Most of us are winding down from a 4th of July extended weekend. About 150 million hotdogs were consumed on the 4th, including the 71 dogs chomped down by Joey “the Jaws” Chestnut, who won his 12th all-round world-record at Nathan’s Hotdog eating contest at Coney Island. 700 million pounds of chicken found its way on the grill, along with 190 million pounds of ground beef and sausages. 25 million pounds of fireworks lit our skies and we waved about 5 million dollars’ worth of American flags. Add to those figures platters of hummus and baba ghanouj. Not to mention other gatherings with whole pig, whole lamb, lamb shanks, roasted pork belly, carne asada, gallo pinto, gallons of Chinese sweet soup dessert or sweet green-bean soup -- look out America – we are fast becoming a minority majority nation: just like New York City, where no racial-ethnic group holds the majority. Immigrants have claimed Independence Day as their own. There are at least 143 origin countries and 325 languages in this great land of ours. What a beautiful Harvest our country has produced.
Today we hear how Jesus sends 70 disciples to go before him, to prepare the way…to go into new villages, meet new people to begin the harvest. 70 is a potent number in the Jewish tradition, referring to universality and leadership. 70 nations that came together to create the tower of Babel. 70 individuals from the clan of Jacob first went to Egypt. Moses selected 70 elders to help him lead. The leadership body of the Jewish nation was comprised of 70 elders. Following this tradition, Jesus chooses 70 disciples to engage foreigners and strangers - the beginnings of Jesus’ universal vision for his church. This is a harvest of souls, a harvest that God has tenderly, patiently loved and grown. Now it’s time to bring them to the table for the heavenly feast.
Jesus tells his 70 -us- how to harvest. Disciples of Jesus need to be on the go – not resting on their laurels at home. We are called to meet and greet new people. We are called to go outside our comfort zone – meeting people different from ourselves. Jesus is clear: don’t take purse, bag, sandals –greet no one on the road. Jesus isn’t encouraging anti-social behavior – but he implies that we need tobe unhindered by worldly objects or solely focused on our comfort and overlook the needs of those we are trying to reach. Jesus wants us humble. To depend on God. We’re not to engage in lengthy salutations and conversations as was custom by the traveling rabbis of the day. Jesus wanted his disciples to be focused, eager to get to their destination. Once in the village they were to offer peace. To eat as they eat. Live where they live. We are to work to cure the ills around them. We are to work to cure the ills around them. Then, we speak – the kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus is near.
Interesting. Our churches are empty but Jesus insists that the Harvests are full. We need more laborers. How does this make us feel? It is overwhelming? Or is it exciting?
We see the distant past…when the pews were filled, the church ran dozens of programs and when church attendance on Sunday was a priority in people’s lives, not an option. We see the distant future, cobwebs in the organ and faded framed pictures from the glory days past. But in our present we are surrounded by Harvest: Around us are our neighbors come with many different beliefs and customs.
We celebrated secular freedom this past week. Now let us embrace spiritual freedom. Let’s train our eyes to see the need around us, right here, – and with our arms reach out to embrace the people God has placed in our midst. You and I are the laborers God is sending forth in this brave new work. Bringing peace. Curing ills. Living and eating and being united as one people. It is our calling as leaders in the universal movement Jesus began. To make friends out of strangers. The kingdom of God is near – and the Harvest is plentiful, and we are the laborers God yearns to send. Let us go forth – all of us –with the grace of Jesus, and welcome our new brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.