Getting our hands dirty

Getting our hands dirty

Third Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Isaiah 66. 10-14; Psalm 66. 1-8; Galatians 6. 7-16; Luke 10. 1-11, 16-20 (view all)

I remember when I was about 8 or 9, and the internet revolution was just beginning, one of my friends invited us to his birthday party at a ‘cyber cafe’ which was just opening in town.

Now, living in Aberystwyth, we had never had a cyber cafe before, or seen anything like it — and I have a pretty overactive imagination anyway — so this picture developed in my mind of this incredible, science fiction style, virtual reality place that looked like the inside of a space ship, and was full of incredible games to play.  But of course, when I arrived I had to work hard not to show my disappointment, that it was pretty much just like an ordinary cafe with a few computers and games consoles set up. 

We had a really good time, and it was lots of fun, but the reality just didn’t match the picture I’d built up in my imagination. 

Often when we read scripture, we find ourselves overwhelmed with stories and images of salvation and transformation, words like those in this morning’s Psalm which celebrate God’s great saving power and mighty deeds. And yet we live at a time when the Church is facing more and more challenges, and reaching less and less people, when the response in our society to the good news of Jesus Christ seems overwhelmingly negative. 

So, how can we be good news to those around us? What does it mean to share with God in his kingdom harvest? 

Jesus tells his disciples that,

the harvest is plentiful…

In the person of Jesus Christ, God’s kingdom is drawing near, bringing freedom, healing, new life to all those who draw near. So the seventy are appointed to go ahead of him, two-by-two, into the towns and villages, to proclaim his arrival — as heralds of the good news that the Saviour of the world is coming to visit in the flesh, in person. 

They are sent out in pairs as they are, with ‘no purse, no bag, no sandals’, forced to rely on God to provide, to open doors for them in the communities they are going to reach, to open hearts ready to receive them and their message. And they find themselves able to work astounding miracles, healing the sick and sharing good news. 

‘The harvest is plentiful…’ — and yet, today it is usually the second half of the verse which grabs our attention:

…but the labourers are few.

Often when we think about mission, about sharing good news, about bringing social transformation, often we find ourselves intimidated — the reality simply doesn’t match the picture that today’s gospel paints for us, it is often hard work for very little fruit. We become jaded by the negative experiences — when we try to speak about our faith and the response is negative or belittling, when family after family come forward for baptism and don’t return, when we put all our energy into big projects and plans which don’t work. 

In a world where it can often seem like no one is listening to the voice of the Church, sometimes we attempt to shout even louder, trying to compete with all the other voices in our society which are vying for attention. Or we just give up, and stop trying altogether. 

And yet Jesus’ method of choice isn’t about shouting louder — there is no great ‘Billy Graham’ crusade, no stage show with sound and lighting, no supply train following on behind them — just ordinary people, sent in pairs to go and love others. Jesus sends them as they are and he sends us as we are, not for what we can bring with us, not for what we can do on our own, but for what he can do in us by the power of his Spirit when we trust him and rely on him. 

As Paul writes in this morning’s epistle, ‘You reap whatever you sow.’ When we sow in resentment, negativity, suspicion, we shouldn’t be surprised if that’s what we reap, but instead ‘if [we] sow to the Spirit, [we] will reap eternal life from the Spirit.’ If we truly believe that God is at work in our world, that Jesus is who he says he is, then we can trust that when we do his will, he will prepare the way for a harvest, however hard the ground might seem. 

As Paul continues to the Galatians,

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all…

God longs to work through us to bring healing, wholeness and new life to others, in body, mind and spirit. To speak words of comfort to those who are suffering, to be a listening ear to those who are lonely and isolated, to offer the light of new life to those who are stuck in spiritual darkness. 

So, will we step out? Will we make ourselves vulnerable in order to play a part in God’s Mission? Are we willing to risk being rejected, risk making mistakes, risk our plans not working out, in order to catch a glimpse of God’s great kingdom harvest? 

Are we willing to roll our sleeves up and get our hands dirty, in order to bring the possibility of new life to those who desperately need it? 

In my very first sermon here in All Saints’ eighteen months ago, I shared a quote from Pope Francis as he began his papacy, he said this: 

I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.

It takes courage to shake off our hurts and bruises, to risk being hurt, to lay down our pride and get our hands dirty — but that is nothing more and nothing less than the way of love to which Christ calls us. 

So, as we hear his call this morning, may we learn to rely on him, and find the courage to share the good news with those around us in word and action. Amen.