Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35-38, TNIV)
Welcome friends! It’s good to be back in the sanctuary with you, and it’s good to be with you the rest of you either in your cars in the parking lot, or online through Zoom or Facebook Live. I know it’s different, as we’ve said all along, every day in this season is an adaptation. Thank you for your patience and grace. Our safety team and council have done a great job of discernment and making sure that our church and community are safe, and that our mission as a church continues to grow.
The sermon title today is “occupy”. It’s an interesting word, here’s a definition:
verb (used with object)
1. to take or fill up
2. to engage or employ the mind, energy, or attention of
3. to be a resident or tenant of; dwell in
As we occupy this space today, it is different, isn’t it? We have to wear masks, stay 6’ to 10’ feet apart, every other pew, sing differently, not shake hands, not pass out things, and it will be a much shorter service as we don’t want to have to keep you in a closed in environment for too long. It’s uncomfortable and not the same as it once was.
Maybe during this time of Covid-19, and even the social and civic unrest of the past few weeks, we can look at the word “occupy” in a new way. We have “occupied” church, just not in this building, or on a Sunday morning. But, we have found ways to creatively meet and serve. We have found that our community is alive and real, even with having to suspend so many traditions during this time. We may get back to some of those in new ways, but we have seen our connections grow, our engagement with the community expand, and we have been an empowered community of faith. We have fallen even more deeply in love with “church” the body of Christ. And, we have seen Christ in and around us.
And, as we’ve discussed the pandemic of racism that has gone on for hundreds of years, we are finding out things about us as a church and people and listening, really listening.
When we look at Jesus, we see that Jesus modeled that listening as well. And, we, the Church, humanity even, is the body of Christ…we are Christ’s body.
As we read this mornings passage, we see Christ going from town to villages, proclaiming the good news. He was occupying the space that was before him. Having agency and living out a message of good news to the people that he met. Folks in bondage, feeling helpless, overwhelmed, lost, and not able to get ahead in a system that was stacked against them by those in the dominant Roman empire and those that were complicit with that empire.
Yet, Jesus built relationships with them, and even reached out to those in power with a message of inclusion and love, and bringing God’s healing to their lives. When Jesus saw the crowds of people yearning for something more, yearning for a better life, he had deep compassion on them.
The word for compassion in this text has deep connotations of being moved emotionally and even physically. Jesus had compassion on the crowds as he saw that they were harassed and helpless and in need of a shepherd.
Friends, as the body of Christ, we are to follow Christ’s lead, to live in Christ and to listen and to love as Christ does.
Check out these works from scripture and from theologian Miroslav Volf:
1 Thessalonians 2:8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
Love well. Receive love well.
– Miroslav Volf
What does that love mean to us? Well, we not only share good news, but we share our lives together. Now, the good news is that we have to speak truth to power, we have to call for release from bondage to those in prison, good news to the poor, that their lack of economic access should not define them, and that whatever systems that we live in that exclude folks need to be held into account.
And, we have to be with folks, like Jesus was, like the disciples were. We have to look at the crowds and have compassion. Not condemnation, not hurt feelings, not with fear, and listen and not interpret them in ways that others like the media or politicians on either side tell us.
We have the crowds around us, some are protesting stay at home orders, some are protesting racism, some are simply wondering what to think or believe. But, literally, we see them in our city and in cities and towns across the globe right now. People are hurting. We can have our opinions, but we cannot condemn, we have to look deeper within ourselves and ask some questions of ourselves.
As as pastor, someone who loves this church and community, loves you all, I have struggled these past few weeks even as I’ve moved and have been doing so much. I often don’t have the right words, but I know that God is doing something in my life and in our lives together. And, during this time, I’ve felt a great sense of unity.
We live in a country called the United States. I love my country, but, it’s not so united these days. And, maybe, it never has been, at least not for all peoples.
But, we have been united, even in our diversity of thought…and, we have an opportunity now to address the issues of our day, Covid-19, and the pandemic of systematic racism that has plagued our country and world. We cannot demonize the protestors, police, or any peoples. Please, let your frustration be aimed at a system that keeps people from living abundantly as it did Jesus. Jesus loved the people. Allow yourself to be Christ’s body and feel what Christ felt and feels. As I’ve said before, Jesus was an outsider and an insider. And, he worked from both ends to bring change and show love. He occupied the spaces that he found himself in and was present to the moment.
We must do the same. Jesus calls us out to be workers in the harvest field. And, in a season of Covid-19, working outside is a bit more safer! Seriously, we are being called to find creative ways to listen, to learn, and to love. This world is crying out for us.
We may not have certainty of what’s going to happen next, and, I don’t want to jinx us by saying that, but we can stay together in unity as a church, even as we process the events before us, and we can pray.
In this passage, the word pray literally translates as “plead”. Jesus is pleading for workers to be sent in to the fields, cultivating understanding, listening to others, being present, and growing in love.
Friends, it’s so good to be here with you, may we know that God is pleading for us to occupy church in a way that says that we are much more than bricks and mortar, much more than the sermons we preach, or the songs we sing, or the liturgy we work out…all of those are great, but we are more, and we are growing in our love for one another and the world around us. We are the body of Christ, the image bearers of God, humans connected to one another and to God.