Laborers

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Gospel: Matthew 9:35–10:23 New Revised Standard Version

35Jesus 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. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
10:1Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12As you enter the house, greet it. 13If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
16“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

Devotional Questions from the ELCA’s Book of Faith Initiative:

What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about?

What delights me in this text?  What do I like about it?

What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  You might remember a time when you had to use your “street smarts” more than your “book learning,” for example.

What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling you to do or to be because of this story?

As I have read this text in preparation for this Bible study this month, verses 37-38 keep leaping out at me:

Then [Jesus] 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.”

Perhaps it’s because these are verses that were read at my ordination service, where I was made into a pastor.  The preacher that day reminded us that pastors are laborers sent out into the harvest of faithful people whom God has prepared.  More than likely, though, it’s because of the new statistic that our Nebraska Synod bishop, Brian Maas, keeps repeating these days, “This year, we will have an 800 pastor shortage based on available calls and available pastors.  In two years, we will be short by 1,000 pastors.”  This is a bit terrifying.  How are congregations going to keep fulfilling the mission that God is calling them to without qualified leaders to assist them?  How are pastors going to keep from burning out as they are asked to take on more and more duties?  Will we return to the circuit riding days of the frontier?  How will we manage all of this change?

I hope you haven’t stopped reading; I know there is enough bad news everywhere these days that you don’t really need more from me.  The thing is, we are Lutherans, and Lutherans are able to look at things from multiple perspectives and, rather than succumbing to fear and despair, we seek to find the ray of hope, asking, “Where is God in all of this?”

Part of the answer to this question is prayer.  In March, the ELCA Conference of Bishops passed this resolution:  “As the Conference of Bishops, we call our worshiping communities to pray for raising up leaders for this church. We ask that the petitions of every worship service include a plea that new lay leaders, deacons and pastors be identified, invited, encouraged and supported in responding to God’s call to ministry.”  We can pray for God to open up the eyes, ears, and hearts of those who are gifted with the leadership qualities to hear God’s call to become pastors, deacons, and lay leaders.  I ask you to consider adding this concern to your personal prayers in the days to come, as well.

Another answer comes from our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton.  She has begun a new leadership inititiave across the ELCA.  You can find out more about it here:  www.elca.org/leaders This initiative “intends to inspire ELCA leaders to seek out and encourage gifted people in their congregations, communities and networks to consider a call to the ministry of the gospel, supported by growing levels of scholarships for seminary tuition.”  Who in your life is a person who you believe might be one who needs to answer the call to church leadership?  Have you told them?  Have you asked them how you can support them?  Have you lifted them up in prayer, or considered setting aside a gift to help one of our own become a pastor or deacon?  If your answer is “not yet,” I urge you to consider that there is no better time than now, when the need is clearly so great.

A final answer comes a little closer to home.  This problem might seem far away; after all, you have a full-time called pastor with children who has set down roots in the community and feels both energized and at home among you.  I invite you to consider your own leadership roles within our parish, and consider how God might be calling you to leadership in a new way.  Are you already a leader?  Thanks be to God for you!  Have you served as a leader in the past, but now wish to “pass the baton” to a new generation of leaders?  How are you providing mentorship, teaching, and encouragement to that new generation?  Have you asked them “how’s it going” or “what can I do to support you” lately?  Are you uncertain where to start, but you love your church, and would be willing to step into unknown territory to help it grow and thrive?  Please take all of these questions to God in prayer in the coming days; I will also pray for you.

In Christ,
Pastor Breen Sipes

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