Luke 10.1-12 (Jesus sends out the 72).
In these days of the Covid Pandemic, a remarkable thing has happened. There are no firm statistics to support it yet, but all the anecdotal evidence is that the church is growing. The mass movement of churches into online services has meant that people all across the country, and across the world, are accessing opportunities for worship and study in new and exciting ways. In some cases, these are people who might otherwise have been stuck at home, through frailty or illness. But in many other cases, I’ve found, the ‘new worshippers’ have been people who only had a very loose affiliation with church.
Perhaps, for some, the very thought of entering a church has been scary, even though they have been interested in faith. That might seem strange to those of us who feel at home in a church. But perhaps we might reflect how we would feel entering, say, a mosque or a Hindu temple. Where should we sit? Are we allowed to sit? What words do we say? When is the right time to stand or sit? If I sit here, will I be sitting in someone’s favourite place?
Offering our services online has enabled some people to engage with worship without any of those apprehensions. They can sit in their own chair, and watch when they want to watch. If something intrigues them, they can pause. If they want to visit the bathroom, they can pause! For many, therefore, worship online has enabled them to gain a window into the previously nerve-wracking world of ‘coming to church’. And that’s a good thing. It’s why we plan to continue live-streaming our worship for as long as anyone is watching it from home!
Another group of people we’ve seen attending online church is the group of folks who walked away from church at some time in their lives…but who are now, slowly, gently, finding a way back through internet worship. If you are one of those – then you are welcome too!
The happy upshot of all these online engagements is that the number of workers for the harvest of human souls is somewhat larger than it was. The harvest is indeed plentiful…there are literally millions of people who have not yet heard – or perhaps understood yet - the good news that they are children of God, that God loves them, and wants them to find new, purposeful life and healing for their souls. Salvation…if you prefer.
But how are we to encourage online worshippers to engage in that task of being workers in the harvest field? Well, here’s a few suggestions, from today’s Gospel reading…which really apply to us all, whether we worship in church, or at home.
First: Jesus calls us to engage with the world. He sent out the seventy-two disciples as his ambassadors. He wanted them to prepare the ground on which he was planning to walk – telling the people that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. We too are called to this work. Wherever we are – at home or at work, at school or out shopping – we are all the bearers of wonderful news. God loves us, and calls us to live fulfilling lives, and to find healing for our souls. We can invite our friends, our co-workers, our family to access the online resources which are now available – whether it’s to watch a service like this, and to think about the sermon – or whether it’s to join in with the Church’s daily prayer initiatives, or an internet discussion group. Or whether its by passing on the Corona Chronicle to a neighbour or family-member. By just chatting with others, about how helpful WE have found these resources, we can draw others into the light of faith.
Secondly: Jesus tells us we are not alone. He sent out the seventy-two disciples in pairs. He understood that we all need companions along the journey of faith – to correct us, to uplift us, to encourage us. Who is your companion on the journey of faith? Perhaps it’s your life partner? Or perhaps it’s a close friend with whom you share your thoughts and feelings? Perhaps just the very act of tuning-in regularly to online worship, or by actually coming into church, you feel that you have companionship along the journey of faith? Whatever works for you – whatever lifts you, comforts you, encourages you, challenges you – keep on doing that.
Thirdly: Jesus tells us to wipe the dust from our feet. Jesus knew that his good news of abundant life would not be welcomed by all. Sometimes, people are just too attached to their own ways of doing things. They are no longer teachable. They think they have nothing to learn. Jesus encourages us to not waste our time with such folks. Leave them to God’s loving mercy.
That’s a lesson I’ve had to learn – especially on the internet. It’s very easy to get riled up about someone’s frustrating, or ignorant comment. Part of me wants to turn into a ‘keyboard warrior’ – and to smash down the walls of their ignorance (or plain stupidity) with facts. But I’ve had to learn that doing so is just a waste of time. Someone who has allowed false news to dominate their thinking is only going to view me as deluded. Their ability to reason has already been taken from them. Wiping, sadly, the dust from my shoes, turning off the internet or leaving the conversation in the street are my only options.
So…engage with the world, do it with others, and don’t waste your time on those who will not, or cannot hear the life-saving words of God. That’s the nub of today’s Gospel…and whether we labour in the streets and workplace, or from our screen and keyboard, the harvest is plentiful. Thankfully…the workers are not quite so few!