Chrism Mass Sermon 2024

The Rt. Rev. Craig Loya

Chrism Mass Sermon 2024

One of my favorite pictures of our daughter, Mari, was taken when she was just shy of three years old. She is sitting on a chair in our home in Lawrence, Kansas, and there is a giant bowl sitting on her lap, piled high and overflowing with the tomato harvest she and I had just pulled from our backyard garden. She has her hands on her head, a full toothy toddler smile, and eyes as wide as they can be with surprise and delight at the abundance. It’s a treasure.

What is not captured in that picture is the countless hours I spent toiling in the oppressive heat of a Kansas summer that led to that moment. We inherited a massive garden from the previous homeowner, who was completing doctoral research on bees and left us an elaborately cultivated etymological habitat. I enhanced what was already there by basically turning it into an urban vegetable farm, and I grew just about enough tomatoes and cucumbers every year to feed all of Douglas County, Kansas. But as passionate as I was, I dreaded the several days of labor it took to get things ready to plant each year. I always delayed until the last possible moment the zone could tolerate. Then all summer, after a long day of priesting, I’d sit in the house and know that a whole bucket of weeds was out there waiting for my back to muscle out of the ground. 

What kept me going though, was knowing that moment with Mari was coming. What kept me going was being able to see the joy we’d have harvesting, the delight my family would experience at how good and different all those tomato varieties tasted, knowing that I would get to be “that guy” who was always handing bags of vegetables to neighbors and coworkers. I tolerated the labor by keeping my eyes trained on the harvest. 

In our gospel lesson today, Jesus tells us, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” In this dichotomy Jesus offers, we tend to fixate on the labor shortage side of the equation. And fair enough. Every single one of us here is sitting with the aches and pains of all the tilling and weeding ministry entails. Who among us wouldn’t love to have more help with the labor? One of the spiritual realities of leadership in the church, lay or ordained, is that you have to go home at the end of every day with something, often many things, left undone. I’ve been working these fields for two decades, and there hasn’t been one day where, when I came to the end, I thought, “well, good, got it all done.” So yeah, pray for the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers.

But the danger of our ministries is that all the tilling and weeding and longing for more laborers can make us lose sight of the plentiful harvest. And, beloved, here’s the deal. No one is going to join us in the fields of the Lord because there is work to be done. People will only go out into the fields if they can see the plentiful harvest that Jesus promises; if they can taste its fruits, imagine its abundance, see the bowl already sitting on our laps full of beautiful tomatoes! 

Our job as clergy is not to simply pull all the weeds and pile on all the manure (although God knows there are plenty of weeds and manure piling in this work we share). Our job is to help the people entrusted to our care see the promised harvest. In a world trapped in the deep winter of despair, can we help people see sprouts of love? In a world full of oppression, can we help them already begin to taste the fruit of justice? In a nation and a world rent by divisions, can we see the bushels of peace and healing God gives us to deliver to our neighbors? 

Seeing and believing in the plentiful harvest transforms how we carry the labor. When we can see the harvest, the labor becomes not only bearable, but liberating, joyful, exhilarating. 

So the question for us as we walk this Holy Week together is: can you see the plentiful harvest? Do you, do we, actually believe, that against all the odds, in the face of all the reasons for fatigue and despair that life in the world and life in our church gives us (and there are a bunch!), do we believe in God’s plentiful harvest?

In an aggressively secular culture, do we believe the gospel can change lives? In a church rattled by decline, do we believe God can bring new life? In a nation where two warring political visions regard one another with such scorn that the whole thing threatens to devolve into a resigned nihilism, can we offer a word of hope? Can we preach the healing power of love? As you feel all the pains of the labor shortage, do you believe in the promised, plentiful harvest? 

I have to tell you that when I look around this room, as I see what God is doing in, with, and among all of you, I can see it. One of the things that has surprised me most about becoming a bishop is how clearly and how much you can see from this distance and at this scale. I see you toiling. I see the hard, rocky soil you’re so often working to till. And I can see the plentiful harvest starting to come into clearer view. Sometimes it’s the tiniest bud peeking through the snow. Sometimes it’s a big basketful of tomatoes. Sometimes we’re still waiting for something to emerge. But I can see it. Can you? 

In just a few days, every single one of us is going to stand up in fuller than normal churches and proclaim the fact that we believe that the one rendered powerless before the full brutality of empire; the one whose cold dead body hung on the empire’s preferred method of intimidating humiliation; that one was not only raised to new life but is actually the Lord of the whole cosmos. 

That claim is mocked by the world around us, and it should be, because it is bonkers. But holy scripture calls it the first fruits of the promised harvest. 

The question for us as we renew our vows, as we recommit to laboring in these fields is, do you believe the outrageous harvest that God promises? Can you, despite all the good reasons for despair and exhaustion, keep the bonkers claim of the gospel in your view? With God, there is nothing so far gone it can’t be saved, there is no one so lost they cannot be found, there is nothing so broken it can’t be healed, and there is nothing so dead that God can’t render new life from it. 

In a world where utter madness passes for sanity, can we recommit to keeping the gospel crazy, hands on our heads, big, toothy smiles, eyes wide open, expecting the plentiful harvest that God alone can grow?