Alex Easley is a Middler in the Master of Divinity program. Alex comes to Seminary of the Southwest from the Diocese of Texas and currently serves as the Middler Seminarian Intern at St. Julian’s of Norwich Episcopal Church.
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’ (Matthew 9:35-38 NRSV)
Last Thursday, February 6th, the Rev. Jimmy Bartz gave a lecture at Seminary of the Southwest entitled “Fear, Risk, Courage, Failure, Intimacy, Change, Mission, and the Kingdom.” Throughout his lecture, Jimmy urged his hearers to live courageously, taking risks and following Christ into uncharted territory.
Perhaps the most striking point that Jimmy made was this: Jesus did not tell his disciples to ask God for more harvest, but for more laborers. In the Church, we often make the mistake of focusing our time and energy on producing a bigger harvest, on churning out measurable results that we can point to as evidence of our success. Maybe it’s a brand new multimillion-dollar church building, a new slate of formation programs, or a record-breaking stewardship campaign. Sometimes, we lose our way and begin to believe that it is up to us to produce a bountiful harvest.
Too often, Jimmy reminded us, we are seeking productivity when we should be seeking people.
Because here’s the thing. The harvest is already plentiful – God has already redeemed the world; the battle has already been fought; love has already won. The fruits of God’s work in the world are ours to enjoy. We already have everything we need, for every good and perfect gift has been offered to us by a loving and gracious God. The Church knows this blessed truth, but many, many people in the world do not – they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. What we need to be doing, then, is bringing these people in and inviting them to be a part of the harvest with us, to work together and celebrate and feast on the fruits of God’s saving work. Whatever we put our time, talent, and treasure towards, we should be asking ourselves – does this invite more laborers into God’s harvest?
Inviting others to walk alongside us on the risky, uncertain path of discipleship is a scary thing. It takes a great deal of courage. But, like Jesus, let our courage be fueled by our compassion, and let us go forth into the world joyfully, gathering more and more disciples to share in the harvest.