Thursday, June 15, 2017

Harvest Without Laborers

A little over five years ago, our church planted a community garden. Our vision was for a garden in which parishioners, organizations, and neighbors would pick a bed to plant, cultivate, and grow whatever they wanted. There was a complicated schedule for stakeholders to be responsible for watering everyone's bed, and, before the first growing season was over, we realized that we had missed the mark. The joy of a community garden is measured not only in the produce but also in the community that gathers, and our schedule had effectively removed most of the interaction.

In the second season, we began to shift the ownership from specific beds with specific caretakers to the entire garden being cared for by the entire community. We met to coordinate what we would plant, who would water and weed, and where the produce would be distributed. The various organizations, parishioners, and neighbors would all share all of the work and all of the produce. Our neighborhood school decided that they wanted to plant most of the ingredients for salsa, which they would pick and use in a math-based cooking class, which we hosted. So we had beds for tomatoes, cilantro, onions, and jalapeno peppers. The Community Free Clinic liked handing out vegetables to its patients, so we planted more tomatoes as well as some eggplant, bell peppers, and squash. This time the problem was too much produce that ended up left to rot on the plants. We had so many tomatoes and peppers and squash that we couldn't pick it all or eat it all. Partly that was because the ownership was too decentralized. Who was entitled to today's tomatoes? What about tomorrow's? The harvest was plentiful, but the laborers were few. We needed more people to know that they had a place in our shared work.

On Sunday, in Matthew 9, Jesus will say to his disciples and to us, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." That the harvest is plentiful is a given. It's a fact. There is fruit to be gathered in for God's kingdom. There is more fruit than you and I and everyone else who is already in engaged in this kingdom gathering work can gather. We need help. We need more people to realize that there is work to be done and that the work belongs to them. There is fruit rotting on the vine. There is wheat spoiling in the field. There are people who don't know the liberating, life-giving love of God in Jesus Christ, and we need more people to see themselves as evangelists and missionaries.

I'm not talking about saving souls from the yawning gates of hell. Maybe that's what happens when people (fruit) are left unharvested. But I'm less motivated by the threat of damnation than I am by the opportunity for peace. Notice how Jesus introduces this invitation. "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." This is his motivation. This is why he said to the disciples, "Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out more laborers into his harvest." People need hope. People need a direction that takes them out of the fruitless rat race of a life built only on our own efforts. People need to hear that they are loved with the unconditional love that enables them to blossom in the way they were created to be. They don't have that. But they could. They could be a part of God's grace-filled, grace-founded kingdom...if only there were people to tell them about it.

Earlier this week, my friend Steve Pankey noted that the people on his Instagram feed who sell makeup and other online products are much better at sharing their product's good news than most clergy are. He's right. I see lots of Facebook posts by colleagues about what their churches are doing, what trouble their kids are getting into, and what their latest political gripe is. I, too, post a lot about those things (except maybe the last one). But I don't often post things like, "Jesus loves you just the way you are." I write about them in this blog, but, if you're one of the 50-100 people who read this post, you're almost certainly already a part of the work of the harvest. People don't read 1000 words unless they're already committed. How might we do a better job of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ? What role will social media play in that work?

For this week, I'd like to invite us to focus less on the how the harvest will be gathered and more on the laborers that the harvest needs. If every clergyperson understood that her or his job is to invite and encourage evangelists, the plentiful harvest would have plenty of laborers. Everyone who knows the love of God in Jesus Christ has good news to share. Every single person who follows Jesus as the Lord of her or his life has a story of transformation to pass along. It may not be finished--in face it almost certainly isn't--but that story-in-progress is an opportunity for evangelism. It's an opportunity to be a part of the work that is bringing people into the love of God. Those of us who preach in pulpits and who write in blogs have an opportunity to encourage people to become evangelists--laborers for the harvest. There are too many creative people out there for the few of us who have been to seminary to decide how to share the good news. I trust that, when everyone who calls herself or himself a Christian is actively involved in sharing the love of Jesus, we'll discover some amazing ways to spread that love across the world. For now, though, let's follow Jesus' instruction and pray for more laborers.

There's more fruit out there than we know what to do with. Until everyone who follows Jesus understands that part of following Jesus is to share in the work of spreading the good news, we'll never have enough laborers to harvest that fruit. The work belongs to you--to each one of us. Pray that God will send out laborers into his harvest. Pray that God will inspire the leaders of the universal church to raise up more evangelists to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the world.

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