- June 18, 2017
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for June 18, 2017 (Proper 6, Year A)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 100; Matthew 9:35-10:16
Title: Go to the Lost Sheep
The Master sent out the disciples with these instructions: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’”
My dear friends, today is the day for us to get to work!
The words of our Gospel hymn are as profound today as they were when written in the nineteenth century:
“Come, labor on. Who dares stand idle on the harvest plain while all around us waves the golden grain? And to each servant does the Master say, ‘Go work today.’”
And in verse 3: “Come, labor on. Claim the high calling angels cannot share. To young and old the Gospel gladness bear. Redeem the time, its hours too swiftly fly. The night draws nigh.”
My friends, TODAY we are being summoned and called to go to the lost sheep, to care for those who are harassed and helpless, to go and labor in God’s harvest.
But we must make the choice! We must accept the call and act.
You know, I believe that God is ultimate goodness, and that God has intended this world to be beautiful and harmonious and peaceful – the perfect habitat to develop the incredible gifts of humanity to their fullest potential.
And yet, this is not what we see all around us. Of course, there are pockets of beauty and harmony and peace – mostly in those places where human activity is limited or absent, and nature can run its course unimpeded.
On the whole, however, what do we see in human society around us? We see incredible suffering within each human community. Every day is darkened with new acts of violence and murder. But it does not have to be this way.
I believe that our good and gracious Creator, through the breath of the Holy Spirit, has continuously sent visions to human beings that would alleviate suffering, that would provide enough food for everyone, that would bring meaning and hope to our blighted urban neighborhoods – visions that, if implemented, would end the scourges of racism and discrimination and tribal hatred.
I believe that God has been sending these good and life-giving visions continuously throughout the centuries of human consciousness on planet earth.
And yet, sadly, most of these visions have never been implemented. Do you know why? Because the people who perceived them did not have the courage to turn these visions into reality.
Because they were afraid to go out into the harvest.
It would take too much time. It would interfere with their carefully orchestrated plans. It would cost too much. It might cause uncertainty in their future.
My friends, how many people have been left to suffer and die because the people of God are too afraid to answer the call and implement a life-giving, God-inspired vision?
When Jesus looked out at the mass of humanity around him, he felt compassion for them and he was moved to action. Because they were harassed and helpless, pushed around by the winds of change, controlled by those with the loudest voices who usually have ulterior motives, living without any foundation, with any solid hope for a better life – now and in the age to come.
So he shared his heart with his friends, his chosen companions: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Can you imagine what their possible responses might have been? They were not recorded in the text of scripture, but I can imagine a few.
Like, “Gee. That sounds good, Lord, but you know my nephew is graduating next week, so you’ll have to count me out.”
Or, “Cool idea, Master, but I’m working hard to save up for retirement and this harvest thing just doesn’t fit into my plans right now.”
Or “I wish I could, Lord, but I just don’t have the energy that I used to. We should get somebody else to do it.”
What do you think? Do you think God is interested in our long litany of things that we cannot do? Or in hearing the many reasons why we cannot go out and labor in the harvest?
Listen, let’s be honest: is it hard to implement a God-given vision, to go to the lost sheep and help them to find true life in God’s kingdom? You bet it is.
Just think about the choice of these twelve men to be apostles. No one among them could have predicted the future. And, truth be told, if, at that moment in time when Jesus called them out by name and invited them into his inner circle, if they were able to watch some kind of preview of their life from then onward, if their entire future was explained to them and the eventual means by which most of them would be killed was explained, I do not think that any of them would have accepted the position! Would you?
For that matter, is the scenario any different with Abraham and Sarah?
Think for a moment on the totality of the history of their children, the descendants of the twelve tribes “according to the flesh” as Paul would say. Consider the centuries of slavery in Egpyt. The exile in Babylon. The utter destruction of the land by Rome. The 1900 years of pogroms and ethnic cleansing which culminated in the Final Solution.
If all of this was somehow shown to Abraham and Sarah and they were then given the choice to give birth to Isaac or not, how would they have chosen?
What do you think?
The reality, of course, is that none of us knows the future. We can only make one choice at a time, choose one day at a time.
To be perfectly honest with you, when Erin and I signed up to be foster parents, we had no idea that things would turn out quite the way that they have. To care for a one year old and an eight year old, on top of our other teenage children, is quite a challenge. At this point, Erin and I are tired, a bit worn-out and in need of a vacation. Thankfully, summer is at hand!
But we must make choices, and the question is this: what kind of choices will we make?
My friends, what matters is that we do not choose the easy path. We must choose the path that blesses others, that helps others, the path that brings back the lost sheep, those who are harassed and helpless.
THAT is the path which disciples of Jesus are always called to take. The future is always beyond our control, and beyond our horizon of sight. We can only make the choice that awaits us today.
A man named Jerzy Gregorek who lived through the struggle in Poland 25 years ago to free themselves from the tyranny of communism has summarized this way of life to which you and I are called in these overly simplistic words:
“Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.”
Did you catch that? Choosing the easy path will lead to a hard life, but choosing the hard road will take you to an easy life.
Again, Gregorek’s simple axiom says, “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.”
Ha! I don’t think that the Lord Jesus would say it quite that way, but he’s close.
What I hear the Lord saying is this: the kingdom of heaven is here! If you choose the easy path, the one that conforms to social expectations, the one that keeps you safe at home and protected from risk, then you will shut yourself from that kingdom.
But if you choose to walk with me on my path of serving the other and loving God above all else, and having no anxiety about your needs or your future, then you will experience the kingdom of God and you will experience true joy that lasts forever.
Yes, to labor in the fields of God will not protect you from hardship. Look at what happened to our Lord himself.
But when you make the choice to live in the kingdom of God, then you will know joy and peace beyond human understanding.
My friends, every single day you have a job to do! If you are not using each day to help someone, to guide the lost sheep, to show people the kingdom of God, then you are wasting that day!
In Maine, as in Galilee in the first century, the harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few. The Lord is calling us to get up and go and labor on.
To turn God’s dream into reality, to live a life that is worth living, one of eternal value because it is built on compassion.
The question is: will we take the risk and answer the call? May it be so. Amen.
SCRIPTURE: New Testament, Old Testament
OCCASION: Ordinary Time