2The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
I remember this line of scripture from earliest childhood. It feels stale to me now. When I hear it I think of the little chairs of our Sunday School opening and the older woman at the piano in the corner playing “I love to Tell the Story.” We sang that hymn all the time. I joke that we sang it so often – and so slowly – that now I hate to tell the story.
With childhood long past, I have a different appreciation for the probably young women who led Sunday School and the probably middle-aged woman at the piano. But that old hymn was clearly her favorite. I just thought it went on and on forever. A little much when you’re 6 or 7 or whatever I was.
“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
It was used to raise money for missions. It was used to encourage young people to go into the ordained ministry. It was used to get you to bring friends to Sunday School (rewarded, too, with a gold star). The problem was it tended to mean bringing people to Jesus not bringing Jesus to people.
We lived in a suburb. We had no idea what harvest meant, why all life depended upon gathering in the wheat or barley before it was damaged by hail or rain. We had no concept of the joy when the crop is safely in, nor why the harvest was followed by celebration. We had no appreciation for the issue of timing, that narrow window within which the grain was dry enough to store. Nor did we understand the role of neighbors to assure everyone got their crop harvested. I look at images of wheat fields and see the peaceful beauty of waving grain, not the critical moment of life preserving work.
The instructions Jesus gives to his followers are full of urgency. “Don’t bother to pack. Don’t linger on the way. Don’t even stop to talk with other travelers. This is the moment upon which tomorrow hangs.” But the first thing out of Jesus’ mouth is not a command to get busy; it is a command to pray: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
You can hear the field workers urgently pleading with the chief steward that he has to hire more men. We have that parable of the landowner going to gather workers at sunrise, at 9:00, at noon, and even at the eleventh hour, the hour before sunset. This is a race against time.
To ask is to recognize the need, to feel the urgency, to know that this is the window in time upon which life hangs.
In a world of many sorrows we easily grow callous. When one has fallen into the river we may rush to get help; when thousands are being swept away, what can you do? The news of war, hunger, earthquake and floods, deadens the heart and we pay attention instead to celebrity chef and celebrity baby names.
But a calcified heart means I miss the person near me who needs a listening ear or a word of hope. I miss the opportunity to offer friendship, compassion or kindness. I do not see those who are sick or in need. I do not see that I can be a means of grace to another.
And so we are told to pray. To pray for workers for the harvest. To pray that someone will be there for the child in need. To pray that someone will be there for the person in danger. To pray that someone will be there for the family or village that is hungry. To pray that someone will be there when there is want of clean water. To pray that someone will be there when a storm has destroyed a home, a neighborhood, a city. To pray that someone will be there when a timely word can stop violence. To pray that someone can be there when the opportunity comes for nations at war to choose peace.
We are told to pray. To pray that someone will speak when the moment comes for a word of grace. To pray that someone will embrace those who weep. To pray that someone will be there for those whose lives are desperate solitude or heavy burdens.
We are told to pray. To pray not for my daily bread, but our daily bread. To pray beyond my safety and my children’s happiness for those more vulnerable than I am.
The purpose of prayer is not to convince God of the need for more workers – it is God after all who is telling us for what to pray! The purpose of prayer is to free my encrusted heart and align my spirit with God’s Spirit. It is to help me see what God’s sees and feel what God feels.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
There are not enough workers. There are not enough peacemakers. The world is short on compassion and mercy and understanding. Too few dare to speak the word of forgiveness. And the need is great. When the window of opportunity for kindness opens, someone must be ready. And so we ask. And in asking, we will find ourselves on the road to our neighbor.