June 14, 2020

Bible Text: Matthew 9:35-10:8, Romans 5:1-5 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | Devotional

          There was a time in my life when I thought I might like to try my hand at WWOOFing. Now before you start to imagine that this is some bizarre activity in which one imitates a dog, WWOOF stands for the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  It is an international organization that normally offers room and board to travellers who then work on farms usually planting or harvesting crops. There’s something romantic about sitting in a field, under the hot sun, carefully picking strawberries. And then I go to our local U-Pick berry farm on Dove Creek Rd and spend less then an hour crouched over in the dirt and decide that WWOOFing is not for me. Of course, we have read numerous reports this year about the challenges most farmers are facing as the usual migrant workers who labour in their fields are unable to come due to border restrictions. This year, Jesus’ phrase, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few” could actually be taken literally- that is if plants were able to be planted in the first place.  Of course, as an individual my berry buckets are pretty small but when Mike and I work together,  sometimes switching between berries when the seasons coincide, our harvest is great. Admittedly that’s just because Mike has more patience for picking then I do but the point is that working together reaps greater benefit.

Notice how the Gospel story this morning begins with Jesus doing all the work on his own. Jesus goes about all the cities and villages, teaching, proclaiming and curing every sickness. This passage begins with Jesus working as an individual but as the crowd grows, as his flock becomes too big he summons his disciples and makes them  labourers or co-workers who will have the ability to work alongside Jesus. Now, in Matthew’s Gospel the disciples have already been called. In chapter 4 it says that Jesus turned to the fishermen and said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” So this was always the plan but they needed training first. Jesus spends time teaching them things like the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule, and then Jesus heals a bunch of people like a leper, a paralytic and even brings a girl back to life.  The disciples have observed all of this as they follow him throughout the countryside. But now it is time for this training to turn into action.

This is one of the few times when the lectionary moves us between two chapters. Chapter nine ends with this comment about a plentiful harvest but a shortage of labourers while chapter ten moves to Jesus giving the disciples the authority to do as Jesus does. Last week we talked about the commission given to the disciples at the end of Matthew, when Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”. What is interesting is that the commissioning this morning comes early on in the Gospel and unlike the commission at the end which calls for people of all nations, this one focuses on what Jesus calls the lost sheep of Israel. Start with the people you can best relate to and then work out from there. The disciples- while they still follow Jesus- are to be extensions of Jesus’ ministry. They are to do what they have witnessed Jesus doing.

Throughout Scripture, naming people signifies that the person is important. Other than the geneology listed at the beginning of  Matthew this is the longest list of names in any of the Gospels. While the details about the disciples are limited their names give them status in this text.  Then Jesus raises this status by empowering them to do the work that Jesus has begun. One commentary stated, “effectively Jesus makes the twelve disciples brokers of God’s power over spirits and disease just as Jesus is.” I, however, like this image of co-workers, working in co-operation for the kingdom or kin-dom.

Jesus then instructs them on how to be co-workers. This mission, should they choose to accept it, is not that they must work on their own, as individuals. Jesus gives them specific instructions on where to go and whom to visit. Later on in the chapter it goes on further to describe how they should even enter someone’s house or what they should or should not pack. Jesus will even remind them that they need not fear or worry even when they are persecuted or unsure of what to say because the Spirit of God will speak through them. We also talked about working in relationship last week and this is a perfect example. God, the creator, empowers Jesus to reveal God to the people, Jesus empowers his disciples to reveal God to the people, and the Spirit surrounds every aspect through the work of the people.

This is where the Romans passage connects with the Gospel. Paul states that we have obtained access to the grace in which we stand through this incredible relationship.  Through Christ we obtain access to God’s grace and God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit . It is an ever dynamic movement between the Trinity and us.  Yet Paul also says that sometimes we will have to endure suffering but to be grateful for this suffering because it produces endurance and endurance builds character and character produces hope. And Paul knows a thing or two about suffering. When Paul wrote this letter he expressed how he hoped to visit the church in Rome. Not only was the visit to Rome delayed for about three years, but when he finally managed to make it to Rome it was as a prisoner awaiting trial. Then, after 3 years in a Roman prison he was tried and convicted. Paul knows what he’s talking about but even in prison he managed to become one of  Jesus’ most prolific co-workers.

I mention this because there have probably been moments when it felt like this time of distancing and isolation has felt like living in prison and it is hard to imagine being co-workers or labourers in God’s field at this time. Yet, if Paul can do it from a literal jail cell and still have hope because of his confidence in the grace of God then I’m pretty sure we can figure something out. Sometimes the work is hard- backbreaking even- but we have a pretty incredible boss. A boss that will never fire us, the retirement plan is amazing, and the people we get to work with are incredible. We have been given the authority to continue the work of Christ in today’s world. To bring healing where there is pain, hope where there is despair, and to cast out darkness and bring light. Maybe it’s not like WWOOFing at all, but the harvest is worth it. Amen