Figuring out how to live out God’s call to make disciples and love our neighbors is something I think about often. In my little neighborhood I daily see the extremes of deep poverty and homelessness and the excesses of wealth and secular individualism. I know all of these people — the rich and the poor — are loved by God. All of these people need Christ’s church. It is for this reason that today’s Gospel reading makes me uncomfortable. Jesus called these people into the harvest in a world much more dangerous than ours. If he called them to that, then, what is he calling us into today? Can we really say people have changed so much in the last 2000 years that Jesus’ instructions to his followers are no longer contextually relevant?
Discomfort — whether it be boredom, wading into the unknown, or simply waiting — is not something we do well. We’ve built entire devices and industries around avoiding discomfort. We pop pills, stare at flashing screens, plug our ears, and otherwise dull our senses all to keep our minds away from any mental discomfort. In zoning, Interstates, HOAs, and our beloved cars we transform our physical world to avoid discomfort, too. We do our best to do everything in our power to create an environment where we can pretend it’s all okay. Nothing’s broken. Nothing hurts. But, we all know that’s a lie.
The world is broken. The world is hurting. Sometimes, we need to sit in our discomfort with Jesus (and often times a good therapist) and really think about where we’re hurting. — What’s the source of the discomfort? — Many times in my life, I’ve found that when I’ve sat with God in the silence of discomfort he’s revealed to me an injury (sometimes even unknown to me) that I need to let him heal.
So, I’m going to let us sit in the discomfort of the words “evangelism” and “mission” for a spell while I turn my focus to Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
There’s a lot that can be said here, but what stood out to me are what Paul says in his closing remarks, “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” (Gal 6:14-15 RSV)
In a context where everyone was arguing about whether all Christians should follow Jewish purity codes or not, Paul was able to step outside the noise and focus on the cure. Of course, he had an opinion on the matter that he took all the way to Jerusalem. It wasn’t that it wasn’t an important conversation. No, but what was ultimately most important to Paul was the reality of the New Creation won when the crucified Jesus rose from the grave. For Paul, being crucified with Christ and identifying with his New Creation and present reign was the driving source and strength for our call to go out into the world proclaiming the Good News and unceasingly serving our sisters and brothers and our neighbors.
There is so much in our would today that divides. We have so many platforms that allow the quick exchange of bold and discomforting statements. Signs, flags, and ways of dressing have been transformed by our culture as ways of signaling uncomfortable messages or as ways for us to place uncomfortable notions upon another person. But, do what we may to transform our lives to avoid or hide discomfort, the brokenness of the fallen world will always find a way through. This past week, for many of us, has been such a week. And if not this week, then surely several times over the last few turbulent years.
Our choice, then, is not dissimilar from Paul’s. We can hide from the discomfort or we can name it and take it to the cross. We can allow the brokenness of the world to divide us. We can allow uncomfortable words to mark our neighbors as painful enemies to avoid. Or, we can gaze upon the cross and know he died for them, too. He died and rose again that we could stand in uncomfortable places already alive in his New Creation and ready to be his lights in the world.
Y’all, Jesus changes everything. The broken world works from material motives: get, gain, use, dispose. These selfish and short-term motives have wrecked God’s creation and brought it into chaos. Our discomfort. Our pain. It is all the real hurt of a world that isn’t working right. But, born of the Virgin Mary and of the Holy Spirit Jesus enters our world and changes everything. He is the cure. Reorienting our lives towards him and the eternal spiritual motives he brings is the reordering balm our world needs. Healed and made new in his baptism, we are called to wade into discomfort for his name’s sake.
So, back to Luke. Jesus called seventy-two people to go out into uncomfortable situations. That’s an entire church. Jesus called an entire church’s worth of people to go out into the harvest in a very serious way. Hmmm. Uncomfortable.
What’s amazing, though, is that this group of people did it. They heeded Jesus’ call and went out. Now, we get pretty jazzed up at reading Paul’s ending to Galatians, so I can only imagine what it would be like to be hearing words directly from Jesus’ mouth. No doubt they have a certain leg up on us in the motivation department. But, do they really? Had they seen the miraculous spread of Christianity around the world? Had they seen nations all confessing Jesus as Lord? Had they seen persecutors turned to apostles, emperors turned to holy servants, hospitals, orphanages, and all the mighty works God would do in the next 2000 years?
If we look up from our screens, step away from the drama, and truly look at the work our Lord has accomplished we can do nothing but stand in amazement. The in-breaking of his kingdom is all around us and if we’ll allow ourselves to step into a little discomfort, we can help others to look up and see his beautiful works, too.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
He sends us out. But, remember though he sends us “out as lambs in the midst of wolves” he send us “on ahead of him […] into every town and place where he himself [i]s about to come.” God doesn’t send us out alone. He sends his Spirit with us and where he is sending us, he will soon come. Like John the Baptist we are the heralds of the New Creation going before Jesus to prepare hearts. This isn’t all on us. We shouldn’t despair in the discomfort. The discomfort points to the wounds Jesus will soon heal.
So, fellow sisters and brothers in Christ, how and where is Jesus calling us to harvest today? Where does he send us out from Oak Hill, Brentwood, East Nashville, and all the many places we live? I, unfortunately, can’t answer for you. Jesus is the Lord of the harvest, remember? He calls the laborers. All I know is that we have all been called. None of us are excluded. He wants us to labor alongside his Spirit as agents of his light in the world.
Step into the discomfort of the unknown field God has called you to harvest. Pray for his guidance and direction. Seek out others who are praying, too. Be always attentive to the Spirit’s promptings. He’s always at work to put us to work. Mostly, friends, do not be content in avoiding the discomfort of the life of a New Creation in a broken world.
So, how do we know when we’re entering into a place where God is calling us to go ahead of him? From what I read in Luke, I think Jesus gives us a three-fold pattern to seek after as we discern his call in our individual lives.
First, Jesus calls us to join and build places of community. Not a weekly social club, but true community. A potluck community where everyone, rich or poor, is able to bring something to the table. A community of love, bearing one another’s burdens, and true deep concern for one another. A community where someone will notice if they haven’t seen you.
Second, Jesus calls us to join and build places where people’s physical needs are met. “Heal the sick,” Jesus tells us and “say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.” Upon the foundation of community, Jesus wants to see his disciples meeting real needs, not just teaching right thoughts. “Bearing burdens” has a material aspect and if our lives have been transformed to follow spiritual motives, there is always extra material goods to be shared with those in need. The Good News, after all, is difficult to hear over the sounds of a grumbling stomach.
Finally, Jesus wants us to proclaim the Good News. And I mean, the Good News. The Kingdom of God is more than just an idea or a future place. When we’ve built or joined places where community is formed and real needs are met, we can show the world the Kingdom in its reality. We can show others the miraculous in the midst of discomfort and brokenness. The Good News, after all, is more than a true story, it is a true reality that all are welcomed to enter in to. Proclaiming the Good News requires our mouths, but also our hearts and hands.
So, today, friends let us look up from our distractions. Let us set aside our numbing guards. Let us listen to the discomfort around us and allow God to lead us to injuries only he can heal. Jesus sends his church out into the world before him, not because he needs us, but because he desires to work alongside us. He wants us to throw our cares to be crucified on the cross. He wants to us to step outside of the noise of division and chaos and find the sparks of the New Creation seeping through the darkness all around us.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, who didst stretch out thine arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of thy saving embrace: So clothe us in thy Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know thee to the knowledge and love of thee; for the honor of thy Name. Amen.