.
Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore ask the Lord to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Jesus sends out the twelve and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and sickness. Here’s his instruction manual:
Go into Jewish towns.
Preach the Gospel.
Cure the sick.
Raise the dead.
Cleanse the lepers.
Cast out demons.
Can you imagine what that first day on the job looked like for the 12 Apostles? I thought a wedding and a funeral were big events for the first full day. Imagine preaching to complete strangers in public. Imagine curing the sick who crowded around you. Imagine people bringing their dead loved ones to you. Imagine exorcising demons.
That would be a terrifying first day on the job, and Jesus wasn’t standing by their side as they did it.
So very often we only exist as church in our sanctuary walls, or now within our homes. Yet, the words of Jesus remain true to this day, these words of outward focus: The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.
Right now, I see a plentiful harvest of chaos, violence, injustice, racism, fear mongering, and disunity. That is the harvest that has been sown. That is what we are reaping.
I’m here to tell you that as Jesus’ disciples we are also being sent out by Jesus to be his apostles, to be his hands and feet and voice in this world. We may not have to the power to heal the coronavirus or to raise the dead, but we have all the tools we need to show people that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near. There is a plentiful harvest of order, peace, justice, equity, and unity that God has provided…but the laborers are few.
As Christians, as disciples, as apostles, it is our job to help harvest the good fruits that God provides. It is our job to be like Jesus, to look at the harassed and the helpless and to act with compassion. God is directing us to start something new, something filled with promise and hope of what the future might bring.
We have the Good News. We have the instructions. We have God’s blessings. We have examples in faith to show us the way. Do we possess the gumption to get to work, to start our first new day on the job? Do we possess the desire to bring in a harvest of justice, peace, and grace? Do we desire to labor for the Kingdom of Heaven? Or, will we let a harvest of hatred, racism, violence, and oppression prevail? Which one will we work for? Which harvest will we bring in? AMEN