My sermon from June 12 in two services in Mt. Uniacke and Beaver Bank, NS

Labourers of the Harvest
Matthew 9:35-10:8, Romans 5:1-5

One of the features of living on the campus of the Atlantic School of Theology is that there are often crews on-site filming various movies. This is both a pro and a con. The pros are, of course, that we sometimes get some pretty well known actors hanging about the school grounds. In just the last year we have seen Tom Selleck, Kathy Bates and, just this past week, Rob Lowe and Julia Ormond have been filming a mini-series to be aired later this summer. I haven’t seen any of these stars up close. The closest I’ve been was seeing Rob Lowe drive down the street the other day, which is fine since I am not the type to gush over celebrity types.

Now the cons are that with the movie comes a lot of traffic. There are countless people working behind the scenes, and the streets around campus are clogged with vans, boom trucks, cars, and of course, the trailers for the stars. I am surprised every time by the shear amount of energy and equipment that goes into filming a few short scenes at the school. They spend a day or two preparing the rooms that they will be using, then they film for a couple of days, all just to get what amounts to a few short moments of a movie only a couple hours long. Overall, it is a lot of work to share a story with people.

Jesus did not have access to this sort of technology during his ministry, and if he did, I am not convinced that he would have made direct use of it. That is not God’s way, at least not how I see Him working. Instead, Jesus realizes that he only has a short time to fulfill his ministry, to exemplify what it means to live in God’s image. There are a lot of people that need to hear the Good News, seemingly more than he is able to meet during his short time in the world. Matthew records that he had compassion for the crowds, so what does he do? He sends out his disciples to proclaim the Good News to the lost sheep of Israel.

This weekend Wim has joined with many people from across the United Church of Canada to explore ways in which we can share the Gospel with our neighbours in this great country of ours. There are workshops on preaching, music and other liturgical arts such as dance and drama.
Events like these are a great way to share how we have learned from our own experiences on how we can relate to people around us. However, I do have one concern when we come out of a conference like this, full of energy and new ideas… and that is we must be sure that we do not let the method overshadow the message. Let me share what I mean by taking another look at the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples.

“As you go, proclaim the Good News ‘the Kingdom of God has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment, give without payment.”

Seems like pretty dramatic stuff, but Jesus has only asked them to do as he has been doing. In the verses leading up to our reading from Matthew, Jesus has been traveling the countryside doing just those things, humbly serving our God. He is asking the disciples to simply to continue his ministry to those he cannot reach in person, traveling village to village proclaiming the Good News to all who will listen, to those who are open to hearing it. They did not need to put on a big show with schedules and planning committees, they just walked about the towns sharing with those around them.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and encourage these events. I also believe that we need to constantly reflect on and explore how we are being perceived by the people around us, and to be sure that how we share the Gospel is not taking away from the Gospel message itself. I am as open to trying out new things as anyone else, I just caution that we need to be aware of where the focus of our presentation is. I have experienced both great and poor examples of this.

Before I started my supervised field education through AST, I took the opportunity to visit different denominations to see how other churches worship our common God. In one church, the service began with the singing of contemporary hymns with which I am familiar. Great! The only problem was, I was totally unaware that the service had even begun! There was no welcome, and many in the congregation were still moving about and talking with others. The service just moved straight into a set of three or four praise hymns. The rest of the service continued much in the same manner. There was no clear separation in the service, everything seemed to jump quickly from one component to the next. The sermon appeared to be plopped into the middle of the service where it might be convenient. While there was a good message, I was still sitting there wondering what was going on. As I left the service, the word that resonated in my head was “chaos!”

I will contrast that service with another one I attended last fall. Where music was cleverly used, but was not the focal point. Did anyone attend the Franklin Graham Festival last October at the Halifax Metro Centre? In my opinion, they used methods that were very effective in spreading the Gospel. They used big name entertainers to bring in some very impressive crowds (about 10,000 per night!), but as the evening progressed, the momentum was building, the focus was on what was yet to come. In the end, after all the music and entertainment, there was a single, passionate, spoken voice. The voice of Franklin Graham, speaking the Word of God to the people of God, and the whole building was silent, focused on his words. As people left the festival, they left with the message that was shared by Franklin Graham, their focus was on God. Not on the music, not on Franklin for that matter, but on God. The Gospel was what people remembered from their experience there.

Much has changed over the last century. How we experience the world is much different now, there is television with all its channels, the internet, and radio to name a few, but there is only one way to experience the Gospel. We read the Bible, we pray, and we share with those around us. We don’t need anything fancy to do the work of Jesus. Most of us don’t have the ability to cast out demons, or heal the sick, but we all have the ability to share. To share the Good News of Jesus Christ, to share what he has done in our lives. That is what Jesus wants us to do. He wants us to be the labourers of his harvest.

Jesus tells the disciples that they should not expect payment for the acts they perform, simply because they never had to pay for those special skills. In today’s reading from Romans, Paul reminds us that it is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we gain access to the grace and peace that only God offers.

He tells us to celebrate our joys, but to also celebrate in our challenges and suffering. Why should we celebrate our suffering? Many people suffer greatly in their lives. What is there to celebrate? Paul says that to suffer is to build endurance, to gain strength to go on. In that endurance, we are able to build character, and in character we find hope. Hope for God’s love and grace in our hearts, poured into us through the Holy Spirit.

In last week’s bulletin, there were the results of the congregational vote on same-sex marriages [here | at St. Paul’s]. This was no doubt a difficult decision for a lot of people, and it was not expected to be easy. Many people across Canada have struggled greatly with the issue, and as seen in the results from the example in this community, there is a difference of opinion still. But that is okay, you have traveled together down a path that led to this vote, and I hope that you celebrate that journey. It was challenging, it built endurance and character, and I pray that it leads to hope. I commend you for taking that difficult journey, and encourage you to celebrate the journey taken together, no matter what the result of the vote was.

So, where do we go from here? If we are the labourers in God’s harvest, do we need huge production crews following us around, filming us in posed situations, then spend months in an editing room cutting and rearranging scenes? No, of course not. God calls us to simply share with those around us, to those that seek to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.

This area of the province is going to grow a lot over the next 25 years. In 25 years, the Halifax Regional Municipality expects to have grown by 100,000 people. The Halifax Peninsula has no more room for growth. So where will people live? It will have to be in areas such as this, where there is room for growth. But what will the people do when they get here? Will they worship with us? Will they even know we exist? Do we have any plans on how to let them know about us?

Jesus commanded his disciples to not preach to the Gentiles or Samaritans. He told them to only speak to the Israelites, he was not trying to seperate Israel from nations, but rather he was encouraging the disciples to talk with the people nearest to them. To sit and talk with their neighbours, to teach them about the work that Jesus has done.

These are just some thoughts to think about over time as new neighbours move in. Because those people are the harvest. We, gathered here in the church are the labourers. All we have to do is bring in the harvest, from there we can let God take over.