Jesus wants to speak to his friends about the harvest. "The harvest is great," he says. He's talking about connecting with people. Sharing purpose with people. Gathering people. Some call this church growth, but it is so, so much more. More like joining God in God's purpose. More like helping people become themselves.
Jesus talks about the harvest while he's harvesting. His mind and his behind are in line on this matter - which is the very definition of peace, of course. His time in the temple, sends him out to the city. His work in the world sharpens his teaching. He advances the Good News of God one blessing, one healing at a time.
He's talking about harvest because he sees the world through the eyes of compassion. He sees that people are harassed, helpless, and ready to faint. Lots of sheep, very few shepherds. And because Jesus was in time but beyond time - our brother with a unique, divine consciousness - his seeing penetrates down into our now.
We are just as harassed, helpless, and ready to faint as the crowds of his day. Harassed by gun violence. Helpless in the face of celebrity endorsed xenophobia and ready to faint because of the 24-hour, always breaking news of political partisan division.
Jesus sees the crowds now. All sheep, no shepherd. So, Jesus turns his seeing into saying. He says to his co-worker friends, "Harvest is plentiful." Harvest is how Jesus describes the world. Not wicked. Not broken. Not destitute. Harvest is what he said. Harvest points to innumerable opportunities. A word that speaks of abundance. A word that implies the very fact that God has already done the planting and the watering. Now, there is one thing to do - gather, harvest.
Harvest is God's purpose for God's people in the world. Harvest is how God's people can embody and make contemporary the phrase, "For God so loved the world. . ." Engaging and inspiring people is the job. Gathering and collecting people, in the world is what Jesus asks of each of us today.
Harvest is how God says, "Come along side me and know me." Harvest is how God says, "Join me. Befriend me. Do my will. Delight in my word." Harvest is the work God needs partners for. Not because God couldn't do it all by God's self, but because God has decided to include us in the joy of making an eternal difference in the world.
Harvest is how Jesus says to his friends, "This is an urgent matter, please focus." Harvest is what God wants us to pray for, when we are gathered together and in our own personal devotions.
If the Church depended on your prayers for growth, on your prayers for harvest, where would she be?
The Church is harvest made for harvest. You and I have been gathered - think back - by family, by friends into the privilege of baptism for the privilege to extend baptism. The Church was not breathed into existence to tend itself, the church was made for increasing God's harvest.
Now, it would be fine for Jesus to stop there, we get it, but he doesn't. So, I can't. Jesus goes on to say, in the face of plentiful harvest, ". . .laborers are few." In the most positive of terms, Jesus is lamenting the backlog of abundance waiting to be realized if only he had adequate staffing. In plain terms, Jesus' sorrow is that too few are partnering with him in kingdom work.
Too few laborers focused on harvest is Jesus' sadness and the Church's sin. The Great Commission has become the great omission. There's a labor shortage in the kingdom of God, and this labor shortage may be for at least, at least three reasons.
First, there are those who have counted the cost of laboring with Jesus and found it too high a price to pay. You might say they know the song, but fear has choked the singing out of them.
Then there are those who sign on to labor with Jesus so long as they get to decide the nature of the labor, the location of the labor, and if and how the harvest will be measured. These laborers never become true harvest laborers because they never arrive at the insight that neither the harvest or the labor is about them. Theirs is a contrived spirituality rooted in arrogance rather than obedience.
And then, there are those who never become harvest laborers because their faith is small. Not small like a mustard seed. Small like they retreat from the idea of a plentiful harvest. Small like they wrestle God's plentiful ideas down into their idea of the manageable. Their imaginations are constipated. These laborers prefer cliques over church. Busyness over bold action. Theirs are the old songs of scarcity, kindred and tribe rather than the crescendo of God's call. True laborers are few.
So, with all that said, then what does it take to be a true harvest laborer? Good question. I thought you'd never ask.
First and foremost, the harvest laborer is sent by God in partnership with people of faith. He or she goes in joyful obedience and bold humility as an ambassador to comfort and confront. As God's latest incarnation in a world of hurt and beauty, for them worship is not what they do on Sunday. It is who they have become Monday through Saturday.
The laborer of Jesus' heart's desire delights to tell the story of God's love with all its consolation and its challenge seven days a week. He or she will have a remarkable ability to unfold the scriptures and declare the mighty acts of God in their own voice and in their own way. Delighted not dire.
The laborer will mobilize people based on the mighty acts of God. Those stories of old, formed by God's word, the laborer will rescue Jesus from the church and give him back to the people. They will increase Jesus' celebrity among the sinful as a fellow sinner, and as one knowing the gift of forgiveness of their own sins.
Certainly, the harvest laborer's imagination will belong to God. The true laborer has seen God do infinitely more than they can ask or imagine, and so they are inspired to trust. They trust that God, as the still point of the circle, is drawing the circle of the harvest wider and wider and wider, and they want to join God in this work.
What I am saying is that the laborer is not a sedentary sage; their work is to search for God's children in the wilderness of this world's temptations, and to guide them through its confusions, that they may come to know that life with Christ is life abundant. Remember, Jesus never actually said wait and welcome, Jesus said go and make!
This is the labor Jesus longs to see more of among his friends. This is the labor that can know a plentiful harvest.
All this talk of labor reminds me of a commercial I saw once. Picture the video. No words, just images. Men and women already at work by sunrise. Up early doing important foundational work. Up late doing what it takes to make the world run. Ordinary people. Ordinary work. Images of unity, constancy, and dignity. And then breaks in the audio. Men and women turn to the camera one by one reciting a poem as they work. And the poem is:
How often times we hear the praises sung of wealthy men, of prince and duke and peer. They're lauded over the land, but you very seldom hear them sing the praises of the honest working man. Their hands may be both rough and hard. Their clothes and speech be plain, but you will find their honest heart without a spot or stain. Here's to each hearty child of toil that labors in the land, let us give three cheers with right good will for the honest working man. For the honest working woman.
Harvest labor is downward mobility. Down into the foundational things. Harvest labor, he said, is not farm management. It's down into the fingernail dirty corners of the world. Wherever God has planted you. Down into the muck of human relationships.
On my better days - when I set myself aside and I take Jesus' invitation to join him as a laborer among the unfinished things, the scary silences, and the intimidating intersections - that is when I think I understand best who Jesus is. Those are the days when I understand best the privilege of revealing Jesus to the world.
Those are the days I know - that I know that I know - that The Cosmic King, who takes on flesh to become a day laborer among us, is worthy of every bit of it. All the toil. All the trouble. All of it. He's worthy of it all. What kind of follower of Jesus will you be? Well, that's entirely up to you. But, for Christ's sake I beg you, be a Harvest Laborer. Take up the labor that Jesus actually asked us to do.
Christ for the world! we sing: the world to Christ we bring with one accord -
with us the work to share, with us reproach to dare, with us the cross to bear, for Christ our Lord.
Let us pray.
Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life. Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity. And in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wilder seas where storms will show your mastery where, losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes and to push back the future in strength, courage, hope, and love. This we ask in the name of our captain who is Jesus Christ. Amen.