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June 12, 2005 (Sunday 11 · Time after Pentecost)—“Job Security in a Plentiful Harvest”

Pastor David Barber

Exodus 19:2-8a; Matthew 9:35-10:23

Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

About a month ago a little controversy was generated when a group of Christians sponsored a seminar on Market Place Ministry. It also took on the name of Transformation Hawaii.

The purpose of this conference was to lift up the name and the ministry of Jesus in the school, in places of business, in our government, and wherever Christian men and women lived and worked. The intent was to transform Hawaii for Jesus Christ.

Besides the fact that there are many different religious groups in Hawaii who are not all that anxious or excited about being transformed for Jesus, more fuel was added to the fire because of a letter written by our Lt. Governor, "Duke" Aiona in support of Transformation Hawaii.

This letter was written on State of Hawaii letterhead, and was sent to many pastors urging their support and their attendance at this conference. Perhaps I wasn't important enough or the "right" kind of Christian so to speak, but I never received such a letter.

I really don't have a problem with our Lt. Governor expressing his faith in Jesus and using his faith as a guiding force in the fulfillment of his roles and responsibilities as an elected official and in every aspect of his life.

In fact, I would hope that more of our elected officials would do the same. As a Jew I would hope that our Governor, Linda Lingle, would draw from the best that her faith has to offer and receive encouragement and guidance from that tradition.

As for those who are Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim, I would also hope that the best values of their faith would be apparent in the legislation that they sponsor and support, and that their faith, too, would be a compass, which gives them direction for the fulfillment of their office.

Where we draw the line is when any elected official begins to endorse one religion or one form of that religion over another. That's what happened when our Lt. Governor used letterhead from the State of Hawaii to endorse Transformation Hawaii.

He used the authority of his office to give preference to a particular form of Christianity. Even though he might subscribe to the initials WWJD--"What would Jesus do?"--I'm not sure if Jesus would be pleased or even if Jesus would do the same.

To be sure Jesus does send his disciples out this morning, and it sure sounds like he expects them to be involved in the work of transformation--not Transformation Hawaii perhaps, but rather Transformation Israel.

"Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go proclaim the good news, 'The dominion of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with leprosy, cast out demons." Now, if this isn't transformation, I don't know what is.

Just before this we're told that Jesus saw the crowds surrounding him, and he had compassion for them because they were "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

He gazes at the men and women and children before him, and he sees all the burdens, all the anxieties, and all the diseases they carry with them. He sees their lack of direction, and he is hospitable to the people and their sad condition.

When he sees the mountain of need that stares him in the face, he turns to his disciples and says, "the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few." And then he tells his disciples to pray so that God will send out laborers into the harvest.

What is interesting is that in the very next breath, Jesus summons his own 12 disciples and sends them forth into the harvest. It's almost as if Jesus prayed, then hit his hand on his forehead when he saw the answer to his prayer right before his very eyes.

According to Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, there are five marks that distinguish these disciples. First, the disciples are sent out to do transformative acts that others deem to be impossible. Second, the disciples are not to worry about adequate resources for lean resources make for miracles. That's something we need to remember, too, as a congregation, isn't it?

Third, the disciples may expect to encounter fierce resistance from the institutions they challenge. They can expect to get into trouble with the political and religious authorities. Fourth, the disciples are unafraid for they are prayed for by God's own life.

Fifth, the outcome is sure, and we are to imagine this sure outcome says Brueggemann when land is restored to the poor, healthcare is available to all, and unwelcome outsiders are now insiders. We are to imagine ourselves as those who do great things that culminate in this transformed reality.

Not much has changed has it? There's still a mountain of need out there, and we're still confronted with what seems to be insufficient resources in the face of such need.

Because the harvest is so plentiful and abundant and the battle needs to be fought on so many fronts, the task is overwhelming. As a result, we can easily suffer from battle-fatigue or compassion-fatigue.

But continue we must! That's why we've come this morning--not only to be comforted, but also to be sent out once again. Jesus summons us anew this morning to be involved in the work of transformation where we live and work--in the marketplace, in the school, in our government, and in all those places that affect our lives.

Perhaps this, too, sounds like Transformation Hawaii and transforming Hawaii for Jesus. Well, perhaps it is, but maybe in a slightly different way.

As I said earlier, the gigantic needs of our world demand the best from all our different religious traditions. There's just too much for us to do. So we can't use our energy and our resources to fight among ourselves or to be at odds with folks of other religions. We can't afford to do that, and I'm quite sure that God doesn't want us to be involved in such conflict as well.

To be involved in transformation in the name of Jesus then is not to be involved in a massive conversion exercise. It's to break down barriers--the barriers of hatred and prejudice--with love and understanding.

It's to reach out with compassion and kindness--especially to those who are different--because together, we share a common journey on this planet. It's to work diligently to bring folks together rather than separating and isolating ourselves into different camps and polarizing ourselves around the "rightness" of our issues.

The Old Testament reading for today tells us that we are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. As priests we are to be a bridge for the blessings of God to all people.

We involve ourselves in their welfare, which includes food and nutrition, healthcare and education, and a removal of all those obstacles that keep them from receiving the basic necessities of life--necessities that belong to them as a child of God.

If we like Jesus can look out and see the crowds, then we, too, will respond with compassion. We will notice their particular needs and be involved in works of transformation on their behalf.

This past week I returned from Washington DC where I attended a "One Table Many Voices" Conference sponsored by Bread for the World and Call to Renewal. This conference, too, was a work in transformation--mobilizing us to overcome poverty and hunger in our nation and the world.

When I initially read about this conference, it peaked my interest, but then I set it aside, and didn't give it a second thought. Independent of me, Karen read about the same conference, and she encouraged me to go. I took this as a sign. And I'm thankful for her support and encouragement not only for this venture but also in so many ways.

One of the speakers was Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, recent author of the book, The End of Poverty. In a strident and powerful way he talked about the silent Tsunami that happens every day upon the face of the earth. 20000 people will die today--8 million this year--folks too poor to stay alive.

Those who die will leave behind orphans, havens for terrorists, and unstable societies. "If the words of the rich and wealthy countries were cashed in, we'd be celebrating this morning," he said. "But we haven't lived up to our promises or followed through with our commitments."

Another speaker was Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. Using Oreo cookies he demonstrated how our taxes were used in the discretionary federal budget. You saw the same thing in Wednesday's paper.

In 2004 our military spending hit 455.3 billion dollars. That's $1453.00 per capita. The next closest was the United Kingdom with a paltry 47.4 billion dollars--only a little more than 10% of what we spend.

That's a disgrace! That's unacceptable! When we have folks in this country who are hungry, who are homeless, and children who don't have healthcare and insurance, that's immoral!

The hopeful aspect of all this is that if we just change our priorities--even a tad - we have the resources in place already to meet the needs of the poor and needy in this country and throughout the world. But if we don't we'll be like the ship Titanic, and we will be morally, spiritually, and financially bankrupt within a few years. We're headed in that direction.

On Monday evening, 1500 of us gathered at Washington Cathedral for a worship service with the theme "Hunger No More." This was an ecumenical/inter-faith service represented by folks and by leaders from many Christian denominations and from the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu communities as well. Mark Hanson, our Presiding Bishop, was also in attendance.

I sat so far back that I could hardly see the pulpit, but what an inspiring and wonderful wonderful worship service--to be gathered in the same place with so many traditions around such an important cause.

I can't begin to tell you how hopeful I am. There's a groundswell of activity out there. Folks want change. Folks want transformation in how business is conducted in this country. And with the power of God working in our lives, we will make it happen.

Jesus summons us anew to be involved in the work of transformation where we live and work. Together we can and we will make a difference.

The promise that is given to us by Jesus this morning is that the outcome is sure, and we will be a part of this transformed reality.

Amen.


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