TEXT: Matthew 9:35-38
The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn:
God’s in his heaven—
All’s right with the world!
— from Pippa Passes (Act I: Morning by Robert Browning, 1841) https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Pippa_Passes/Introduction
“God’s in his heaven—All’s right with the world!”
On this fine spring day—on this second Sunday in the month of June, 2020—Robert Browning’s words fall upon our ears with the same irony he intended when he penned those lines almost 180 years ago.
On this fine spring day, we know better. Everything is not right with the world.
- For those of us still reeling from the shock of watching video footage of a Minneapolis policeman crushing the life out of a helpless George Floyd;
- For the families of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi in New Brunswick, or Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto, or the families of too many other racialized persons who have died violently after interactions with Canadian police;
- For those left mourning in the wake of (to date) almost half a million COVID-19 deaths across the globe …
For all of these, little seems right with the world.
Now, you’re thinking: “Way to bring us down, preacher! Aren’t you supposed to bring good news?”
Sorry about that. But I mention all that dreadful stuff because I want to get you thinking about a question. And the question is this: “What is God’s biggest problem?”
Ever wondered about that? Experience tells us that our God is a loving God. We know he doesn’t want bad things to happen to good people … or, for that matter, for bad things to happen to bad people!
So, when we consider all of the suffering and injustice and tragedy in our world, it occurs to us (doesn’t it?) that God has to deal with a whole Pandora’s Box of problems, every day. War. Terrorism. Famine. Pandemics. Crime. Poverty. Domestic violence. Racism. Disasters that he gets blamed for … The list of troubles in this world seems endless.
For a loving God who sees all of us as his children … Well, you might think that, for such a God, every day must seem like a really bad day at the office!
Ever had one of those? Had one recently? Perhaps you can relate to the story about the man who came home after a very bad day at work. He did not want to hear about any more problems. So he said to his wife, “I’ve had a horrible day. So if you have any bad news tonight, please keep it to yourself.”
And she answered him: “Okay.”
“Okay, “she said. “I won’t tell you any bad news. But here’s some good news. Remember our four children? Well, three of them did not feed laxatives to the dog!”
Fortunately, God never says to us, “Look, I’ve got a very messed-up world on my hands. Please don’t bother me with your petty little problems.”
To the contrary, Jesus issued this standing invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). This offer was not limited to the first 100 weary persons, or to a particular group of favoured people, or to those who could drop money into a collection plate. No. It was for all of us. “Come to me, all of you—every one of you with a heavy burden.”
See … God’s biggest problem is not that there are too many problems.
So, what is? Today’s gospel lesson provides us with a clue:
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ (Matt. 9:35-38)
God’s biggest problem is this: in our world, God has a bumper crop of lost and hurting people—but he does not have enough workers to bring the harvest in!
And this is not a new problem. Almost 800 years before Jesus’ time, the prophet Isaiah had a profound encounter with the living God. He was so overwhelmed by the experience that he felt completely undone. In chapter six of his book, Isaiah says: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).
Then an angel comes to Isaiah with a live coal from the altar of God, and he touches Isaiah’s lips with it, saying: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out” (6:7b).
Then Isaiah hears the voice of God asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah replies, “Here am I; send me!”
Today, God is still asking that question: “Whom shall I send? Who is willing to go?” Who will carry the good news of God’s forgiving and healing love to a broken world?
When Jesus walked upon this earth, his voice could reach but a very few. As far as we know, during his entire ministry, he never ventured outside of Palestine. The crowds upon whom he had compassion were but a tiny fragment of lost and wandering humanity. But he wanted to do so much more.
In John 10:16, he says: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, [and] one shepherd.”
Jesus still wants people to hear the good news. He still wants people to know that God loves them and cares for them—and wants them to experience his love. But they will never hear unless someone tells them.
It is the eternal desire of Christ that every disciple of his should become a labourer for the harvest. That means every one of us, wherever we are.
So, how do we do that? How can we help solve God’s biggest problem? Let me offer you a few principles for effective harvesting.
First, you must be able to see the harvest. You cannot be a harvester if you do not see a harvest. And we appear to have trouble doing that. Even Jesus had to tell his disciples to look at the harvest! In John’s gospel—chapter four, verse 35—we hear Jesus urging them: “Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.”
I wonder: is the harvest clear to you? Do you know someone who desperately needs the love of God and the encouragement of a caring friend? If you think the answer is, “No!” … look more carefully. Those who would be harvesters must learn to see with the eyes of Christ.
Here’s my second point: you must care about the harvest.
When Jesus saw the crowds, Matthew says, “… he had compassion for them …” He saw their helplessness and hopelessness, and his heart was moved to care for them.
There was a world of difference between the way Jesus saw the crowds and the way the religious leaders saw them. They saw chaff where Jesus saw wheat. They saw social rejects where Jesus saw lost souls and searching hearts. They saw unacceptable and untouchable outcasts. Sinners. Heretics. Foreigners, aliens … those whom they considered inferior, less worthy, less … human.
But what Jesus saw was … God’s beloved children.
They said, “Who cares?”
Jesus said, “God cares!”
“My Father cares!”
In order to help with God’s biggest problem, we must have not only the eyes and the ears of Jesus, but also his heart. And, for those who need Jesus most, you can develop a heart!
Yes, you can! Remember whose body you’re part of. As you observe the people around you—at work, at the grocery store, even as you practice social distancing—make a special effort to look at others with the eyes of Jesus.
Here’s the third point: you must go into the harvest!
A few years ago, Joe Aldrich wrote a book entitled, Lifestyle Evangelism.* It’s still quite popular—even though it’s also quite challenging. The main thing Aldrich says there is that Christian people need to build bridges of friendship with those who lack a spiritual home. It is across these “bridges” that people can cross over into the love of God and the fellowship of Christian community.
It is one thing to see the harvest—and it is important to see it. It is another thing to care about the harvest—and it is important to care about the harvest. But it is something else entirely to go into the harvest. Seeing and caring can be done from a distance—but entering into the harvest … Well, that demands a commitment to join with Christ in solving God’s biggest problem.
In his book, Aldrich points out that the church’s usual method is to “call out to the harvest.” We expect the sheaves to come in and be harvested!
But that isn’t possible, with the mandated closure of so many places of worship. It’s also the opposite of how Jesus worked. He left the magnificent splendour of heaven for the mundane dreariness of our world. He came to where the harvest was … and—carefully and lovingly—he laboured in the field. Then he said to his closest followers, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you!” (John 20:21)
How about us? Are we willing to be sent? Are we at least willing to support those brave souls who have said, “Here am I; send me” … ?
Whether it means sacrificing some time and talent here at home, or providing material or prayer support for those who are risking a much greater sacrifice abroad, Christ calls us not only to carry the cross, but also to lift it high.
May God give us eyes to see the harvest, hearts to care for the harvest, and a willingness to work in the field.
* Aldrich, Joseph. Lifestyle Evangelism: Learning to Open Your Life to Those Around You. Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 1993.