15 June 2008

Saint John’s Episcopal Church

Memphis, Tennessee

Today Jesus sends the disciples as his apostle/agents proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

In my long academic career I had occasion to take many psychological tests. The one I remember best is the Minnesota Multi-physic Personality Inventory. It had a question, “Do you consider yourself to be God’s agent?” We were warned that the answer was no, even though as a Christian seminarian we certainly felt called. But being called was not the same thing as hearing the voices for which the Minnesota Multi-physic Personality Inventory was testing.

Frederick Dale Bruner translates the Gospel reading this way “And Jesus was walking around all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, heralding the wonderful news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. And when he saw the crowds of people, his heart really went out to them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘the harvest is huge, but there are hardly any workers. So pray the Lord of the harvest to thrust out workers into his harvest!’”

The four verbs of this opening verse should catch our attention: walking, teaching, heralding, and healing.

1. Jesus wandered around – not only in cities but also in villages wherever the people were. Those who follow him also will wander around. We expect people to read our signs and enter our places. When we must read the signs of the times and enter the places where people are. It is the ministry by wandering around. It’s amazing the folk you can meet and what you can hear and the relationships that can grow if you just get out there and do it.

2. Teaching – A woman began to read the Bible and said to her priest, “You know it is the most fascinating thing – the Bible is just full of quotes from the Book of Common Prayer.” —- We can no longer afford a genteel and benign ignorance of what we believe. Jesus taught and so must we.

3. Heralding – People were amazed at the authority of Jesus as he spoke. What was true then and there is true here and now. Let us proclaim the Kingdom with enthusiasm as we now have the hope of the resurrection!

4. Healing — every sickness and every disease – the verb healing here is therapeuo. All human pain is a call to mission and there must be a therapeutic dimension to our ministry.

“When Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion on them.”

Jesus’ heart really went out to these people who were [harassed and helpless] is the usual translation but a good one would be, his heart really went out to those who were [barely making it]. Here we find our mission, why? Because Jesus’ heart went out to these people therefore we who are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection are to develop enlargement of the heart.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is huge, but there are hardly any workers… The task looks hopeless and Jesus says as much… it’s huge and there are hardly any. What are we to do in response to such overwhelming need?

Two things usually happen:

1. We look desperately for additional data plus a new technique that will be the answer to our problems.

2. We ask our clergy and staff to use said technique to get the ministry done cause they were hired to be the professional Christians.

If I may take up the second first, look at the Letter to the Romans we just heard read. “Therefore having been justified then on the basis of faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Therefore – in the grammar of the original the tense of the participle signifies that the action has already happened. Being in right relationship with God is not something Paul and his readers long for, but is a present reality.

Thus they are in peace, things being as they should be, and this state of “rightness” is possible by the actions and person of Jesus the Christ who reconciles us to God. It is though this act that we have access to grace.

This is the state of all who are in Christ Jesus therefore any and all are to be workers in the harvest that is before us. All the baptized are in the harvest force. Even then the harvest is huge and workers are few.

A shepherd was herding his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of a dust cloud towards him. The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and YSL tie, leans out the window and asks the shepherd:

“If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?”

The shepherd looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing flock and calmly answers: “Sure. Why not?”

The young man parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his AT&T cell phone, surfs to a NASA page on the internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo. Then the young man opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany.

Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with hundreds of complex formulas. He uploads all of this data via an email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response. Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and finally turns to the shepherd and says: “You have exactly 1586 sheep.”

“That’s right. Well, I guess you can take one of my sheep,” says the shepherd. He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on amused as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.

Then the shepherd says to the young man: “Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my sheep?”

The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, “Okay, why not?”

“You’re a consultant,” says the shepherd.

“Wow! That’s correct,” says the young guy, “but how did you guess that?”

“No guessing required.” answered the shepherd. “You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew; to a question I never asked; and you don’t know anything at all about my business. Now give me back my dog.” ——- So dies the hope of all new salvation techniques.

We are tempted to run around to make ourselves feel better living out the adage don’t just stand there do something. But Jesus seems to be calling for the counterintuitive move, of don’t just do something stand there or in this case don’t just do something pray!

The theology of mission in Matthew 10 is preceded by the theology of prayer in Matthew 8-9. Jesus tells us to pray that the Lord of the Harvest, the one whose harvest we gather, will send out – actually the original word is exorcise, as in cast out spirits, literally pray that the Lord will cast or thrust out workers into this harvest.

The story is told of the man who got a permit to open the first tavern in a small town. The members of a local church were strongly opposed to the bar, so they began to pray that God would intervene. A few days before the tavern was to open, lightening hit the structure, and it burned to the ground.

The people of the church were surprised, but pleased until they received notice that the would-be tavern owner was suing them. He contended that their prayers were responsible for the burning of the building. In a strongly worded deposition the church denied the charge.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge remarked, “At this point I don’t know what my decision will be, but this appears to be the situation: The owner of the tavern believes in the power of prayer, and these church people don’t.”

When we invoke the power of God, are we prepared to live with the consequences?

The way forward is to be as much prayed as planned. Our plans must grow organically from our prayer, the cycle of daily offices, corporate and personal centering prayer, healing prayer, intercession, praise and joy filled worship.

Pray that when God visits us we will like Abraham and Sarah greet the Holy One with joy and generous joy.

Pray that we will accept what is already ours in Christ Jesus, knowing that God loves us without exception.

Pray to the Lord of the harvest that workers will be thrust into his

harvest realizing that those workers are you and me.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen