SERMON Workers For The Harvest

I didn’t preach this Sunday, but if I had, it would have looked and sounded like this.

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost (Year C)

  • Isaiah 66:10–14
  • Psalm 66:1–9
  • Galatians 6:[1–6] 7–16
  • Luke 10:1–11, 16–20

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. 16 The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:1–20 ESV)

The harvest is plentiful, Jesus said, but there are few workers to come harvest.

My question is: why?

My grandfather owned a farm and ranch southwest of Spokane, and in the summer — if it has been a good year — the hills of that farm would turn gold as the wheat and the barley ripened underneath a hot, dry, blue sky. And in a good year, that wheat would yield fifty-fold.

The harvest would be plentiful. Hills covered with grain, ready for reaping. Stalks of grain, ready for threshing.

Even though the work was largely done by machines, there was still a need for laborers. And my grandfather always had a few, at least when I was little. Young men, doing the hard work the older men could no longer easily do, bucking bails of hay and driving trucks full of harvested grain.

There were always laborers. Always men, ready, willing, able to work for the harvest.

Does anyone remember a few months ago, when some news agency mistakenly reported that the state of Hawaii was hiring anyone with a bachelor’s degree, certified or not, to teach at island schools. The state department of education was inundated with resumes from job seekers from across the world. (Truthfully, I almost sent them my resume!) Now, maybe there would have been equal interest if that state had been, say, North Dakota. Maybe. Hawaii had to make clear the following day that it had lowered standards for its teachers — certification was still required to teach in Hawaii, reports to the contrary notwithstanding.

We see it, from time to time, dozens, hundreds, thousands of applicants seeking work. People lined up around city blocks to submit applications for highly coveted positions — like teaching in Hawaii! All wanting the dignity that comes with steady employment, meaningful or not.

The harvest is, well, not so much. But the laborers are plentiful. We see that with our own eyes.

So … why does Jesus tell us the exact opposite? As he sends his disciples out two-by-two, not long after being shown no hospitality by a community of Samaritans, after calling and being followed by people he meets along the way to Jerusalem? Why is this harvest so plentiful and yet it attracts few laborers?

What is the harvest? And what does it mean to labor in this harvest?

Jesus shows us what it means to labor in his harvest. It means going out without what we consider proper preparations or provisions. Pack nothing, greet no one on the road. Do not let what you are supposed to carry distract you from your calling.

Who of us here have ever traveled anywhere without making proper preparations, without packing for the trip, without taking extra clothes and the money needed to cover basic needs and deal with emergencies? Who here has ever picked up and gone someplace new, amongst strangers, and trusted they would provide hospitality, care, food, protection, ears to listen to the good news the God’s kingdom is coming near?

It’s hard, what Jesus asks. Try it, sometime.

He even builds into this calling the expectation that some people, some places, will not welcome, will not accept you, will not care for you or provide for you. That too, is part of what it means to labor for the harvest. We will be unwelcome.

This too seems to be the kingdom drawing near. That some will refuse to welcome. They will pay the price, Jesus tells us, come the day of judgment. Kick the dust off your feet and move on.

For the harvest is plentiful. The hills are covered in ripening grain.

So, we must trust God. We must trust that somewhere, hands will provide. People will welcome, peace will be spoken, bread will broken, meals will be shared. All the power of Satan to temp and break and confuse and confound mean nothing in this kingdom growing near. We have power — life-restoring, death-defeating, resurrection power. That’s real power.

But it seeks no glory. It seeks no fame. Life everlasting is all it proclaims. So many who labor for the harvest labor alone, unseen, unsung, their names lost to history and their bones long turned to dust, awaiting that day when the trumpet will blast and the dead will rise, alive and remade, to the final judgment of Christ.

We want glory. I want glory. We want fame. I want fame. We want something more than complete reliance on welcoming strangers. I want something more. I want bread earned by the sweat of my brow, honest sweat, from honest labor. And we want something more than to have to kick the dust off our feet when we meet hostility and fear.

Sometimes, I want fire from heaven to devour those who have not welcomed or received me. To show them just who and what they have rejected.

This is thankless work, this calling Christ has given us. We do not know who these 70 (or 72) others are. They have no names, at least not in scripture. They go unremembered. We know they were called, given this commission, and came back rejoicing that even demons bowed down to the name of Jesus! But we don’t know who they are. We don’t know what became of them.

Let me suggest, sisters and brothers, that the reason Jesus tells us the laborers are few is because the work is hard, we have to trust complete strangers will provide for us, we have to heal the sick and cast out demons, and we have to move on when we find no welcome. We receive no pension, no salary, no titles, and likely no recognition.

We don’t even speak for ourselves. We speak only for the one who called us to this miserable, amazing, incredible, thankless work, who sent us out to proclaim his kingdom.

Who’d want that work? Not me.

Not me.

And yet … here I am. He called me. I followed.

I followed.