July 3, 2022, Bring Your Biggest Bowl, Luke 10:1-11,16-20 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell

To listen to this sermon, click the link above.

“The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus said, “but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” At our house, we’re just finishing up with the strawberry harvest. During strawberry season, Carroll goes out every morning to pick all the ripe strawberries he can find from our two strawberry beds. He always brings our biggest stainless-steel bowl to pick into, because even though it doesn’t always look like there are going to be very many strawberries out there under that carpet of green leaves, we know that there are lots of berries just waiting to be found. And we know if we don’t pick them, some will be eaten by slugs or chipmunks, but most will just rot and fall to the ground, and they’ll be lost.

In chapter 9 of Luke, the chapter before the one we read today, Jesus sent out the 12, his hand-picked apprentices that we call the Apostles. But now, we read today in chapter 10, Jesus sends out 70 more disciples. 70 men, or maybe men and women, who had heard Jesus or been healed by Jesus or been touched by him in some way so that they had decided to follow him. These guys are people like us, just followers of Jesus. In many ways you could say that these 70 people are the prototype for the church. Because, even before the first Christians began meeting for worship and holy Communion in the very earliest days after the Resurrection; before the disciples were even called Christians, while Jesus was still living and teaching among us, he sent his disciples out into the world, into the villages, into people’s homes, to heal the sick, and to bring hope, and to proclaim that the kingdom of God had arrived. And that’s still the church’s main purpose for being in the world. Being the people of Jesus, being the church, means to bring the love and healing and presence of God into the world.

I think what’s hard for us sometimes is to figure out what that’s supposed to look like in Norwood, New York, in the year 2022. We’re not rugged peasants in sandals walking the dusty roads of Palestine from village to village. We don’t meet blind beggars in the marketplace or lepers on the outskirts of town. No one, for the most part, calls on us to cast out demons. The sick around here go to Urgent Care or the emergency room, and the poor are referred to the appropriate agencies.

Sometimes it feels like it’s a lot harder in the modern world to go out and do Christianity the way the disciples of the New Testament did it. Between the government and all the non-profit charity organizations the world seems to have the care-giving thing covered. And besides, our lives are already full to overwhelming most days with family and maintaining a home and all the attendant duties that go along with those things. And our neighbors, the other people in our lives, people we pass on the street – their lives are mostly full of stuff and busy-ness, too. I find, in our pleasant little neighborhood on Prospect Street, that I can sometimes go several days without ever seeing, let alone talking to, our next-door neighbors. Now that Trapper has a fenced-in yard so that he doesn’t need regular walks, we might go weeks with little or no neighborly contact. We are a society of self-contained units, and we are programmed from childhood to take care of our own, and to earn our way, and to not ask for help.

On the other hand, there are times when we feel overwhelmed with the needs of the world. We see wars and disasters and all manner of cruelty and violence on the news, until we have to turn it off just to avoid being crushed by it all. We get phone calls and emails and letters in the mailbox asking for donations for medical research and famine relief and goodness knows how many other things until we find ourselves automatically filing it all in the recycle bin and screening our phone calls so we won’t be bothered.

That’s real life in the Now, but it doesn’t accomplish the bringing of God’s love into the world, and it doesn’t do much healing of hurts or shining of light in the darkness, even if we do write out a check now and then for some worthy charity or other.

We’re not in first-century Palestine any more, but the truth is that the world needs the love and healing of God more than ever, and we are still being sent out, by the same Jesus that sent the 70 disciples out. Notice that he didn’t send them out alone. That’s important. He sent the 70 out two by two, and he gives us one another as companions to keep each other going, to remind each other what we are here for, and to protect each other – because Jesus said it himself, he sends his people out like sheep among wolves. (Though I think there have been times when the people of God need to be reminded not to be wolves among sheep, instead.) We need the community of the church – we aren’t called to be Lone Ranger Christians.

And even more, Luke says that Jesus sent them where he was going himself. The church doesn’t work on the corporate model, with Jesus as CEO and disciples going off carrying out his orders. We are his co-workers always. Jesus told us that he is with us always, to the end of the age. The Holy Spirit is his real presence with us and in us, at all times, in all places – at home, at the grocery store, in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, on our own street, in the Thrift Shop or at a Community Lunch. And in all the places he sends us, there are people who need the love of God in their lives – people who need a little friendship, a little kindness, a little light, a little hope, a little compassion.

Not everyone will be ready to receive what we offer; some people have been so badly wounded, some people have closed themselves in so tightly that they are too busy or too afraid or too angry to open up and let the light in. “Don’t take it personally,” Jesus told the disciples. “When they turn you away, they’re really turning me away.” But notice, his message is the same for all. “When people welcome you,” he said, “heal all the sick who are there, and tell them: the kingdom of God has come near.” “If people reject you,” Jesus said, “then wipe the dust off your feet and go on your way. And tell them: the kingdom of God has come near.” Sometimes bringing the love of God close is the best we can do. The rest is God’s work. And he is very good at what he does.

The harvest is plentiful. The key is to keep our eyes and our hearts open to the people God is sending us to – to carry our biggest bowl when we go out there, metaphorically speaking. We might ask God each morning to guide us to that one person who needs us today. We can ask God to give us the courage to say something, anything at all maybe, or the wisdom to know the right thing to say or do. We can ask to grow in generosity, because the more we have the harder it is for us to hold it lightly and to be willing to let it go for the sake of others, whether that is our time or our money or our energy or even our dignity. For myself, I know that I need over and over again to ask for a greater measure of compassion, because it is so easy to grow a kind of hard shell of protection around our hearts when we really begin to see all the loneliness and fear and sadness around us.

But know this: to be the people of Jesus is to be on a mission every day, in the midst of a suffering world. He is sending us out, and the harvest is greater than we can even imagine: there are so many people out there who live without hope, so much poverty and sickness and loneliness and fear. We are just a few laborers here. But our Lord Jesus goes with us. And the kingdom of God has truly come near. +

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