Sermon: Labor in the Field (November 6 2011 – (Proper 27, Year A))

Amos 5:18-24; Luke 12:32-40

This morning we heard several scriptural texts in which the coming of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, loudly and insistently and a bit dramatically. In fact, the lectionary texts for the entire month of November, leading up to the season of Advent, call us insistently to reflect on and prepare for the day of God’s coming.

November is not an easy month of the lectionary. These are not easy texts to deal with, either as a listener or a preacher. There is a reason no one reads the prophet Amos right before going to bed at night. There are so many nice passages in the Bible: scripture verses featuring fluffy white sheep, green pastures, and everlasting peace. In the November lectionary, there are no fluffy sheep. But the truth is that, biblically speaking, the idea that our Lord is coming just can’t be ignored. Wherever our Bible falls open, we encounter the persistent idea that God is coming, and sooner rather than later. Whether we open to the Hebrew prophets, the gospels, the epistles, or the book of Revelation: the biblical authors are very, very sure that God is coming to dwell among us, and soon. In fact, they just can’t stop talking about it. The Bible closes with that promise: At the end of the last chapter of the last book of the Bible, three times John recorded Christ’s wonderful promise: “I am coming quickly”. And in verse 20 John, and all Christians, respond with deep yearning, the cry of our hearts: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

Any yet – we don’t talk much about the Bible’s prophetic urgency, this relentless insistence that the day of the Lord is at hand. Prophets like Amos feel almost embarrassing somehow. They are impolite. They’re too dramatic for our taste. Amos reminds me of the sidewalk prophets who often stood on the street corners of Cleveland, Ohio, where I grew up. I don’t see many sidewalk prophets in Munich, but poverty-stricken Cleveland was full of them: shabby, unkempt, often homeless men carrying hand-painted signs “Repent, the Day of the Lord is near” and crying out to pedestrians about destruction and judgment. Amos feels a bit like that. Who wants to be seen chatting with the highway prophets? When I encountered one of these sidewalk prophets growing up, I dropped my eyes and hurried past. But we can’t ignore the Bible or its prophets who, oddly enough, are crying out the same message. “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” . “The Kingdom of God has come near.” It’s an echo that rings out to us from every prophet – this morning from Amos and from our Lord himself, who told the disciples to proclaim it to everyone who would listen.

Reading the Bible, it seems that the Kingdom should have arrived by now, doesn’t it?

But honestly, the Kingdom “at hand” and “come near” does not always seem true to

our experience as human beings in a broken world. We wake up every morning and

face a world of violence, uncertainty, and injustice. We experience personal devastation,

watch the evening news or follow the political situation in our home countries and

wonder – where is the Kingdom? The read in the Bible that the Kingdom of God is near,

close, soon, almost here. But when we look around, we can’t help but ask: when?

where? We might say to God, no offence, but things down here look as bad as ever.

We’ve been waiting a long time. When are we going to start seeing the signs of the

coming Kingdom?

But the question I want to ask this morning is: what are we waiting for?

Some Christians, it seems to me, are waiting for easy way out of the mess we’re in, a

one-way first-class luxury airfare to a better world. There are an awful lot of people

waiting for their golden ticket to heaven, those who are already trying on their white

robes for size and planning their eternal retirement behind the pearly gates. There are

people waiting to be showered with prosperity, wealth and comfort.

But according to Amos and Jesus, those people are waiting for the wrong thing.

According to Amos, what we’re waiting for is for justice to roll down like waters, and

righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

What are we waiting for? We’re waiting for justice. Righteousness. Equality.

Peace. We are waiting for the Kingdom. But our texts this morning are clear: we are

called to bring God’s kingdom into being. We are to be “ready for service”, as Jesus says

this morning. Nowhere in my Bible does Jesus say, “sit back, relax, put your feet up. I’ve

got this covered. No need to lift a finger.” We are clearly, unmistakably called to work,

care and love alongside our God in creating and realizing the vision of the Kingdom.

“Be dressed, ready for service”, Jesus tells us from the Scriptures this morning. In other

words, put on your overalls and your work gloves, and get ready to labour beside me.

When the followers came looking for John the Baptist in the early chapters of Matthew,

Jesus said to them, “What did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft robes? No,

those who wear soft robes are in kings’ palaces.” Plush white robes, Jesus says, are for

earthly royalty. The laborers of the Kingdom are dressed for action, ready to work. Let’s

roll up the sleeves on our work clothes and get our hands dirty for the kingdom, because

our call is to labor and service.

Jesus came to be a laborer in the harvest, and it is our call to go out with him into the

fields. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few! And there is no need to

wonder, “what can I do?” “What work is left?” “What needs are begging to be filled?”.

There is no lack of needs to be filled, people to be loved, mouths to be fed, brokenness

to be healed. Look around you. The world is crying out for our love, our touch, our

passion, our service. The only question is whether we are willing to take off our white

robes, put on our work clothes and head out into the fields and streets with Jesus.

What are we waiting and working for? The vision is clear:

Let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream

Every time I hear these verses of the prophet Amos, I also hear the voice of Martin

Luther King, who loved to use this verse in his sermons in the fight for equality for black

Americans in the 1960s. And yes, I do know that I’m just a little white girl and I can’t do

justice to a sermon of the great Dr. King, but I’d like to try, anyway, and read you an

excerpt of a sermon called “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, delivered in Memphis,

Tennessee in April 1968.

It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism.

But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down

here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has

commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children

who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new

Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the

new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis,

Tennessee. This is what we have to do.”

(End quote.) To Dr. King’s list we can easily add “the new Munich,” or the new Cleveland,

Ohio, the new Ghana or Nigeria, the many different places we come from. We could

even talk about “the new Peace Church”, since there are plenty of needs to be filled

right here among us.

What are we waiting for? The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Pick a plot

that looks ripe and ready to harvest, pull on your work gloves, and get to work. Where

God calls you to go, go. From the civil rights to women’s rights, from to the fight to

achieve income equality, to the battle to obtain a better quality of life for immigrants and

asylum seekers, the struggle to end violence against women: there are plenty of fields

calling out for dedicated workers, servant’s hands. The only question that remains is:

what are you waiting for?

This brings us back to the question of urgency and anticipation – the question of timing.

The prophet Amos lived almost three thousand years ago, and a few more millennia

have come and gone since Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God was “very near”

and “at hand”. Where are you, Lord?

When, Lord? When? Sometimes we feel we’ve been waiting and praying for a long

time. Every Sunday when we pray the Lord’s prayer, we cry out with the unchanging

refrain, “Your Kingdom come.” Or we cry out with John the Revelator: “Even so,

come, Lord Jesus!” What we mean by that is, Lord, we desperately need your

redeeming touch, your healing power, your radical peace. We want things here to

change. We want our world to be charged with the radical justice and peace that

characterize the Kingdom.

But when we’re looking in the right places, I think we can already detect evidence of

God’s coming among us. The traces are everywhere. I think we can say with confidence

that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It’s on the march.

We can hear the Kingdom when we listen to the sermons of Dr. King and other prophets

of justice. The kingdom sounds like many voices and languages proclaiming complete

equality and racial integration. I also think the Kingdom sounds like Christians from 30

different countries singing together at Peace Church on Sundays! We can see the

Kingdom of God in every courageous attempt, no matter how great or small, to defend

human dignity and secure a decent life. The Kingdom looks like fair treatment for asylum

seekers and adequate social and medical care for all. We can feel the Kingdom in the

brothers and sisters of our congregation who support and care for one another across

boundaries of origin, race, language and gender. The Kingdom feels like a bear hug, the

kiss of peace, the laying on of hands for prayer. We can even taste the Kingdom: it

tastes like communion bread, or a warm meal in a hungry stomach.

The Kingdom of God grows and solidifies with our love, our service, and our

participation. And it is coming – right here, in our midst, in our service and in our love.

In fact, I wonder if the very best place to see and recognize the Kingdom of God is from

the inside. After all, when we are working for the kingdom, we are working in the

kingdom. Perhaps the Kingdom of God is visible only when looked for in harvest field

and on the streets. Perhaps the Kingdom is the reality we witness and experience when

we go out into the world to serve, love, and labor. That means that if we really want to

see and know our Savior, we may need to join him where he is: in the fields and on the

streets: laboring, preaching, praying, serving, healing, loving.

What are we waiting for?

While we’re waiting for a glimpse of the kingdom, let’s put on our work clothes and join

our Savior in the fields.

While we’re waiting for the day when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness

like an ever-flowing stream, let’s ask God where we can labor in the justice movement,

or where our serving hands can be used to promote righteousness.

While we’re waiting for our Lord to come, for all to me made well, for the earth to be

renewed: let’s roll up our sleeves and serve one another with all of our love.

Let us join our calloused, working hands together and cry out with all the saints: Even

so, come, Lord Jesus!

Let us pray.

YOUR KINGDOM COME:

Lord, may it be not just a refrain on our lips, but the cry of our hearts.

Send us out to labour

in the fields, the streets, this church community, our workplaces, and our lives:

because the Kingdom is on the way, and we want to be a part of it.

Together we cry out, even with out very lives:

EVEN SO, COME LORD JESUS!

Amen.

 

Liturgy: My opening reading and closing blessing are lifted from the Service of Peace and Justice from the Iona Abbey Worship Book, (pp. 77-78). I won’t reproduce those here, lest those wonderful people should be cheated out of their royalties.

Opening Prayer: 

Spirit of God, we want to enter into your presence this morning. We are ready to experience you in new ways. We are ready to be made new. Dwell with us, sing with us, move in us, and inspire us. Although we are sometimes fearful, in your presence we find courage. When we are dismayed, in your presence we find hope. On days when we are tired and weary, in your presence we find rest.  When we come with doubts, in your presence we find our faith renewed.  If we come lacking vision, in your presence we begin to dream anew. Spirit of Living God, Holy presence, divine Spirit: fill this place this morning, and lift up our hearts to worship you. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer: O God, gladly we live and move and have our being in you. When we are tired, you refresh us with your power. When we are weary, you renew us with your strength. When we are hopeless, you remind us of your perfect hope.

We pray for this world we are a part of, that our hands and feet would serve you in it. We pray for the places we come from, that they would be touched with peace and justice. We pray for the communities we move in, that we would be instruments of your peace. We pray for the families and friendships we are a part of, that even these micro-communities would reflect justice and peace.

We also bring before you the concerns and cares of our brothers and sisters…..

This morning we rejoice together with our sisters and brothers who are experiencing blessings from your hand. In good times, we can celebrate your blessings and rejoice together in your abundance.

This morning we offer ourselves to each other and to you in the service of peace, justice, reconciliation and community – to care for the earth and to participate in your radiant goodness. Give us strength to serve. Amen.

———-

Inspiring / Related / On my bulletin board:

It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

Martin Luther King, Jr  – “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” (delivered 3 April 1968, Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters), Memphis, Tennessee)

Warum denken Sie nicht, daß er der Kommende ist, der von Ewigkeit her bevorsteht, der Zukünftige, die endliche Frucht eines Baumes, dessen Blätter wir sind? Was hält Sie ab, seine Geburt hinauszuwerfen in die werdenden Zeiten und Ihr Leben zu leben wie einen schmerzhaften und schönen Tag in der Geschichte einer großen Schwangerschaft? Sehen Sie denn nicht, wie alles, was geschieht, immer wieder Anfang ist, und könnte es nicht Sein Anfang sein, da doch Beginn an sich immer so schön ist?

Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”  – St. Augustine

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