The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.Jesus, Luke 10:2
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” Jesus tells us in today’s gospel reading (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20). And both of those things are still true, aren’t they? The harvest is plentiful. God is still doing amazing things in our world. And God is still calling us and empowering us to do amazing things in our world. The harvest is plentiful, still.
But it is also still true that the laborers are few. Perhaps it will always be true. Perhaps there will never be more than enough laborers, until Jesus returns and every knee bends and every tongue proclaims that he is Lord, to the glory of the Father. Perhaps. But it is true now, that the laborers are few. Even while the harvest is plentiful.
And here is something that is also true: We are the laborers. We who are here, on this holiday weekend, in church. (Or who are reading this!) We are the laborers. We are the ones being called by God to make a difference in the world. We are the ones being sent into the world on this mission. This mission to be the hands and feet of Jesus, the voice of Jesus, for all the world.
Just like the seventy appointed in today’s gospel reading. We, too, are being sent into the world on this same mission. We are the laborers being sent out into this harvest. This gospel reading today is all about this mission. It is all about what it means to go; to be sent by the Lord on this mission called church. And what it means for the Lord to lead us.
So, I thought in my sermon today, I would just walk through this gospel reading, and use it to identify ten things that it teaches us about what it means to be sent out in Jesus’ name. Ten things that we can learn about this mission to which we are called.
1 – You don’t have to be an “expert” to be sent by Jesus
Let’s start with the fact that Jesus appointed seventy “others” in this reading. The 12 apostles are not even included – these are seventy others that Jesus sends. Which means that you don’t have to be a so-called “expert” to answer the call. Jesus doesn’t call the equipped, as it has been said; he equips the called. Jesus didn’t identify people with gifts for mission. He gave his followers the gifts that they would need for the mission. And then he sent them.
2 – Go, but don’t go alone – use the “buddy system”
Jesus sends the seventy out in pairs. Even when they aren’t with Jesus (physically), they are still not alone. They go in pairs, and then they return with joy. Jesus spent a lot of his ministry building community. And he is still doing that, through his church. And today’s gospel reading is just one more reminder of that.
3 – Don’t try to do the work of Jesus – just prepare the way for him.
Jesus sends the seventy to places where “he himself intends to go.” They are not sent to save the world. They are just getting the world ready to be saved. And that is a big difference, isn’t it? So, too, for us. We are not sent to save the world. We are just getting the world ready for our Savior.
In fact, after Jesus is raised from the dead, he tells his disciples he is going ahead of them. So, maybe we aren’t even getting the world ready for Jesus. Maybe we are just pointing out where Jesus is already at work in the world. Maybe we are just being “detectives of divinity,” as one pastor friend describes it. We are just noticing what Jesus is already doing in this world, and pointing it out. But, either way, the pressure is off, because we aren’t called to save the world.Just to point out how Jesus is already doing just that.
4 – Before you go, pray. Always start with prayer.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” Jesus says, “therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers.” We’re not supposed to do it all ourselves. We are supposed to pray, to ask for help. We are promised that Jesus will go with us. But the way that we see that happening is through prayer.
Prayer isn’t just our asking God for what we need, although it is that. Prayer also opens our eyes to the ways that God is already active, in our life and in our world. So, before you go – before you ever share your faith, or do anything in the name of the Lord – pray. Invite God to be a part of that ministry. And then keep your eyes open.
5 – Travel light.
“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals,” Jesus says. Travel light, in other words. Why? Perhaps because being a missionary means, above all, trusting in Jesus.
When God’s people were wandering through the wilderness, they learned to trust God to provide their manna each day. So, too, for us. Trust God. Travel light. You can be prepared, of course, but leave room for God to provide. Don’t prepare so much that you leave no room for God to surprise you! Trust that God will provide what is needed, and often much more than that.
6 – Stay focused on the mission.
Jesus says a strange thing in this reading. He says: “Greet no one on the road.” Why wouldn’t being a missionary involve greeting people on the road? Well, often it does, of course.
But it seems to me that Jesus is telling them, and us, to stay focused on the mission to which we have been called. It is easy to get distracted from our task, to get wrapped up in all sorts of other things. Especially these days, there is so much that can distract us from our mission, and prevent us from seeing what God is up to in our world. Stay focused, Jesus seems to be saying to us. Stay focused on what God is doing in the world. And pay attention to what God is calling you to do and to be in the world.
7 – Don’t worry about failing.
Jesus says that if you enter a town, and they don’t welcome you, shake the dust off your feet and try somewhere else. Some people will reject you. Jesus knows that, and he is getting his disciples ready for that. He is getting them ready to fail.
There were times even in Jesus’ ministry when people turned away and stopped following him. There were people who rejected him. People who didn’t listen to him. Who disagreed with him. Why should we expect anything different for ourselves? And even more so!
But success and failure is not up to us. Being faithful is. As Mother Theresa often said: God has not called us to be successful, but to be faithful.
8 – You don’t have to be Jesus. But when in doubt, do what Jesus did.
No surprise, right? Jesus instructs his missionaries to cure the sick and proclaim the Kingdom. To do what he did. We are the body of Christ, and are called to continue his mission. And so, we are to do whatever Jesus did. We feed those who are hungry. We clothe those who are naked. We heal those who are sick. We comfort those who are hurting. We speak a word of hope to those who are despairing. We do what Jesus did, as best we can, and as faithfully as we can.
9 – Go, and then return.
Go, Jesus says, but then come back. Serve in the world, and worship in the church. We go, but then we return. The seventy returned to Jesus. And so do we. That is what Sunday worship is all about. We go in peace, to serve the Lord. But then each week we return, to hear God’s word, to pray for the world, to be together as a Christian community, and to receive the body and blood of our Lord.
We come back here, after a week of mission work, to celebrate our successes, and to be encouraged when we fall short. And, most of all, to remember that it is not all about us. None of it is. It is always about the one who calls us and sends us.
10 – Finally, when something good happens in our work for Jesus, we are to rejoice not in our success, but in Jesus. Always in Jesus.
Again, it is not about us. It is always about Jesus. And as Jesus said to those returning disciples: “Do not rejoice at your success, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In other words, at the end of the day, what matters is not whether you think that you were successful or not. What matters is that Jesus was successful, in his death and resurrection, in bringing salvation to earth and writing our names in heaven. What is more important than that?
These are Jesus’ simple rules for reaching out with the gospel to our world. But I would like to add one more word to this, from today’s Second Reading. Paul concludes his Letter to the Galatians with this wonderful word of encouragement:
Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.Galatians 6:9
Do not grow weary. Do not give up. The harvest is plentiful, and we are the laborers who are few. And it can be a difficult task. There is a lot of work for us to do in this world. And we might feel inadequate at times – not up to this task. And even after boiling Jesus’ teaching down to ten simple steps, it can still seem overwhelming. We can grow weary, as St. Paul puts it. But St. Paul also reminds us that if we continue to do what is good and right, our work will not be in vain. We will reap at harvest time, as he puts it.And Jesus himself reminds us that he does not leave us alone in this task. He is with us always, to the end of the age. It is the miracle and mystery of our faith: that even though Jesus sends us, he also goes with us. He goes before us. He follows us. We follow him. And he is with us all along the way. So, let us go into this harvest that is our world, with Jesus. And return here with joy. Amen.