Deanery Licensed Ministers: Sermons
The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few
Sermon Preached at All Saints, Old Isleworth, 8/07/2007
Revd Sue Groom, Director of Deanery Licensed Ministers
‘The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’
Jesus was on a journey towards Jerusalem. He had set his face in that direction and he refused to be distracted. That journey was to be his exodus. Unlike the triumphant one Moses led out of Egypt, Jesus’ exodus would consist of rejection and crucifixion. So far during the journey several people have already expressed a desire to follow Jesus and he has called others. But each one has made excuses, or set conditions, wanting to put other people, or other commitments first. The harvest was plentiful but the labourers were few. There was no time to delay.
So Jesus appointed seventy others and sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he intended to go. Who were those seventy? What made Jesus appoint them? What qualifications did they have for being his heralds? What experience of a life of faith did they have? Luke tells us nothing whatsoever about them, no names, no details, no explanations. They were simply seventy ordinary people. It is generally understood that Jesus chose twelve apostles to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and seventy disciples to represent the seventy known nations of the world. Jesus was seeking to reach out to both Jews and Gentiles, to the whole of the known world. The mission was more important than the identity of the messengers.
Jesus sent his seventy heralds out in pairs. In Jewish tradition two men were needed to provide a legally acceptable witness. The mission was not something to be undertaken alone. Shared ministry was vital for mutual support, survival and success. The fields were ready, the harvest was ripe, it was time to gather it in, but the labourers were few. There was no time to delay.
Jesus sent the seventy ahead of him, like John the Baptist, to herald the coming kingdom. Jesus had set his face towards Jerusalem and his messengers had already been rejected by one Samaritan village. He told the seventy that he was sending them out like lambs into the midst of wolves. The Jewish people sometimes thought of themselves, Israel, as sheep among wolves, the Gentiles. But Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd, so what was he doing sending his sheep into danger? The image of a lamb amongst wolves is one of defencelessness. It is also an image of Christ being rejected and crucified.
Jesus told the seventy to carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and to greet no one on the road. It is generally understood that they were told to travel light so that they could flee from danger. But they were being sent into danger. Those who witness to Jesus often encounter opposition and persecution. The seventy were told to travel without supplies.
The Mediterranean culture of the time placed tremendous value on hospitality so they would not have to beg for food or sleep on the streets.
The harvest was plentiful but the labourers were few. There was no time to delay. No time to stop and exchange greetings on the road. That would be considered very rude in the Mediterranean culture of the time. There were elaborate rituals for greetings, some to be exchanged with friends and others with strangers. Jesus had little time for such religious and cultural niceties which often turned out to be hypocritical.
Jesus told his seventy heralds, ‘Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.’ Peace, shalom, saleem, is a blessing, a word which enacts what it says. It is far more than merely a greeting. Peace is not merely the absence of war or enmity. Peace is a positive thing. Peace means openness, good will, friendship, hospitality, reconciliation. Peace reaches out to embrace the recipient in love. The seventy heralds were not just wishing a peaceful life for their hosts, they were sharing the peace of Christ with them, they were bestowing the peace of Christ upon them. Think about that when you share the peace of the Lord with one another before receiving the eucharist.
If his messengers were received in peace, then by implication Jesus was also welcome in that house. It was a good place to stay, eat and drink, to socialise and no doubt to share the good news about the coming kingdom of God. The harvest was plentiful but the labourers were few. There was no time to delay. No time to visit every house in a town. If Jesus’ heralds were welcome then they were to heal the sick and say, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ Ambassadors for Christ are to practice peace and to perform the faith, in doing so they proclaim the presence of the kingdom of God.
If they were not welcome in a town then Jesus’ heralds were to go out into the streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ If a town rejected Jesus’ messengers then instead of a promise of peace, this declaration became a warning about impending judgement. As Paul warned the Galatians, ‘Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.’
When he appointed the seventy and sent them out to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God, Jesus said, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’
Today in the Kensington Episcopal Area the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest, ask him to send out labourers into his harvest.
The church today in Kensington needs heralds and messengers. The church needs Deanery Licensed Ministers. It needs to extend the pastoral ministry it offers to God’s people and it needs to strengthen its mission in this area. Is God calling you to minister in the Hounslow deanery as a priest or deacon? Are you someone who has a deep and searching faith and an openness to share this with others? Can you proclaim the kingdom of God? Are you someone who has thought about ordination before but because of family or work commitments did not feel able to respond at the time? Can you see further opportunities for ministry in this community? Can you identify your role in the harvest?
The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. I urge you to echo Thomas More in saying, ‘The things, good Lord, that we pray for, give us the grace to labour for.’ And in your vocation and ministry may you serve Christ in holiness and truth. Amen.
Acknowledgements and Bibliography
As with any sermon, various ideas come together over a period of time and it isn't always possible to retrace my steps to every source of inspiration. I am particularly indebted here, however, to Flor McCarthy's New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies Year C (Dominican Publications, 2000). I will gladly acknowledge any other sources if brought to my attention. Thank you.