"I want my children to have an easier life than I've had. I want them to have every opportunity to seek education, adventure, and to see the world when they are young. But I really want them to come home and settle down near me eventually, get a secure and profitable job, have a nice normal family, if there is such a thing, and provide grandchildren whom I can entertain and spoil as I grow old next to them." These frightened words, from a parent whose child was feeling a calling to ordained pastoral ministry, were heartfelt and almost mournful. This parent feared that life as a pastor would mean a life of economic uncertainty, hard work without weekends off, and the continuous criticism from church members that life would bring to her daughter.
If parents were honest, this would be the wish of most of us: to protect our children from any form of potential pain. We want safe, easy, predictable lives for those we love. After a certain age, most of us want safe, easy, predictable lives for ourselves as well. We, who live comfortable, safe, secure lives believe the idea of Jesus and the fluffed-up lessons that we recall from the ghosts of sermons past about a vague concept of loving God and loving neighbor, but we have no desire to go meet people who are physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually ill and to bring about God's healing. We will proclaim the good news of the kingdom when we pass the peace to each other in the pew, but we do not want to go minister to the crowds of incarcerated prisoners, the scores of senior adults in nursing care facilities, or the troubled youth living in group homes. And part of us secretly sympathizes with the parent who fears what it means for her child to feel called to make her life's work about serving the least, the last, and the lost in the crowded fields of this world.
Disciples who follow Jesus get no assurances of future stability and security. They are called to go into unruly, unpredictable crowds and show the compassion of Christ himself. Followers of Christ toss away the dreams of comfortable, expected futures, to embrace lives of hard, often thankless work in the trenches of this world, fighting spiritual disease and malaise. Disciples of Jesus risk the anger and revenge of those who revel in and take advantage of the chaos of the masses, the contemporary divisions of who is deemed 'clean' or 'unclean,' and the exploitation of the disenfranchised and forgotten. Who would want their children to heed the Lord's call for laborers for this harvest?
No wonder the call of Jesus upon all believers is so threatening to us. For as we read this scripture, the future is anything but simple for those who would follow Christ. There is no assurance of safety, financial security, or even a promised roof overhead. But in Matthew's gospel, we find that these first disciples were sent with Jesus' authority to heal and live holy compassion, and they went, at personal risk, most likely fearful and awkward. What does it mean for us that these earliest disciples did it? That they denied themselves and accepted the mission of Jesus to go and reach out to God's people? To "Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons," all without payment?
It means everything.
The willingness of those first followers to take a risk reminds us that we too can risk ourselves to look upon others without fear and with love and compassion. Because those disciples were sent so long ago means that we learn a fundamental truth: we were not created to be obsessed with ensuring our health, our pleasure, or our security. We see that Jesus shows a better way than the chaos and groupthink of the aimless crowds, who wander grasping for some purpose to justify their mere existence on the planet. Those first harvesters, those earliest followers of Christ remind us that modern-day disciples are not called to live lives that are insulated from the needs and hurts, the pain and griefs of the people around us. We are sent to go into the fields and work! Harvesting is hot, tiring, dirty work. You cannot bring in a crop without touching the produce, carrying it where it needs to go, and obtaining some blisters in the process.
I imagine the first disciples had some stories to tell about their experiences their first time working in the fields. Some produce in that crowded field that these disciples were sent to by Jesus himself was not ripe and felt resistant to the gentle tug to disconnect from the vine - not ready to be picked. Some produce fell off the vine into their baskets, overwhelmed by the healing words of hope and salvation and grateful to be delivered into the hands of the Master Gardener. Some produce fell hard to the ground when other fruits were harvested, in mindful defiance and protest of those who dared to leave their stagnant spot in the garden. Some produce had lived on the vine too long and had withered and rotted away; but the abundance of those who were ready for harvest was overwhelming. The scripture tells, almost with joy, that the harvest was plentiful. Plentiful.
As twenty-first century followers of Christ, we are to venture into the crowds, into today's fields, to find and gather those who desperately seek to know that the One who brings healing for the deepest pain has come into the world. We are to make our way into the fields of this world to reconcile the ostracized, the marginalized, and to work for our actions to speak as loudly as our words that the kingdom of heaven has come near! We join the faithful line of laborers from every generation who realize that we have the joyful calling to share God's message of hope, restoration, and enveloping love through Christ! We continue the mission of Christ and those first followers through healing, compassion, and reconciliation, with the crowds today who wander through this life like sheep without a shepherd, even those closest to us.
So maybe, just maybe, we who labor for the Gospel in the fields of this world will want more for our children than what the world wants for theirs. May we become so grateful for our holy labor, that we will no longer pray that our children have easy lives of simplicity and stability, but we humbly ask that they too will hear the call of the Master Gardener to risk everything that this world offers to, instead, get dirty and sweaty in God's fields. We will get on our knees to pray that they, like their parents, develop blisters while binging hope and healing to the broken in this world. We will ask Almighty God that they would grow to have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts of compassion to respond to the cries and needs of the crowd. We will beg our loving God that our children will proclaim the kingdom of heaven and gather in a grateful harvest.
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment."
Let us pray.
Compassionate God, you call your followers of all ages, nations, and races to look upon your people with great mercy. Send your disciples to go into this hurting world without fear, to proclaim the Good News, and bring hope and healing to your people. May we faithfully labor for the cause of Christ with everything we have and everything we are. May we joyfully raise up the next generation of Christ-followers to be completely devoted to bringing in the harvest. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.