Sunday, July 7, 2019

Harvest of Weeds: Service for Sunday 7 July 2019

Sermon for Sunday 7 July 2019

Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem
The Rev. Carrie Ballenger

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

There was a time in my life when a field full of dandelions seemed like a bumper crop of pure joy. I loved their brilliant yellow-orange color, and the way they sprouted up like magic overnight, and of course I loved the way you could pluck them, split their stems, and chain them together as necklaces, bracelets, even crowns befitting a king or a queen. And if that field of gold happened to stand untouched for a few days, all the better. For then it became a field of snow—fluffy white spores just waiting for a good puff of air to be transformed into wishes.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but one day I looked outside the window of my house in suburban Chicago and when I saw a golden field of dandelions, I didn’t experience joy. Instead, I thought about weedkiller and my lawnmower. I thought about the upcoming Saturday, and how my mission would have to be ridding the lawn of these pests in order to be socially acceptable to the neighbors. One day, dandelions were no longer a joy-filled harvest—they were merely a problem to be solved.

Dear people, I admit that when I read this week’s Gospel text from Luke about the bountiful harvest and the seventy laborers, I was a bit bored. There’s something about standing in the midst of a military conflict and announcing that the Christian mission is tough, and that not everyone wants to hear a message of peace based on justice, and that reconciliation and living together are sometimes a dangerous thing to preach and proclaim, which seems a bit like…old news. It’s not that folks who live and work here in the Holy Land don’t need to hear it again (because certainly we all can stand to hear it again)—'it’s just that we know this truth well. We live it.

Nevertheless, I started to work on just that sort of sermon earlier in the week.

And then, on July 4th, I started watching the latest season of “Stranger Things” with my kid, and I was taken in again by the idea of the “upside down”—the alternate reality that keeps breaking into the world of that television show. (If you haven’t seen it, don’t worry—just imagine that the regular world, this one, sits atop another world we usually don’t notice, but which can periodically break in and disturb our comfortable patterns.)

I wondered to myself what would happen if I read this text in an upside-down way. In other words:

What if the Good News is not that the Seventy were sent, but that there is a harvest in the first place?

In fact, maybe it’s not that upside-down to hear the Good News as simply this: the harvest is plentiful. God has provided soil, and seeds, and rain, and sunshine. God has nurtured and cared for a beautiful crop of vegetables and wheat and soybeans and sunflowers and dandelions and fields of fruit we can’t imagine.

The harvest is plentiful. God has cultivated beautifully diverse fields of humanity on our own streets and towns, and in Mexico, and in Iran, and in North Korea, and on both sides of the separation wall here in Palestine and Israel.

The harvest is plentiful—and here’s the thing we often forget: the harvest doesn’t become any more beautiful or bountiful or worthy once a missionary gets ahold of it. Its worth is not determined by my labors, or by yours, or by the church’s. Every field, every flower, is beautiful and worthy—and loved—because God planted them and nurtured them—not because I preached to them, or plucked them up, or fashioned them into necklaces and bracelets and crowns that fit my agenda and my purposes.

The harvest is plentiful. God’s creation is amazing. Humanity is amazing. YOU are a amazing. This is Good News. Full stop! Amen!

OK, but also this Scripture text tells us there are laborers commissioned by Jesus. Just a few, compared to the vast harvest God has cultivated.

And these laborers—let’s just assume that you and I might be some of them—are sent out into God’s abundant fields to gather folks in. Following the spirit of the instructions given to the Seventy, we know that we are to travel lightly. We’re not to go alone, but to take others with us. We are to accept hospitality, and perhaps stay long enough to get to know the culture of the place and the people.

And, if when we offer peace, that peace is returned to us, we are advised to wipe the dust off our feet and move on.

And here is where I think we (the church) often get confused.

We read those words about “wiping the dust off our feet” and some of us think: “OK, so our job is to map the world, to establish borders, to set the boundaries of God’s love. We’ll preach here, and here, and here.” (Or, more likely…we’ll invite people from there and there and there to come to us on Sunday morning!)

We will invite them, and we will preach to them. Some will come to church, and some won’t. Some will accept the message, and some won’t. But then…we’ll be able to draw a map. We’ll be able to say:

Here’s the field where some potential church members are.
And over here—here are the Muslims.
Here is the queer community.
Here the immigrants.
Here are the ones who didn’t vote like us.
Here are the towns, the neighborhoods, the people we can write off, we can shake off, for they are not like us, they have not listened to us, they don’t know our hymns, and most of all—they make us uncomfortable.

So we shake the dust off our feet as a way of saying: Probably these folks aren’t even part of God’s harvest at all.

But listen: Our mission is not to determine who is worthy to be harvested and who is not. The harvest is the harvest, and it is already beautiful and worthy, by virtue of being planted and nurtured and loved by God the Creator.

The harvest is plentiful. Jesus did not tell the Seventy to build walls or set borders or to be surveyors of God’s farmland, establishing “us” and “them”, but always to simply and clearly proclaim “peace” and “the kingdom of God has come near.”

This is what the Seventy were sent to do, and this is what the church today is sent to do.

We are sent to do this because there’s a good chance some don’t know they are beautiful.

We are sent to do this because so many don’t know there’s a loving farmer who each day nurtures and loves them.

We are sent to do this because there are some gorgeous dandelions out there who have been told they are outsiders,
They’re not the right color,
They’re a little too extra,
They’ve crossed borders without permission,
who have been told they must change before God loves them (or at least before the church receives them)
who have been told they are weeds,

and haven’t heard that really, they’re golden balls of sunshine, jewels in the crown of Christ, crucified and risen, who in great love emptied himself for the sake of every stalk of corn, every olive, every one of us in every field on earth.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. And so the church is called to keep preaching, to keep loving, to keep expanding the borders, to keep setting chairs at the table, to keep on keeping on for the sake of Christ, who on the cross opened his arms to all.

Dear siblings in Christ, dear fellow laborers for the kingdom,

I hope each of you goes out this week, boldly proclaiming peace to all you encounter. I hope those of you who have been here on a Holy Land pilgrimage will especially share the ways you’ve seen that the Kingdom of God has come near in this place—through the witness of Palestinian Christians, of peace activists, of the many Israelis and Palestinians of good conscience who are dedicated to justice and reconciliation in this land. The harvest is indeed plentiful! Thanks be to God.

But listen: If you are part of the harvest that’s been left behind or ignored
If you’ve been trampled or poisoned by judgment
If you’ve gone to seed waiting for someone to see you as beautiful and worthy,
Or for the church to make a place for you,
I hope you can hear these words today:

Peace be with you. Christ’s peace be upon you.
Know that you are an integral part of God’s creation, and of God’s mission in the world. The harvest is plentiful—and so is God’s love. So is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so is the bread and the wine, through which the kingdom of God comes near, and which you, beloved, are invited to receive today.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.