Each one teach one
Sermon form Sunday 18, 2017
One of the most difficult things Christians face when reading the gospels is finding ways to relate to the metaphors Jesus uses—metaphors drawn from his time and his society. When he says the harvest is great and the laborers are few, we tend to gloss over the fact that harvests back then were a little different from harvests today.
In Jesus’ time nearly everyone was involved in agriculture, They had to be. Feeding the population depended on physical labor, not machines. Imagine harvesting wheat by hand, with a sickle and a rake instead of a combine. The work was back breaking. Laborers worked from sunup to sundown, they slept in the fields, ate in the fields and didn’t rest until the job was done.
You may have heard of the feast of the tabernacles in the Jewish tradition, you may have seen strange structures created out of cornstalks outside of Jewish synagogues in the fall. Those structures are meant to replicate the temporary housing laborers used during the harvest in Jesus’ time. They should remind us what a chore it was to put food on the table back then and how grateful the laborers must have been when the job was done.
Today, less than 5% of the American population works in agriculture and they work using machines that are guided by GPS and computers. The harvest is still great, but the laborers are even fewer. And when the harvest is complete, it is delivered to middlemen who process it and then ship it to the grocery stores where we buy our food. Although the harvest is greater than it has ever been, there are many who don’t have the money to buy what they need. That is why our food shelf is not only a good thing, a necessary thing.
The point Jesus is making in this piece of scripture is that there is a lot to do. Specifically, there are a lot of souls out there to be saved. If I concluded this sermon today by directing you to go out and save ten people in the coming week, what would you do? Would you pitch a temporary shelter on the mall and harangue the crowd? Would you work your way through the telephone book, assuming you could find a telephone book? Would you hire a direct mail company or just pass out flyers on the bus? And how many hours would you devote to the harvest. If things didn’t go well, would you give up after an hour or two?
I think it is fair to say that harvesting souls was easier in Jesus’ time. For one thing, most of his converts were Jews. They already knew the God Jesus was speaking about. Also, the people Jesus addressed were neighbors, people he knew by name. That raises the question, do you know your neighbors’ names? Most of us don’t these days. That means the harvest must be conducted among strangers. That’s a bit harder than converting observant people who we know and have lived with for years.
Here's another question, “How are you going to introduce God to those you speak to?” When you approach a woman, will you tell her that you want to help her get to know her father in heaven? Will you take the time to consider that there are many women who have had such negative experiences with males that they have no interest in a form of divinity that assumes the primacy males? How will you teach the Lord’s prayer to a potential convert who finds “God the Father” an offensive concept that is as outdated as sickles and rakes on the modern farm. When you take the time to think about such questions, the harvest seems an onerous task, one best put off till tomorrow.
And that’s what we do. We attend worship, say our prayers and keep watch over our own souls and leave the harvest of new souls to those more comfortable with the task—the young men in white shirts and black ties who knock on the door, the young women who bring the Watchtower magazine to your door, the church down the road that hangs invitations on your doorknob.
If we do that, we are ignoring Jesus call to service. We need to take up the task he has given us. We need to be intentional. First, we need to be the kind of people who know their neighbors. Start there. We also need to be the kind of people who are willing to admit to our faith without pretending we have all the answers or are qualified to judge others. And we must be the kind of people who stand up for justice, protect the vulnerable and insist that God’s children be fed, clothed and housed. We must be involved and it is through that involvement that the harvest will be gatered.
Most importantly, we cannot assume that somebody else in the congregation will take up the task. The harvest is our responsibility. Each one teach one. Among ourselves we must teach each other how to gather souls. We must encourage each other and hold each other accountable. The Mormon’s evangelize in pairs. That makes sense. They support and guide each other. They sustain each other. We would do well to follow their example.