We have made it to the long season that begins with Trinity Sunday and extends through Advent. Now, in this time, we will hear from the gospel of Matthew, and we will hear familiar parables and stories about Jesus and the ministry that performed. We will also hear about the disciples and how they sometimes didn’t get it, we will hear healing stories which may prompt us to search for our own healing or the healing of people we love. While this season lacks some of the drama and glitter of some of our other seasons, there is still much to be learned – this is the season where we review what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and we learn how to wrestle with our own shortcomings and our own discomfort about the lessons we need to absorb.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that the kingdom has come near. He is going about the work of the kingdom, and he is now sending out the 12 to do some of the work as well; the harvest is plentiful he tells them, but the laborers are few. And so he asks them to pray for others to also be laborers in his kingdom, in this harvest where people are in all sorts of need, physical, emotional, and spiritual so that people will be cared for.
It’s kind of a daunting task when we hear it, isn’t it? If I were Jesus’ PR person, I might tell him to get a better mission statement because the current one is kind of scary. And just in case we forget, these words are every bit for us as they were for the original hearers. Jesus is ALWAYS calling us into service for his kingdom. We don’t ever get to be “done”. There will always be work to be done in all kinds of places and most of it will not be particularly easy or flashy.
Being called into any kind of ministry or service for the church is difficult. My own journey through the church has been clear as mud most days, but there is that enduring feeling that I am where I am supposed to be. I could sometimes do with a little more direct information and feedback, but that doesn’t usually happen. In those times I have to remember that God has filled me with the Holy Spirit so that I can share the love of God with others. In our prayerbook catechism under the heading “The Church” it asks the question, “What is the mission of the church?” The answer it gives is “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” It goes on to ask “How does the Church pursue its Mission? “The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love”. Clear as mud, right?
It may not be clear on the details, but it IS clear on the task of discipleship. Details will vary from place to place depending on need, but our goal is always to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. It’s a task that is going to take everything that we have to give to it, and then probably a bit more. Jesus tries to both warn and comfort the disciples that they might not have the words or perhaps even the skills they will need but assures them they will have the words when they need them and the Father’s Spirit will be with them to guide them. It kind of sounds like a bit of a fool’s errand, don’t you think? In this day and age we want signed contracts and assurances that all of these things will work out well, we don’t want to hear that there might be troubles ahead. Paul is of no great comfort here because he tells us we can boast of our sufferings, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us,” (and here is the good news, at last) “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
God’s love. You and I get to be bearers of God’s love because we were chosen, and we have God’s Holy Spirit in us to guide us in our task. There’s a little bit of irony there because we were chosen, but also we are the only ones God has; and we haven’t been chosen for an easy task; but yet, here we are, being fed by the living Christ in the Eucharist, and being sent out from here with the Holy Spirit as our guide. We will have what we need to complete the tasks God has called us to. It is up to us to get quiet enough to listen for Jesus’ voice calling to us, so the Holy Spirit alive in us can connect with Jesus’ call to us, equipping us for whatever is ahead for us, even when it’s clear as mud – or perhaps especially when it is clear as mud!
Yes, beloved, there may be suffering in God’s call to us. However with God’s love being poured in to us we have hope; and hope is one of the many gifts we can give in God’s name to those who are desperate and have lost hope, So, get ready. The Lord of the harvest is calling. It is time to listen to his call to us.