The Harvest is Great
In the midst of the disease and sickness and overwhelming needs of the crowds, Jesus brings good news to the people, to us: “The harvest is great.” The laborers, they are few he says (therein lies the gospel challenge…there is always a gospel challenge)…but the harvest, it is great, but by the grace of God. The harvest is plentiful and great…the good news.
We, like Jesus and the disciples, live amidst a world crowded with struggle and need, a world confused by a less than ideal political reality, wrought with social divisions and ills. We, like Jesus and the disciples, live amidst people who are sick.
Several years ago, when our dog was our only dependent, Bill and I found ourselves taking in a game at Fenway Park on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May – it was, of course, our annual Yankees/Red Sox outing. Bill respectfully declining to wear his Jeter shirt and me in my Red Sox hat. The park was full that day and we just two small souls amidst a sea of 37,000 to life put into humble perspective.
During the seventh inning stretch, after the crowd’s famous rendition of Sweet Caroline had been sung (or screamed) the Jimmy Fund campaign asked anyone in the stands who themselves had been affected by cancer, or who had ever known someone affected by cancer to stand. And do you know, nearly every single person in that stadium rose to their feet. The seasoned man behind us, with an old-time navy Red Sox jacket who diligently penciled in each catch, each run, each out on his score sheet while tuned into WEEI on his transistor radio – he set down his pencil and stood. The group of rowdy thirty-something year old guys enjoying some beers at the park set them down in their holders and stood. The young couple who looked to be making their way through one among their first of dates ceased their conversation and stood. The business associates in box seats, the eager children with cap on and glove-in-hand, the college students in the bleachers, the well-dressed elderly couple sitting along the third-base line, the kid selling Fenway Franks and the other selling Budwiser – they, too, paused their sales deals and looked toward home plate.
For those moments, that great stadium stood as living testament to our common human experience, each one of us living susceptible to the failings of the body, to the pain of heartache and the hope of a new tomorrow, each one of us burning with the fire of compassion and the spirit of concern. United across age and race, gender, creed and political persuasion and even, at that point, across arguably the greatest sports team rivalry of all time – we stood together, living, breathing as one crowd of need and hopefulness.
Jesus, too, in his life and ministry found himself amidst a sea of human need and suffering. He sees the crowds that are everywhere; helpless, harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. He sees that they are tired, walking wounded. They are lost, with no one to show them the way.
And yet, moving through the cities and villages of his day and time, situated in that place of overwhelming need, Jesus turns to the disciples and declares the harvest to be great and plentiful.
The harvest is great that we can spend a Sunday afternoon taking in a baseball game with those we love free of fear or violence, to embrace the joy of the old pastime in the midst of a world crowded with sickness and struggle and need.
The harvest is great today, for we have risen! The sun has risen and is shining; the congregation is growing and gathering today in the wake of last week’s ice cream social – joy and plenty. The harvest is great, that we can come together at an interfaith prayer service this past Thursday evening, freely and peacefully gathered in a secular setting to celebrate and lift up the importance of faith in our community, soaking in a neighbor’s rendition of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.
The bright blessed day,
And the dark sacred night;
Friends shaking hands,
Babies crying, growing, learning…
What a wonderful world in which we live; the harvest is indeed great.
The good in this world too much for our hearts to contain; the presence of God too vast and wonderful for us to fully know, spoken in the cadence of the psalmist.
In light of the goodness and the love that over and around us lies and of the hope that abounds, Jesus commissions the disciples to go out into their communities, among the crowds and to address need: he gives them authority to labor in the harvest of their communities…to cast out demons, to cure disease, and to ease sickness. He sends them out among the crowds to see need and to respond, to open their hearts to the struggle of another, to hear the often muted cries of the distressed; that is the call to discipleship for the imperfect disciples that they and we are. Call and response/joy and plenty in the midst of an otherwise depressed and scarce world.
This morning stands as a reminder of struggle and need in our community, as we open our ears and hearts and minds to learning about the mission of the DeVanna Center. There is power in truly seeing and honestly acknowledging struggle and need because truth and honesty urge us toward compassionate action – “the truth will set us free ” (John 8:32). Free to enact the gospel, to do God’s work in the world. The truth that we see is that domestic violence is real and severe and prevalent. The struggle that we acknowledge is that the poor economy, the limited job market, political stalemate and weakened family structures most affect the most vulnerable among us: children.
The harvest is plenty – the world good and wonderful – but the laborers – of compassion, of justice, of healing - they are few, Jesus declares. “Go, and be among them,” Jesus commands. Julie and the others at the DeVanna Center are surely among them, revealing that seemingly impossible things are done through imperfect, flawed, and limited human hands, the ordinary laborers of the harvest. What began as a small gesture of compassion, to purchase a headstone in order to rightly honor the life of a child who was not shown the peace or goodness or wonder of this world has grown into a harvest of service, love and healing.
Throughout the history of human experience, throughout the history of the church, we see that despite the challenges, despite the questionable likelihood of success, despite our inevitable difficulty in accomplishing what he could do far more easily than we, Jesus confidently sends us out. And diseases have been cured, unjust laws have been overturned, the hungry have been fed, oppression lifted, all through human labors, but by the grace of God.
You know, here in Matthew Jesus doesn’t simply instruct the disciples to labor in the harvest but he instructs them to ask God to send out laborers into the harvest. Perhaps then and there and here and now, we are the answers to our own prayers. What if we are the laborers of compassion and healing. The laborers may be few, but we are they. Harvest hands. Hands of Christ. The are ours. Here we are so that our opening prayer would be our closing now:
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on us,
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on us.
~Rev. Leanne Walt