Sunday Sermon – Guest Minister, Rev. Jenn Tafel

“Ask God For Help With the Harvest”

July 12, 2015

I talked to Pete and Gloria at our annual church convention a couple weeks ago about
topics for today’s message. We tossed ideas back and forth and the idea that took hold was
speaking to the theme of the year of spiritual uses: the call to bless. You see, our denomination has adopted a seven year cycle of themes: the year of the Lord, the year of the spiritual world, the year of divine providence, the year of regeneration, the year of spiritual uses, the year of the Word, and the year of the New Jerusalem. Congregations and ministers have the freedom to use these themes as they will. It’s been fascinating to see how these themes play out in my personal journey, the journey with my ministry and the collective members of our denomination. God is at work–no doubt!

Let’s begin with a definition of spiritual use. The way that I read what Swedenborg has to
say on this topic is that spiritual use is how God operates in the universe, on our planet, and within each of us–as uses originate from God and for the purpose of reaching others through charitable acts. Some folks say that a use is interchangeable with life purpose–as in, “Oh, have you found your use yet?” Or “My life purpose is teaching and that is my use.” Maybe a way to put it is that God is using the act of teaching to reach others and you are the vessel for this act. I know, semantics! Though, it is is important to understand the depth and magnitude of these keys concepts and the language chosen to express them.

Now, when I began to think about scriptural references for such a message, the first passage that came to mind was, “The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few.” When I’ve referred to this in conversation people echo back, “Oh yeah–I hear that!” Or “Tell me about it–we’re a Swedenborgian ministry!” Maybe this hits too close to home…but let’s unpack the story because I’ve found some potential inspiration–and that’s probably why I was guided to this text. What I found that has been left out of the picture is the next sentence in this passage.

It reads fully, ” Jesus said to the disciples, ‘The harvest is bountiful but the laborers are few. Beg the overseer of the harvest to send laborers out to bring in the crops.'” The next chapter of the Gospel then goes into detail on the calling of the disciples, their tasks, and how to manage these Here are some fun facts about the calling of the Twelve and their job assignments (David Guzik on studylight.org) with a commentary from yours truly:

• The main feature of this list is its diversity. Jesus chose His disciples from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences. About all they had in common was it seems that none of
them were privileged or from backgrounds of high status.

• How do we see that played out today? To me, this definition means that I would be
able to find myself among the disciples. Do we see an imbalance in those in power
claiming to be Christian and those who live out the teachings with no fanfare.

• Jesus did not only call the twelve; He also gave them power to do what He had called them to do. The same principle holds true today: whom God calls, God equips.

• This is an important reminder. Are we able to see the clues and ways that God is
providing for us to do God’s work?

• This is the first and only time in Matthew that the twelve are called apostles. “The word apostle literally means one who is sent out; it is the word for an envoy or an ambassador.” (Barclay)

“Called here for the first and last time apostoloi, with reference at once to the immediate minor mission and to the later great one.” (Bruce)

• This is profound. How are you being an ambassador for Christ? Not the religion–
the Messiah.

• Jesus was touring around the region of Galilee teaching, preaching, and helping needy people with miraculous power (Matthew 4:23). The sending of these twelve was a conscious expanding of that work. Now the work of Jesus was being done by many more than simply Jesus Himself.

• The mission required that the work go beyond Jesus. He understood that. How are
you inviting people to understand spiritual concepts, theology, teachings, and so?
What are best practices? What have you found that doesn’t work?

• “The word which is used in the Greek for Jesus commanding his men, or giving them orders is interesting and illuminating. It is the word paragellein. This word in Greek has four special usages. (i) It is the regular word of military command(ii) It is the word used of calling one’s friends to one’s help(iii) It is the word which is used of a teacher giving rules and precepts to his students(iv) It is the word which is regularly used for an imperial command.”

• What do you think about this? How would you respond to this command? Do we
gloss over the word commandment? How does this challenge us in the context of
our culture?

In one of my readings of the Bible Study Notes by Anita Dole, I remember her saying that
the twelve are aspects of us according to our different life situations and how we respond to said situations. Perhaps it isn’t an endearing compliment, but that’s reality. So, if we can imagine the harvest as a metaphor for the spiritual work God is doing on the planet (aka “uses”), our calling to be a blessing is to respond as the apostles did–job description in hand–as we participate in the This begs the question, “What does this look like in today’s world?” We aren’t literally the apostles with either their positive or negative qualities–though we might be on a spiritual level.

Many people in our culture are at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs–food on the table will always come before spiritual enlightenment. How can we boil this downs of that we may all participate? In our call to worship we recited what God seeks of us: “… to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” Or even simpler: Love God and equally love the neighbor. Cornell West says that justice is what love looks like in public. How are you being love?

Be the blessing you are and be open to how God’s call is directing you to to be a blessing to
others–often the two go hand in hand.

When choosing the passage for our reading from the Old Testament, I was guided to the
story of the covenant between God and Abraham because Abraham was a person who followed God. He listened. The covenant was established and, as God promised, Abraham was the father of many and his legacy continues to play out today through three major religions on the planet.

We have the same invitation, the same freedom, and the ability to devote ourselves to the Creator and the commandments if we so choose.

What about the life of this congregation? How are you called individually and collectively?
Is your spiritual use in a building or in the community-–or both? Are you called to work by
yourself or with others? What about spiritual uses beyond denomination lines? Does
Swedenborg’s definition of spiritual use go beyond Convention, beyond Christendom, and
further? What does the New Church look like if we didn’t have conceived, imaginary, or physical barriers? This makes me think of building accessibility–creating a church build accessible to all is a great metaphor for a theology and community that is accessible to all.

These are questions for you to meditate upon. I will be lifting you up in prayer as you
contemplate the journey ahead.

Amen.

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