(NOTE: This sermon quotes words from the hymn, “Come, Labor On,” which is found in only a few hymnals. At the end of the sermon are several hymns that you could substitute—that have a similar “laboring” theme.)
As you may know, sections of Military Street here in Port Huron have been torn up for weeks as part of the sewer separation process. One such section is the 2700 block where I live. Right outside my living room window a spectacle has taken place involving heavy machinery and workers, orange barrels, trenches and torn up lawns, stripped street surfaces, slowed up traffic. In particular, I have noticed those men and women responsible for all this: the workers.
Whether many or few at a given moment, they have maintained an impressive pace. Going about their tasks, consulting with each other, measuring and checking—all of them have acted as though they regard this street project as something personally important to them, as though this were their own neighborhood.
One night, shortly before sunset, I returned home to see a solitary worker still out there on the street, toiling as if the day had just begun, toiling as if he were part of an eager team, rather than the only worker in sight.
On another occasion, I happened upon a worker addressing another at length in a raised voice. Although angry, he was not out of control, and from his monologue, he seemed motivated by a concern that the job be done right.
I’ll be glad when this work is complete, when Military again has two lanes functioning. I’ll be glad to see grass where now there is dirt. But I’ll miss those workers and their zeal, the energy they brought to our usually quiet neighborhood.
Jesus tells his disciples to pray that God will send forth laborers into his harvest. There is a need for such laborers, he indicates, for while there are few available, the harvest is plentiful, it is abundant, and there is only a certain window of time to gather this harvest while it remains fresh and good.
Jesus is talking about laborers, farm workers, field hands. He’s talking about people like the ones I’ve seen at work on Military Street day after day. For whether on the street or in the fields, these are people who get work done, who keep the world going and growing.
Jesus knows about such people. Joseph was a carpenter, and for a time, so was Jesus. Many people in the crowds that come to hear him belong to the building trades or are farm workers, field hands. And they know what he means by calling for more harvest laborers. They realize what it’s like to bring in the fruit of the land without sufficient help.
Of course, Jesus is not ripping up and rebuilding a street or harvesting the fields down on the farm. His project is announcing that the reign of God has invaded human history. Yet like farm hands, like a construction crew, his workers are to be energetic and zealous as they announce this good news by what they say and do in towns and villages and homes.
Jesus even gives them specific advice about how they are to behave. As the message comes to them free, so they are to offer it free to others. They are to travel light, not weighed down by stuff. Once they enter a town, they are to stay in one place, not move to more comfortable quarters should such become available; in other words, they are not to be concerned with status. What matters is the message.
Jesus does not tell his disciples to pray for more leaders, more visionaries, more people who are highly talented. What concerns him is that more laborers become available.
— He wants more people like the carpenters and field hands that he knows so well.
— He wants more people like the crew at work among the orange barrels on Military Street.
— He wants more people like you and me, because each of us has our opportunity to announce the reign of God.
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Perhaps you let yourself off the hook. You say, “I’m not a leader, a visionary, somebody highly talented.” And maybe that’s true! But what Jesus wants is laborers! People who get out into the fields of grain. People who tear up and rebuild the streets. There are plenty of entry level job openings in the labor force for the kingdom of God.
Now one definition of a human being is that we are the only animal that makes excuses.
And so some of us may say, “I’m too old, too young, too frail.” If you’re tempted to do that, then remember words from a hymn about the kingdom harvest:
“Come, labor on.
Away with gloomy doubts and faithless fear!
No arm so weak as may do service here:
by feeblest agents may our God fulfill
his righteous will.”
NOTE: The hymn is “Come, Labor On” (CP #62; PH #415; TH #541; TNCH #532). See below for alternate hymns that you could substitute for this one.
And some of us may say, “I’m too busy, too busy getting and spending, too busy with daily demands, just too busy.” If you’re tempted to say that, don’t be concerned with what you cannot do; discover what you can do.
I heard recently of a young woman who worked long, hard hours at her job, yet wanted to be a kingdom laborer in the little free time she had.
What she did was prayerfully read the paper.
— She read obituaries, and prayed for those who had died and their families.
— She read wedding announcements, and prayed for newly married couples.
— She read reports of accidents and disasters, and prayed for people affected by them.
— She read the news about political developments, and prayed for those in public office.
It did not take her long to pray in this way, yet she labored energetically, zealously, to advance the reign of God.
What are you doing now to advance the reign of God?
What can you do in the time you have available?
You can build a smooth street which will bring into hearts and lives and communities the reign of God as it draws near. You can labor at this with zeal and patience.
“Come, labor on.
Claim the high calling angels cannot share —
to young and old the Gospel gladness bear;
redeem the time; its hours too swiftly fly.
The nigh draws nigh.
“Come, labor on.
No time for rest, till glows the western sky,
till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,
and a glad sound comes with the setting sun —
‘Servants, well done.””
(Stanzas 4 and 5 of “Come, labor on.”)
Go Forth For God (CO #603; UMH #670; TH #347; VU #418; WR #708)
Lord, Speak to Me (BH #568; ELW #676; LBW #403; PH #426; TNCH #531; UMH #463; VU #589; WR #593)
Also known as Lord, Speak to Us
Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service (CH #461; CO #606; CP #585; ELW #712; GC #681; JS #462; LBW #423; LSB #848; PH #427; TH #610; UMH #581; WR #575)
O Jesus I Have Promised (BH #276; CH #612; CP #438; ELW #810; LBW #503; PH #388-389; TH #655; TNCH #493; UMH #396; VU #120; WR #458)
O Master Let Me Walk With Thee (BH #279; CH #602; ELW #818; LBW #492; PH #357; TH #659, 660; TNCH #503; UMH #430; VU #560; WR #589)
— Copyright for this sermon 2007, The Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals,” (Cowley Publications).