Crowds

Matthew 9:35-10:8[9-15]

I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never been so happy to be living in small town Oakhurst as I am today. I remember when I first moved here 18 years ago. I’ve always enjoyed the excitement of a big city. I’ve also enjoyed living in a small town in Pennsylvania before I moved here. But even then, I was just 20 minutes from Pittsburg.

When I moved to Oakhurst, I was struck by how far apart everyone lived. It was so quiet at night/ The town closed up at 8:30. “Remote” was the word I might use to describe how I felt.

As time went by, I came to love living in a small town. And today, when I see what is going on in the major cities around the nation, I couldn’t be happier than living in remote, small-town Oakhurst. Far from all of the crowds who are protesting or rioting.

Yet, as remote as we might be from the crowds and the riots, we are not unaffected by them. We might have family and friends living more closely to them. And with social media, everyone has their opinion. Everyone seems to be lining up on one side or another.

So it might be a good idea to ask, “Where does God stand in all of this?” If Jesus were in Seattle today, or Minniapolis, or NYC, what would he do? Would he be marching with the protestors? Would he be turning over tables in the merchant shops? Would he telling folks to turn the other cheek?

When Jesus looks at these crowds, whose side is he on? I ask, because we see a diversity of opinion even within the church among faithful followers of Jesus. I think this morning’s Gospel passage might offer some help for us. Take a look at how Jesus responded to the crowd in his day.

Matthew tells us that went about all of the towns in the Galilee region. He visited the local synagogues teaching and preaching to them. And when he saw the crowds before him, here’s how he responded to them. Matthew says,  “He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

When Jesus looked out on this vast crowd before him, he didn’t see a mass of humanity. It was nameless faces staring back at him. When Jesus looked out, he saw individual souls.

He saw Pharisees – the ones who knew their bibles inside and out and tried to live by the law.. He saw Sadducees – the upper crust of the religious establishment who were in charge of the worship at the Temple. Roman soldiers would have been in the crowd – foreigners stationed in Galilee to keep the peace. He saw each one of them.

I’m sure he knew the political zealots lurking out there, looking for any opportunity to spark a revolt against the Roman boot on their necks. It was easy for him to see the social outcasts, the common folk who lived on the fringe. Not just leprosy victims, but tax collectors, harlots and the poor; widows and orphans. And, of course, you had the mass of ordinary folk just trying to live right and raise their families.

The crowd before Jesus was a mosaic of competing interests and ethnicities, not unlike it is today. But Jesus didn’t see a crowd. He saw individual souls. “Sheep without a shepherd” is the way Matthew describes them.

And maybe that’s where we begin as we see these nightly reports of crowds in our cities. These crowds are made up of precious souls. 

Now, it might be hard to see someone masked up and throwing a brick at a police officer as a precious soul. But God gave his son to die for that masked, brick thrower. He too is loved by God.

And as Jesus looked at those “sheep without a shepherd,” he said something very remarkable to his disciples. He said: “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

That’s remarkable.  Because as Jesus looked at the harlots and poor wretches, and he didn’t see the dregs of society. He saw a harvest. 

He saw people of value. Jesus looked at the tax collectors – fellow Jews who worked with the Roman government to fleece their own people. Jesus saw the Zealots, those wild-eyed radicals hidden among the others looking for any opportunity to spark an insurrection. And Jesus saw a harvest.

At the same time, he saw Roman soldiers, Pharisees, Sadducees – people who would be gunning for him, And He saw a harvest waiting to be gathered in.

So you tell me- If Jesus were standing in Seattle or Minneapolis or New York today looking out at the crowd, What do you think he would see?

More and more today we are becoming a society of tribes. We are being managed and manipulated into tribes warring against one another. Part of it is by design by those with hidden agendas. Part of it is the result of the brokenness we experience individually and as a nation.

Nevertheless, there are those who are working to tag each one of us with a brand. It’s almost as if each one of us is being stamped with a logo. Simple, easy to remember logos like: Racist, Thug, The One-Per Cent, Facists, Homophobes, White Supremacist, Snowflakes, Never Trumpers, Deplorables. Choose your tribe.

I wonder if Jesus stood before this country and looked out at the crowd, Would he see the logos, would he see the tribes?

If we are to judge by today’s Gospel account, He would see souls in need of a shepherd. He would see a harvest waiting to be reaped.

More than ever today, we as Jesus-people need to have the eyes of Jesus. Eyes that see, not the crowds, but the individuals in the crowds. Individuals created in the image of God. Individuals loved by God.

I was struck by a posting made by Bishop Lawrence of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina. He wrote about the retired police captain, David Dorn, a black man murdered during the lootings in St. Louis earlier this month. Capt. Dorn died defending his friend’s pawnshop. 

He had served his community as an officer for 38 years and dedicated his free time to helping disadvantaged youth.  He was praised as “the type of brother that would’ve given his life to serve them if he had to.” And, as it turns out, he did.

As I was reading those hoodlums killing Capt. Dorn I thought: “What a bunch of soulless animals.  I hope they find them and lock them up for the rest of their lives.”

Then I read on what Bishop Lawrence had written: One of those young black men fleeing the scene of the crime is overheard on the pawnshop camera saying  “C’mon, man, that’s somebody’s granddaddy!”  These words spoken by a young man in the midst of violent crime testify to a conscience and heart that is still able to care. This too is the human condition: that in the midst of violence a young man’s heart can still care and be the sort of young person retired Police Captain David Dorn was set on reaching.

Yes, those murdering looters need to be brought to justice. But also, in Jesus eyes, they too are part of the harvest waiting to be reaped.

But it’s not enough to see the potential, to see the harvest. Jesus commands us to pray. Pray not for the harvest, but for laborers to go out and reap the harvest. The harvest is there. But the harvest will rot in the fields unless God’s people got out and bring it in.

It’s one thing to be a harvester in a big city. But we live in a remote mountain community. We have to ask ourselves what it might mean to be a harvester and healer today in our remote mountain community?

Going into the harvest today is not about trying to make cookie-cutter Christians. And it’s not about bringing people in to the church. It’s about going into the world. Going into the harvest is not about changing people, it’s about engaging people.

Look at the model that Jesus gives. He didn’t say, “Anybody who feels led to go into the harvest, sign up in the narthex.” No, he appointed 12 by name. He gave them authority to heal. And then he kicked them out of the nest. “Go and proclaim the Good News.” Jesus extends that call to all who would follow him. “Go and proclaim the Good News.”

Where do we begin? We can start by seeing the people, seeing the harvest. This might seem like a no-brainer, yet the church has a long history of not being able to see the harvest in their very communities. 

Sometimes they don’t’ see the need because they themselves are functioning in” survival mode’ or maybe “maintenance mode.” They can’t seem to get to “mission” mode.  It’s all they can do to take care of themselves! 

So they don’t see. They don’t see poor children who would love to take piano lessons. They don’t see the single moms who could use an after-school program for their children. They don’t see young families who really need finance management guidance. And when they don’t see the need, they can’t fill it in the name of Jesus.

Reaping the harvest starts by seeing the harvest. Then identify a hunger — figure out what is missing, what needs to be filled, what is aching for satisfaction. 

It would be easy to just leave it there if you didn’t have one more thing. Matthew says: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them”

Compassion means to “suffer with.” We not only need to see the harvest and identify the need, we need to have the heart of Jesus. It’s a heart of compassion that suffers with those he sees in the crowd. It’s a heart that made him sick to see them at loss without a shepherd.

For many congregations, the obstacle to compassion  is seeing the ones in need, seeing the ones outside of their circle. So many churches understandably take steps to protect themselves from the outside. So it’s easy to become sheltered, cocooned, isolationist.

But this is a loving congregation with compassionate hearts. I think as we take steps to see those in need, hearts will suffer with them. Hearts will have compassion for those in need.

You look at all of the turmoil in our land today and you wonder, “Where it’s all leading to?” There are powerful interests at work with their own agendas for the future of our country. What can we do living up here in a remote community?

Well, we might not have a lot of power in Minneapolis. And we might not have a lot of power in Washington or Sacramento. But here in this remote mountain community, we do have a lot of power. God has gifted us with his Holy Spirit. He has given us all authority to go out with good news and change some lives.

Captain Dorn’s death was tragic and a great loss for his family and for his community. But I dare say that Capt. Dorn would be alive today if, earlier in life, someone had share the Good News of Jesus Christ with his killer.

More importantly, there’s a young man growing up in Oakhurst today. And he won’t be on the streets rioting one day if the church shares the Good News of Jesus with him today.

There’s a young woman growing up in Oakhurst today. She won’t be struggling to raise her fatherless child one day if the church shares the Good News of Jesus with her today.

Right now, they might be just faces in a crowd. But Jesus doesn’t see a crowd. He sees two souls. And he sees a harvest waiting for his church to go out and bring them in.