Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
I have been having lots of phone conversations in the last months–more time at home, more time on the phone. I don’t suspect I have spent this much time on the phone since I was a teenager!
I hear a rather common theme in many of the conversations: worry–about the economy, about the price of oil, about the deep political divides, about inner city turmoil and rising crime rates, frustrations that people are not seeing clearly the issues around racial disharmony and injustice, and fears that calls to defund police departments around the nation will lead to widespread crime sprees. I also hear a lot of “hope" that is penned on the fall elections–one candidate or another, one party or another. I understand all of that. I get all of that.
What concerns me, however, is amidst all of this angst, there is some hope that some exclusively human solution will eradicate all the division and ills in our society–a movement, a new book, the latest, brightest TED Talk, or the right man or woman in office. We think if we get that right, everything else will fall into place. Yet will it?
Thinking, praying, earnest Christians of our day know that (for instance) racism is wrong, sexual abuse and harassment are wrong, bigotry against others because of their sexual orientation is wrong, and disregard of the poor and disenfranchised is wrong. There is no question that Christians have an outright obligation to respond to these cultural sins–often only made worse by a lack of political will. Too often we find, even in the Church, people who only play the blame game, who only want to talk about and wallow in the surface wounds without going deeper to the infection.
The Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements are important–they have, in fact, lifted up societal ills that need to be addressed. One will often see clergy at rallies and protests organized by movements such as these. However, the modern conundrum is that without a Gospel-centered motive of transforming hearts and lives, the problems will only continue. They may subside for a season, but they will re-emerge in other ways. Many political leaders touted the Black Lives Matter movement as the death of racism. Popular cultural icons told their audiences that the #MeToo movement would finally mean the end of sexual harassment and misconduct. If we are honest, neither of those visions are true. No political movement nor cultural trend, as noble as it might be, will bring about transformed lives. The only way to change cultural ills effectively is to change the heart and, frankly, only Jesus can do that.
You are free to direct your concern in lots of directions, but as Christians, you and I must ultimately realize Christianity is not about a movement, a leader or an election. It is about spreading Jesus around–pure and simple. The real threat to our democracy, to our nation, is failing to realize that without the moral underpinnings of what our Judeo-Christian faith offers us, what we value as Americans in our freedoms will fade away. They will. Those who turn their back on our Lord will find themselves left with nothing but their own best efforts. And what does our historic record tell us about that?
Not too long before his death, he recorded this video. Please take a moment to click on the link and hear his dire and ominous warning.
I think Christensen hit the nail on the head. When everyone is looking to the next election or uptick in the stock market to set things right, Christians need to fix their eyes on Jesus, need to follow Jesus and need to work for the building up of Jesus’ kingdom. The passage from Matthew 9 that I have quoted is offered only verses before “Jesus Sends out the Twelve.” (Matthew 10:1-42) This is not his last ‘sending’ that will come after his resurrection; this is the first (or perhaps one of the first). Yet what prompts that “sending” is that, as Jesus looks around his world, he sees helpless people in every direction: they are like “sheep without a shepherd.” (vs. 36) I wonder what Jesus thinks when he looks on our world today, on the crowds in our city streets, on Congress and on political parties and movements. I think he probably sees many who still seem to look like sheep without a shepherd.
What does Jesus tell his disciples to do? “Ask the Lord of the harvest… to send out workers…” The next thing Jesus does is send out 12 men to do the Lord’s work. As a result of the tears, sweat and blood (literally) of those first 12, every church on planet earth today exists.
On the heels of some of the peaceful protest and the violent riots, in the midst of divisions around how best to address the pandemic, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached an outstanding sermon on Pentecost Sunday. (You can watch the sermon on Facebook or YouTube.)
In that sermon, he said there was, indeed, a pandemic moving across the globe, but it was not a pandemic from which any human is immune or free. He said it was the pandemic of selfishness and sin, a spiritual pandemic–and it is at the heart of every personal, relational and societal ill that has plagued human kind. And just as there will ultimately only be one best vaccine for COVID-19, there is only one cure for our sin problem: Jesus. He quoted the old African American spiritual, Balm of Gilead, which reminds us that the only cure for a sin sick soul is the love of Jesus.
Let me ask you this: What are you doing to further God’s Kingdom, to point people to the Shepherd in what seems to be an unraveling world, to work–as we might say in Texas–“like the dickens” to give to the Church? What are you doing to serve the Church, to build up the Church and to grow the Church so that when people are looking for hope in hopeless times, they know exactly where to go?
If we turn away from Jesus as we try and make the world a better place, our efforts will fail. They just will because we are too human, too self-serving and too sinful. What our world really needs, more than anything, is changed hearts and transformed lives. That did not just “happen” in Jesus’ day, and it does not in our own. It requires workers–workers for Jesus–willing to go out into the harvest. If you bear the name Christ, the call is no less upon you than it was upon Matthew or Peter or Mary or Paul.
Indeed, the harvest is plentiful; the workers are few. Time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Well?
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
A Prayer for Mission
From the Book of Common Prayer, page 101