Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Big Harvest... Few Laborers

Sermon preached July 4, 2010
The Rev. Matthew Lawrence
Church of the Incarnation, Santa Rosa, CA

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way.” Luke 10:2

There are still some among us who remember the days when agriculture was just about the only major industry in Sonoma County, and agriculture in those days of course meant apples, prunes, hops, apricots and other fruits of the earth besides grapes.

In 1920, Sonoma County was declared the 8th most productive county in the country; and when it was time for harvest, everyone knew it. The word would go out that the harvest was ready and just about everyone in town played a hand in bringing it in. Kids would be let out of school and wouldn’t be expected back in until everything that needed to be brought in was brought in.

There was an urgency about the harvest, of course – because if the harvest wasn’t brought in soon enough the fruit could spoil on the vine. So even now, in just about every agricultural area imaginable, the harvest is a time of intense focus and sense of urgency.

And the last thing in the world you would want during the harvest is a shortage of laborers. A farmer can watch his entire crop go bad if there aren’t enough laborers to bring it in. No one rested until the job was done.

Which brings a note of urgency to Jesus’ saying that the “harvest is plentiful, but the laborers few.” Jesus is sounding an alarm bell here: this is a serious situation!

These days, of course, the harvest is mostly brought in by migrant laborers. Those of us who work at desks and cubicles don’t have much, if any, connection to the harvest. Sure, many of us have our personal gardens; but it’s nothing like it used to be when the entire community was working on and talking about just about nothing else.

Maybe this is one reason why migrant workers get so little respect in our culture – we are at such a distance from their labor, we don’t appreciate how important they are to our economy and our sense of abundance.

Regardless, I detect among us a nostalgia for those days when the harvest was everyone’s job. This isn’t a nostalgia for the back-breaking work necessarily, but for those days when the community was focused together on just one thing. There was one thing that we all had to do together; the case was clear and compelling; it was easy to understand; it brought the whole community together to work together.

Nowadays, there is little sense of common labor or common purpose. Everyone is off doing their own thing; we pass one another while driving down 101 on our way to Costco or the Outlet stores or whatever and don’t even notice.

I was talking to a former Marine the other day; he did three tours, including one in Iraq; and he said the hardest thing about being out of the military was missing that sense of being part of a larger, unified group like that. Having close buddies who would die for you and you for them; working on common missions together; being part of a team.

I hear that same longing from some of our more senior members, who remember the days of WWII: how the entire nation came together to fight that war; and more close to home, the Tea Room at the County Fair. The Tea Room was one of those projects that brought everyone together, over a very intense but limited time, to provide food and respite for the fair-goers. The whole parish was focused on nothing else, from the youth group to the old timers, and while it was exhausting it was also – at least in retrospect – very satisfying as well.

And so the question comes up: what is our version of the Tea Room? What is the activity that unites us to a common purpose? This is the perennial question, not only for us as a church, but for us as a culture, as a nation. On this 4th of July weekend, who are we as a people? What do we stand for? What is our mission? What unites us to a common purpose?

And here’s the challenge to us, both as a nation and as a church: we are so diverse a collection of souls that it’s unlikely any one single activity will unite us. At the State House, the Republicans and the Democrats are so deeply divided that they can’t even pass a budget when their own salaries depend on it. On the national level, we’re not any better – every vote goes through on party lines, virtually no bi-partisan support for anything. It’s pretty impossible to arrive at a common purpose if everything coming from one side is knocked down by the other side.

Meanwhile the national budget is soaring out of control, like the oil pouring into the gulf. Some days it feels like we’re on the Titanic headed for the iceberg, and the alarm has sounded, the iceberg is in sight, meanwhile the crew is arguing about whether to turn right or turn left.

In times like that, it’s important that there be a captain at the helm who says, “Ok folks, it’s time to stop arguing, this is what we’re gonna do now: turn left!” And the crew has to be willing to say, “Ok, the captain says ‘turn left,’ so everyone turn left!”

Right now, on our state and national level, that isn’t happening. We all see the problem; we all know that this is an urgent situation. And we are beginning to lose hope that there’s anything we can do about it.

What about here in the church? What is our common purpose here at Church of the Incarnation?

Well, one of the problems we have is that we have several common purposes at Incarnation. We don’t have one simple little soundbite that captures it all in one pithy little sentence. Our common purpose takes us in several different directions simultaneously. For example,

We worship together; and we believe in the importance of beauty and reverence in our worship. That’s one common purpose.

And, we care for one another. We believe that one of our highest priorities is to welcome one another, know one another, and support one another throughout our lives, especially when times are tough.

We care about the most vulnerable in our society; and we believe in translating that care into tangible acts of mercy, especially to the homeless women and children in the Living Room; the low-income and mostly Spanish-speaking children at the Luther Burbank School; the homeless men and women who wander in for coffee and pastries here on Sunday morning; the hungry residents of the Guerneville area who come to St. Andrew’s food program. So that’s another common purpose.

And we care about our experience of God, as mediated through fine music and art like the programs of Numina; and as mediated through our many small groups, where prayer, meditation, Bible Study, and deep personal sharing bring the power of the Gospel alive within us. There’s another one.

But what is the common thread that holds all of these activities together? What is our single purpose?

I believe the answer to that question is beautifully contained in the banner that hangs in our Parish Hall: “Christ has no body now but ours.” In all of these values, and all of these actions, we are embodying the life of Jesus in the world.

We are the Church of the Incarnation – God in the flesh. We are doing the things that Jesus himself did on this earth: healing; caring; listening; praying; reconciling; forgiving; prophesying; teaching; proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
We are living into the gospel by literally living into the Body of Christ. That is our single mission on this earth: taking seriously the call to be God’s hands and feet in this broken and deeply blessed world.

When Bob Gebhart goes out to a nursing home to bring Eucharist to a shut-in, it’s not Bob Gebhart who goes out, it’s the Body of Christ, alive in the world, working through him.

When the women of the Guild pull together a massive rummage sale to raise money for charities, it’s not just those women doing the work; it is Christ in the world, coming alive through their labor.

When the Numina Board puts on a performance that brings people from throughout the county to engage in art and prayer together, they are not doing this on their own; it is Christ working through them.

When you write a check to support the ministries of this parish, you are not just a random person writing a check: you are part of the Body of Christ, perpetuating the life of Christ through your support.

We are - all of us – a part of this Body of Christ. And I can’t tell you how proud I am to be a part of this with you.

We are the Body of Christ. I pray that we will continue to grow more deeply into our calling to be that Body in the world; and I give thanks to God for the indescribable joy that comes through this service.

In Christ we pray, AMEN.

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