"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church Vero Beach, FL
35 Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
10:1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
16 “ See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”]
Remember International Harvester? Not many of us do, since not many of us come from agrarian upbringing anymore. You'll remember them mostly by the red and black tractors of yesteryear - but not too far back. The tractor brand has all been merged under the International brand now.
Remember those big, noisy, tractors that harvested the fields? Those combines that swept up the wheat, soy beans, corn and other crops? Jesus is about to send his disciples (in the Greek, that would mean something like "learners") out into the world...the harvest if you will. He says that the harvest is great (plentiful), but the laborers are few. We know this famous saying of Jesus, don't we. Later, in this same discussion, he tells his buddies that he's sending them out like sheep going into the midst of wolves. And, as he continues, it gets worse. Being handed over to the authorities for flogging, dragged in front of the governor, and more. Whoa! Who'd sign up for this gig? I don't know if I would.
Anyhow, Jesus is referring to the world outside their homes. A world full of both Jews and Gentiles, who haven't yet heard the gospel news. I wonder why Jesus sends them not to the Gentiles or the Samaritans (both non-Jews), but to the Jews first. What do you think? Why would Jesus send his newly commissioned disciples first to the "lost house of Israel"? Hmmm...
And Jesus doesn't just "send them out" but tells them to stay at the homes and in the villages of those who will host them, telling them that they'll be welcomed in some places, and not so welcomed in others. Again, I think I'd probably have looked for other work had I been in the group.
And what does he ask them to do? Basically, the same things he has done, with the exception of teaching - I wonder why he doesn't include this in his instructions. But things like healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, casting out demons. I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I want to raise the dead, but maybe I'm making it too graphic in my mind's eye. I'm picturing images from Michael Jackson's video, "Thriller"...Yuck!!! Remember that one? And more...all for no pay. Don't expect any pay for what you do, he says to the guys.
Tomorrow's message will look at this famous story of Jesus calling and sending his disciples into the "harvest". I'll use "harvest" as both a noun, and as a verb in my message. The image of the International Harvester is a reminder of the economy with which these big machines reap the harvest. The sweeping up of all in their sight, and bailing or gathering what they've harvested into something else. And while I'm sure Jesus could easily have contemplated these big "harvesters" like an International Harvester, or a John Deere tractor doing the work, I think he may have had something else in mind. Like the going out in "one's and two's", smaller groups, dealing more intimately with those they ran into.
But we sort of know the end of the story, don't we? The disciples actually go out, and accomplish Jesus' mission (at a price!) But they do it, with Jesus praying for them, and the Holy Spirit guiding them. They'll need all the help they can get, right?
So what's the message, Pastor Greg? What can we learn from this? Here's one takeaway for me from this. No, we might not literally raise the dead, as in bringing someone back from the grave, but I'll bet you have saved someone from doing something that might have had negative life consequences for them. Something that may have proved deadly had they followed through. Or, I'll be you have cured someone, maybe not of cancer or other disease, but of a soul dis-ease. Of being down or depressed, or feeling lonely or unworthy. Through your words, and your leaning into them. Or, you probably have cured someone whose spirit was low for some reason. A medical concern maybe. Or loneliness or isolation. This is, in my view, going into the harvest, and doing the work God calls us to. It's intimate, and personal. Not using a big ol' honkin' harvesting machine, but yourself. You. Your words and your deeds (to use a baptismal calling image.)
Maybe this is our "great commission" - to go into the world to tend to those in our circle of acquaintances. To offer a gesture of hospitality. Or to sit with someone and just listen. When was the last time you had someone truly listen to YOU? You know how good it feels to be affirmed. To be heard. To be acknowledged. To be welcomed. All of these are part of the act of "harvesting". The act of affirming. The act of bringing life.
I'll say more about this on Sunday, using a reference from the very first wedding at which I presided as a new pastor in upper Bucks County, PA. Hope to see some of you tomorrow. And remember, keep the faith!
Thanks be to God.
Happy Fathers' Day to all dads, and all who have served in this role, and who still do.
"Eternal Father Strong to Save"
"I Love To Tell The Story"