This week at Carlsbad-By-The Sea (CBTS) retirement home I started the week with an early Monday morning breakfast meeting. I had been invited to present my history and what I was doing at CBTS to a Men’s Group of about15 residents.
This gave me the opportunity to meet more people outside of Assisted Living and the Care Center where I normally minister. All the attendees, although between 80 and 102 years old, are in what is called independent living.
I was able to connect with them, personally invite them to the Brotherhood of Andrew “Steak & Stein” night at St Michael’s and elicit their help in introducing me to people who may appreciate pastoral care visits or assistance in attending the Sunday service or bible studies.
This was a great start to my studying and reflecting on the coming Sunday gospel passage about “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few”. On Tuesday I was still reading, reflecting and praying for the ideas for my sermon. As often happens I woke at 3:00 am on Wednesday morning with the idea of the harvest workers being “equipped” but not being “prepared”. After arising and jotting down some notes I then went back to a deeper and less anxious sleep.
In studying the passage this week I thought about how in my personal life God has equipped me with certain skills and talents and also how I am being prepared (formed) for ordained ministry.
I reflected on how when Jesus saw the crowds He described them as being harassed and helpless, wandering aimlessly like sheep without a shepherd.
He was moved with compassion for them and said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest”
If you think of the disciples He called to be His harvesters you could not call them a secular power team. They were not successful academics, businessmen or leaders.
Just look at the disciples. Peter will deny the Lord three times and Judas will betray him. Two held positions in the Roman occupation opposing Jesus, Matthew was a tax collector while Simon was a "zealot" working against the disciples. The others were fishermen or laborers.
Later, even St Paul, who was highly educated in the Torah, had a trade as a tent maker and worked with his hands to support his own ministry.
But when Jesus assembled His disciples He told them to go to the lost sheep of Israel and:
- Preach that the ‘The kingdom of heaven is near”,
- Heal the sick,
- Raise the dead,
- Cleanse the lepers,
- Drive out demons.
In other words He asked them to do all the things He did during His ministry. He sent them out like sheep among wolves; needing to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
As we know Jesus was divine but they were not. So this must have been a difficult task for them, especially with the earthly skills and talents they had been equipped. He also told them not to carry any money or other clothes as they needed to be worthy of their provisions. In other words they should work for their keep, using the skills and talents that God had equipped them with.
Although they were equipped with skills to make a living as they ministered they did not have experience of what they were being asked to do. As their teacher Jesus had also been preparing and forming them from followers into apostles with the spiritual gifts they need to take on the role of harvesters.
He told them “do not worry about how to respond or what to say. In that hour you will be given what to say. For it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you”.
When we think of harassed, helpless sheep without a shepherd, we could be describing our society today. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist, lecturer, and poet once said, "People are living lives of quiet desperation."
In Jesus' day the population of the world was approximately 150 million people. Today's world population grows 150 million every two years. The world's population exceeds 6 billion people with the population of the United States over 300 million.
Within this world of 6 billion people many are desperate for meaning and purpose, distraught by the evil and destruction in the world. The harvest is a lot more plentiful now but what has this to do with us today?
We are expected to resemble Jesus in word and deed. To be sent by Jesus is, in some sense, to be sent as Jesus. We can pray for more workers, laborers, servers, and givers but we must do more than pray.
We need to go into the harvest of people “living lives of quiet desperation”. Our job is not to save the harvest - that's God's work. Our job is to tell people about the Lord and help them know Him. Without us going there will be no knowing. If we don't go, who will?
One of the greatest wrongs we can do is to stay silent. People often say, "I'll let my life be my witness." This is a subtle false teaching that has us believing that we can go to church rather than go and take the gospel and our witness outside of the church.
Over the week, during my pastoral care visits and meetings, I looked for the skills and talents of the residents and thought about who would be good harvesters who could make a difference.
In the middle of the week my ministry took a tremendous turn for the better without me actually or consciously doing anything.
I had a call from Bob who wanted an electronic copy of the “Sizzle & Stein” flyer so that he could distribute it and invite all the male residents, not just those who attended the Men’s Breakfast.
Then John contacted me and asked if I could help with a project he had started. He is installing Echo Dots in all the apartments of people who are not mobile and need a way to contact others and keep their minds active. He suggested that the people who are receiving the Dots are just the people who would benefit from pastoral care visits. He asked if I could help him with this project as it would also give me the opportunity to meet people I would not normally see.
Then Norma asked if she could give me a list of people she is concerned about and who she thinks would like visits and encouragement to attend services and study groups. When Trish and Don heard this they also asked if they could add to that list. With the people I am already being asked to visit by CBTS management my list is growing to include input from the residents themselves.
In all these events I noticed that the ministry had turned around from one where I offer my services to one where people are actively requesting help. Everyone making suggestions are offering to introduce me to others and also spread the word about the Sunday service, the 3 Bible study classes, the daily “praying with others” sessions and pastoral care visits.
This struck me that we have started to have harvesters, other than me, reaching out into their community and spreading the word.
Being a harvester is very difficult, especially as there are so many people, the harvest is so vast and the needs are so overwhelming. Many of the people I meet at CBTS are equipped with talents and skills but during this week I have learned that the growing CBTS “harvest team” are also being prepared by God to help bring in the harvest.
In the sermon at the end of this week I asked the congregation to focus on making differences, even small ones, to one person at a time.
I pray that by the grace of God this small team will grow and harvest our field at CBTS and beyond.