The Laborers are Many The Sunday Sermon – September 6, 2015 Matthew 9:35-38

 Hear the message: The Laborers are Many

If you recognize the scripture selected for this morning before we read it, you’ve also recognized how my sermon title contradicts what Jesus says about the “laborers” in verse thirty-seven. That always makes me a bit nervous, contradicting Jesus, but … I’m doing it for a specific reason this morning. It’s Labor Day weekend! Not only traditionally the last weekend of Summer, but a weekend on which we celebrate … well, the laborers! The economic and social contributions of workers. It’s a civic holiday, of course, not a church holiday. But again this year, I want to lift up, to celebrate, a few among us that have labored in the fields of the Lord this past year. So we read from Matthew, chapter nine.

First, let’s pray together … and now listen for the Word of God. (Read scripture passage.)

Our scripture passage speaks not of factory workers or professional careers, of course, but of spiritual and religious “harvesters.” There are more who are in need than there are those who give care or offer services, we read, and we must agree. I know that on a spiritual level, we never seem to have enough laborers to still the chaos and demons of the lives of those who are tortured, including ourselves, I suppose. But … that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of us trying. Outnumbered as we may be, we, the laborers, are many. We discount ourselves so easily because we compare ourselves to the “Master Laborer.”

Jesus makes it all look easy, of course. He goes to all of the cities, preaches in all of the synagogues, and heals every single ailment we read about. No distance is too great, no audience is too skeptical, no disease is too severe. Jesus gets it done. And though maybe there a few things about his ministry not recorded in our Gospels, I imagine Jesus actually did get things done pretty completely in his lifetime. He was a powerful presence.

But even he knew he could never do what needed to be done alone. And he does something fascinating. He commissions his disciples to carry out his ministry and things get more interesting. For any of those first disciples, and for any of us setting off on a new task – graduates leaving school or church members being commissioned for special ministries – these verses are both empowering and discouraging. We have a lot to do, and we’re not supposed to expect to get much in return, at least not by earthly measures. (In fact, the larger passage includes verses 16-23 from chapter ten, which get downright unpleasant!). Still, despite the challenges or the questionable likelihood of success, or our inevitable difficulty in accomplishing what we believe Jesus himself could do far more easily, God, in Christ, confidently sends us out, to labor in the fields he tilled.

The whole of chapter ten, beginning with the naming of his disciples, are Jesus’ explanation of “the mission” that we all are called to. And we must acknowledge that throughout history, amazing things – seemingly impossible things – have been done and continue to be done by “ordinary members” of the church. The Love of God and the call of Christ transforms our lives in huge ways. But it also does so in smaller, less noticeable ways.

It’s on these ways, on these “smaller” labors, that we focus again this year, for the rest of these sermon moments.

Now, before I begin, I need to note: I may get into some difficult conversations, if not downright uncomfortable positions, when I offer some theological or doctrinal challenges that challenge or shake your own experiences of God, Christ, and church. I may find myself in deep and hot water over some scriptural interpretation or theological viewpoint that one or more of you find wrong, if not heretical. But, in my years as a Pastor, I have found that I get into more trouble whenever I endeavor to lift up the love that members of the church show and share through the acts of faith done “without payment” and without any need, or even any desire, for recognition. I get into more trouble doing this because there is no way to be exhaustive in listing all the things that all of you do “above and beyond” your duties to the church. But, I get into trouble even more for shining a bit of light on those of you who want absolutely no credit or acknowledgement. Still, I’m going to risk some very real aggravation and beg for your pardon if, and as, I omit or offend any of you.

On this Labor Day weekend as we remember and give thanks for the economic and social contributions of a workforce unsurpassed in our country, and as we remember and heed our own contributions as disciples of Christ, we celebrate some of the small labors that too often go unsung, if not unremembered or even unnoticed.

I have to start with a group of women who have labored tirelessly this year to date. As you are all aware, we have had eight deaths in our congregation this year.       That’s compared to one last year.       For six of those eight church members, we had receptions here in our Family Life Center. The Congregational Care Team – Betty Deibel, Karen Wood, Lois Hicks, Rebecca Byford, DD Hendrickson, Joanie Walser, Sis Marker, and our newest member Kim Pappas – provided food (from finger sandwiches to fried chicken) and more importantly a well set table for the family and friends of Gin Chaudoin and Bill Herdt, Margie Thompson, and Adele Bolton. They were joined in our last two receptions by members of the choir, coordinated by Margaret Hill, in creating this “space” for the families of Nita Culbertson and Harriet Whitehouse.       So many of us were involved in these gatherings, to be sure, but these women and our choir coordinated, prepared, and cared for over 500 members of the families and friends of our congregation. In the members of our Congregational Care Team and the Choir the laborers are many …

Switching gears a bit, let me ask you: Does anyone know who has been coordinating the men and women, younger and older, who prepare and deliver our weekly children’s message during the worship service, our “Time with the Young Disciples?”       (Surely you knew we don’t just pull someone aside on Sunday morning and ask them!) Well, this past year Rick Fletcher has made endless calls and sent countless emails to keep the schedule full. He not only procured someone every week, he attempted to provide a variety of voices and theological perspectives, from Christian Faul’s mission minded messages, to Kim Pappas’ scripture inspired ones, to Mark Lane’s risky ones. (Does anyone remember Mark’s message to our children on “Temptation?” He had a bag of candy and told the five or six that had come forward that he’d give that bag to anyone who would go over and kick Pastor Joel!). Anyway, back on point – the only problem with having Rick doing the coordinating last year was that we didn’t have him as the “deliverer.”       So we look forward to the year ahead, Rick …

Another “provider in and for our worship service” is the woman who has been coordinating our Acolytes for … how long? Anyone? … for as long as I’ve been here, at least. Linda Heleringer calls, coordinates, trains, and prepares our elementary boys and girls who desire to be Acolytes on Sunday morning for years. In the past two years that has been a more difficult task because our number of elementary aged kids has dropped, but she has empowered Kaelin, Nico, and Katie and they have stepped up big time this year so far.       You all see the processing, candle lighting, candle extinguishing, and recessional, but what you may not know is that Linda, who most often sits up here on the pew with them, helps them find hymns and follow along in the bulletin on responsive and unison readings. In Rick and Linda and all those they procure for our worship time the laborers are many….

There’s another group that works pretty tirelessly to be sure we have enough financial resources for all that endeavor to do here. The members of our Finance Team: Larry Vice, Ron Warren, Ralph Hall, Lynn Wilkinson, Tom Deibel, and Jim Trimpe. They do everything from coordinating the yearly budget received from our Ministry Teams to paying the bills to managing our assets, but I want to note one thing they do that you may not really be aware of.       Have you ever wondered what happens to the money, currency, coin, and checks that are placed in the offering plates every Sunday? Well each week two members of this Team take the offering plates from the table up front (it takes two because with the plates overflowing with your tithes and offering, one has to follow the other to pick up all the money that falls out!) … two members of this Team take the offering plates, move to an undisclosed secret location and count the mornings offering, making copies of checks as needed, writing up a deposit slip, and taking it all to the bank that morning. They do this in pairs because of our policy that “more than one” person needs to be present when any money is collected and processed.       But they also do it, I think, so that these two can consider the liturgy, praise the music, and scrutinize the sermon from the past hour. (I’ve heard some interesting conversation during the offering tallying …)

One last laborer for this morning (I have, once again, made enough people uncomfortable for one sermon!):   This past year, John Bott has been here on this campus almost as much as me. (And in the months of June and early July, maybe more than me!). John has chaired our Property and Maintenance Team for the past year and a half, most of the time that we have been engaged in our Capital Improvement Campaign. The sanctuary renovation this summer was a huge undertaking and John was here virtually every day for many hours a day from June 14th to July 11th, but well before that and even after that, he has spent countless hours getting estimates and procuring contractors for our parking lot, the Parish House, and our Family Life Center.       Our property is aging and “well-loved” by all of us and the wider community. The time needed for its care can be endless. In John and the other chairs of our Ministry Teams and members of our Session, the laborers are many …

Now friends, I know, once again … this only scratches the surface of the many laborers – men, women, and children – who are at work responding to the charge we heard again from Matthew’s gospel this morning. In big ways and in small we have found and are finding a way to “bridge the gap” between the real and the ideal that God, in Christ, entrusts to us.

This coming year, with our 150th Anniversary on the horizon, promises to be another big one that will need the love and labor of each and every one of us who are a part of this worshipping community. There is no doubt in my mind that “the harvest will be plentiful” here in our Valley and the laborers will be … many.

So … with apologies to all I have offended by mentioning you and all I have offended by not mentioning, let me say to one and all, “well done good and faithful servants.” Let’s prepare to gather at our table.


Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor

Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / September 6, 2015