Thursday, June 15, 2017

Plentiful Harvests: Reflections on Proper 6 (Second Sunday After Pentecost), Year A

Being the Church in these days is challenging, and I an increasingly convinced that this era of challenge is a good thing. Not a pleasant thing, mind you, but a good thing. We appear to be charged, both pastorally and institutionally, to do "more with less."  At least, that is the way things look. Pondering the statistics, the general trend for most local parishes is falling attendance, and with that a concurrent ebb in missional support: Fewer hours of service, and fewer dollars.

You and I both must concede, though, that God's models of summoning people to the work of proclaiming the kingdom's good news is never bound to statistics. It never has been. Nor is that summons bound to being in a favorable environment. God, in Exodus, is forming the people of Israel to be a holy nation of priests. The location? In the desert wastes. They are eating manna, and drinking water that is flowing by God's grace from flint rock. They are eating quail summoned by rare desert rains. They are subsisting, for the most part, on God's grace in an incredibly hostile environment. One could hardly call these favorable conditions, and yet it is at that very moment that God reveals God's purpose for them: That they should be a holy nation of priests to serve the one, true God.

You see, I am convinced that it is in those moments when we are at our wits' end, when the work seems insurmountable and the apparent scarcity of resources render the idea of material success impossible that God and the Church do their best work.

Instead of being dialed in on scarcity, which is an eternal temptation for us, God in Christ (in this week's Gospel, particularly), declares that the harvest is, in fact, plentiful and what is lacking are laborers for it. That is the very moment when Jesus turns to his twelve disciples and says that he is sending them out to the lost sheep of Israel. To top that charge off, he tells them to take, effectively, only themselves and to pack light. No extras, no caches of money to cushion the challenge of setting out on foot to "cold call" people who do not expect, or even want, a visit from them.

That is the very moment when God's abundant grace begins to sustain us, and to teach us to look at the challenges of the present age with new (and grateful) eyes. It seems impossible, daunting. And yet, looking back on life and ministry, I can offer personal testimony that it is in those very moments that the Church actually becomes its best self. When we are surrounded by "enough" as the Church, we become complacent. We do not tend to seek out new challenges, or to make contacts with people with whom we are not already intimate. Instead, we sit back and rest.

Now, in these days, instead of feeling like we have enough...we feel challenged. In that challenge, God is quite active. The mission field, and the harvest, is wide open. There is an abundance of challenge. The trials seem overwhelming...and now is the moment when God's abundant grace is getting its chance to be felt, for many as if for the first time in a long time.

As Paul says in his letter to the Romans:
Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-- though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:1-8
So, your challenge for the day...look to those places in your life that feel like deserts. Look and note that while we might feel daunted, God is already at work in us and in the wilderness landscape around us. We are the laborers summoned to assist our God, who draws water from flint, who makes bread fall from heaven and who provides sustenance and care to the beloved, even in the most desolate landscapes.

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