The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost: July 7, 2019
It has been said that “all Christian ethics is a therefore ethics.” Because Jesus lived, died, and rose again, therefore we live a certain way as an act of thanksgiving for such a gift. I would add that all Christian action, all Christian service, all Christian worship, springs and leaps from the “therefore.” St. Paul reminds us that we are to “Never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul, through his baptism, and we through our own baptism, have died to wanting life on our terms only.
On the cross we see the icon of God’s continual self-offering: “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” That pattern is found in the whole creation by the way in which God has woven it together. We are called to participate with God in this manner of being as we walk the planet. “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at the harvest time if we do not give up” (Galatians6:9). You of St. Francis certainly have not given up. Therefore, because God has offered himself to us in one another and the entire creation through stars and planets, music, a beautiful soufflé, a garden in the back yard, bread and wine, a painted bunting flitting about, a person next to you this very morning; we keep the feast. St. Francis Church—your call is to keep the feast and repeat God’s pattern of self-offering over and over and over again. We practice being the “new creation” in here, in holy drama, so that we can live it out there, in harvest land.
So it is that Luke grants us the vision that Jesus is Lord of the harvest. He is seeking to reap that harvest in us and through us everywhere and at all times. We are invited to participate with him, even through celebrating with Claire being received today, aware that such a harvest does not always come in ways we expect.
A couple of years ago Bonnie and I were in Alaska for a House of Bishops meeting. Not having a car, we used Uber one day to go out to do some errands. The driver, a young woman in her 20’s, struck up a conversation. Along the way she asked why we were there. We shared that we were present at the invitation of the Bishop and Episcopal Church of Alaska, and that the day before we as bishops and spouses were out in the communities engaging with people in conversation about their mission, worshiping together and participating in the blessing of the land among native peoples. Upon hearing this she got very quiet. Then with tears welling up in her eyes, she explained that when she was driving the day before she had been suddenly overcome by a deep sense of peace and found her heart full of delight, even exaltation, that she was alive and in that land. In telling our story she became aware that this had occurred when we were engaged in the blessing prayers.
After a most animated ongoing conversation, we went so far as to invite her to the community of bishops Eucharist to be held back at our hotel in a couple of hours. She dropped us off, we never expecting her to show up, but lo and behold as we later walked down the hall for worship, there she was! She sat with us, participated, heard the Presiding Bishop preach, went around energetically sharing “the peace” with everyone, and went on her way rejoicing, back to driving for Uber that evening.
Perhaps you will recall a wonderful question from Psalm 78: “Can God set a table (an altar), in the wilderness?” It refers there to the Israeli wilderness, but it could be a waiting-for-a-court-to-act wilderness, a personal wilderness, or any context in which we might encounter a wilderness marked by uncertainty and unknowing. The promise of today is in the Lord of the harvest telling us in mercy and hope that not only can God do so, God does do so and calls us to do the same!
It is the same hope we discover in the I Kings reading today when Elisha confers the grace of God’s healing power on a leprous Gentile enemy, Naaman, who has, interestingly, crossed the border. Not only that, if the culturally powerless little girl had not spoken up, thereby exercising her God-given power, the healing would never have occurred. The whole story is one of how ignorance and misconception that limits how we expect God to act, becomes through mercy and healing genuine new awareness. Even Naaman’s misconceptions about how a prophet operates and what proper healing was to look like got challenged as God’s intervention came from an unexpected place. What does that teach us?
There is no place God is not, whether it be in an Uber ride, in a little girl before a great warrior, or a so-called enemy. We receive again today great words of commissioning: “…ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Note that it is “his harvest,” not ours. Sure, it can seem hostile or even threatening like lambs in the midst of wolves, yet we also know Isaiah’s vision that the lamb and the wolf will lie down together. Our cause is the pursuit of peace and reconciliation.
We gather today before Luke’s Kingdom vision of the harvest in anticipation of the full reign of God where all are fed, perfect equity and justice are realized, no one has to flee violence and hatred, and all have access to God’s bounty in a community of love founded in mercy. You and I are to be setting up God’s altar anywhere and everywhere as a harvest people, sometimes setting the table yourself and sometimes having it set for you. It is why God has brought together this particular constellation of people at St. Francis. You and I are to be God’s “therefore.” Because God is beauty, abundance, generosity and grace, therefore we keep the feast here, so that we can be the feast out there.
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.