(Romans 5.1-8, Psalm 100, Matthew 9.35-10.8 – Proper 6, Year A)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Who is the harvest? Who are the labourers? Today we have Jesus working amongst the people, and they are ‘harassed and helpless’, and he has compassion for them. This leads him to talk to his disciples about the work, the mission, that needs be done, which he describes as the harvest, and the need for labourers.
Trinity Sunday and the month that follows are traditionally times when the Church holds her ordination services for new deacons and priests, though this year they have been postponed until Michaelmas – but when you hear readings like today’s, you can easily understand why the Church has chosen this time of year to send out new deacons and priests. At Pentecost we have the empowering and equipping of the people by the Holy Spirit, and here we have talk of shepherds and harvests. Does this mean, then, that the labourers are the clergy?
Well, that makes it easy to ignore the fact that God calls everybody. Maybe not to ordained orders, but God definitely calls you.
First and foremost God calls you to a godly life, a life lived in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. It’s the most important call to answer, for it reminds us that who we are does not start with us – it starts with God.
We are who we are because God created us, breathed life into us, sent Christ to save us, and then called us to carry on that new life as Christians.
Secondly, we are all unique and individual, and God knows us intimately, and knows our individual gifts, talents and our very being. So God calls us to something specific, specifically me, specifically you. For me, it is the priesthood, and every day I wake up and know I couldn’t do anything else. I’m not a priest because of the tasks I do. I’m a priest because I am, because that is who God made me.
For each of you God will have a call – it may be as a teacher, a nurse, gardener, expert in finance, musician, and so on. Each call is from God, but it speaks into who you are, and that call will be part of your very soul. The author Catherine Fox caught the essence of this when she described cathedral choristers: ‘cut them’, she said, ‘and they bleed psalms’. What runs through your veins?
The key thing is to combine these two calls. For example, you can be a gardener and not be a Christian. You can be a gardener and say you are a Christian but never let the two areas ever meet, but that’s not living fully in Christ. No, in this case God would be calling you to be a Christian gardener.
What do I mean by that? Well, your garden becomes not just your hobby or place of work, but the expression of your faith. It’s where you show glory to God, you act as a steward of God’s creation and perhaps that changes what technology or pesticides you use, and perhaps the produce is used in church or to help those in need. See how it becomes interlinked?
Our faith isn’t above, below or around our work. It is in it. After talking about the harvest, Jesus sent his disciples out with specific tasks. He told them ‘As you go, proclaim the good news’. As you go – the other tasks are to be undertaken, but as you walk through your life, proclaim Jesus. That’s your calling as a Christian. You are the harvest, and the labourer.
You may be feeling that’s a fiercesome responsibility, but all you need to do is be the person God is calling you to be, in every way, in every part of your life.
You are already responding. Sometimes we don’t see how, but it’s true.
Think of a tree. Each day you walk past the same tree, and in spring the leaves are green. But come autumn, and the leaves will be gold and red. You don’t notice on a day by day basis, but change happens. The changes are tiny, but the effect over time is huge. This is exactly the effect that living a Christian life, on a daily basis, of prayer, reading the Bible, imitating Christ and making choices based on Christian ethical values will have.
We might not notice but the world will. Change happens without us noticing. And God is at work in us and in the world, and sometimes we don’t notice.
The world at the moment seems to be on fire – coronavirus and its impact on health, economy, education and isolation; the Black Lives Matter movement drawing attention to racism and brutality, and the on-going issues around climate change and environmental damage.
We could see such moments as the death of George Floyd and the death of so many people due to Covid-19 as where the darkness wins. OR we could see these moments as where the Holy Spirit is at work. Think of the responses: people are using the skills and gifts they have, as doctors, nurses, care-workers, giving to food banks, making PPE, checking on neighbours in love, and long over-due injustices are being challenged, because love without justice is sentimentality. You need both.
When people respond in love, they are beacons of light in the darkness. It might not be what we were expecting, but in all those responses I see God at work, in the harvest, amongst the labourers, people just like you and me.
That’s why you are so important – your prayers, your choices day by day, your relationship with God. It is you, living in Christ, who can make a difference in this world.
When you see suffering, be the hope this world needs, and as you go, in doing so, you’ll proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
(Artwork: ‘Tying the Sheaves’ by Sir George Clausen)