Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
“Feddersen’s Fables” has the story about the little girl who was upset because her brothers had set out traps to catch birds. Her mother asked what she had done about the problem. She answered, “Well, first I prayed that the traps wouldn’t work.” “Then what did you do?” asked Mother. “I prayed that no little birds got caught in them accidentally,” she said. The mother asked once more, “And then what did you do?” She replied, “Then I went and kicked over all the traps!”
Few adults have so clear an understanding of the phrase: “Pray, like it all depends on God; work, like it all depends on you.” In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus shows a similar understanding. First, He instructs His disciples to ask God to send out laborers into the harvest, because the harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few. Jesus was talking about a “harvest” of people. He said they were “like sheep without a shepherd.” The disciples were not allowed, however, to simply say their prayers and then sit back and wait for God to go to work. Jesus gave them power and authority to cast out unclean spirits and heal every disease and illness. Then He sent them out to preach that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.
The whole thing started because Jesus felt somewhat overwhelmed by the throngs of people who were coming to Him for help. He knew He needed helpers, so He prayed for them and enlisted them. He still needs helpers. The Word is out, but it still has places to go!
Another story centers on a young man in boot camp. He was a faithful Christian and, while not a conscientious objector to war, was not entirely comfortable with the idea of hurting or killing someone else — even an enemy. He made the mistake of sharing his misgivings with the drill sergeant, a self- proclaimed atheist. The sergeant appointed a fellow-atheist as acting corporal, and both of them regularly made fun of the young recruit in front of the other men. One day, at lunch, the sergeant saw him praying before the meal and ridiculed him for giving thanks to God for “Army slop!” The young man replied, “Actually, Sarge, I was praying for you.” Furious, the sergeant immediately gave him a ton of extra duty.
That night, he dragged into the barracks, thoroughly exhausted and soaked with both sweat and rain. He showered and then stumbled his way to his cot. Before he put his weary bones to bed, however, he once more knelt for prayer. The corporal saw it and decided to add injury to insult. He threw his boots at the kneeling figure. The heel of one boot caught the recruit in the cheek, splitting his face open. Blood spurted freely from the wound. The corporal was nowhere near as evil or hard-hearted as the sergeant. He could not stand the sight and could hardly stand the thought of what he had done, but he said nothing, and simply hid his face and his guilt in his pillow.
After cleaning his wound, the young man returned to his bed, picked up the boots, and polished them. Not realizing the evil intent of the throw, he supposed that the corporal had only tossed them his way in order to give him one more extra duty. When he finished, he placed the boots at the foot of the corporal’s bed, and immediately went to sleep. When he awoke, he was shocked and frightened to discover that the other recruits were already outside for morning exercises. The corporal, however, with tears still showing on his face, assured him that he had nothing to fear. Knowing that he needed the rest, the corporal had told the others not to wake him. The corporal also apologized for the boots, and for all the other mistreatment. In time, the two became close friends, and the corporal discovered another Friend as well — the One Who, while we were still enemies, chose to treat us as friends.
In Sunday’s Second Lesson, Paul explains that remarkable phenomenon to the Christians in Rome. He says that while it might be conceivable that someone would die for a friend or a good person, we see in Christ the inconceivable — when we were sinners and enemies, He died for us!
Like so much of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, this message is at the very heart of the Gospel. But a unique thought appears in this lesson. After writing, “We were God’s enemies, but He made us His friends through the death of His Son,” Paul adds: “Now that we are God’s friends, how much more will we be saved by Christ’s life!” Technically, the language of Paul has to do with being God’s enemies and yet being reconciled through the death of His Son, and then, having been reconciled, we are saved much more (even more) by (through or in) His life.
The interesting part, to me, is that Paul seems to be suggesting that there is a more, and thus perhaps a less, to being saved. It is as if on the one hand we are saved, but on the other even more saved! Being a Christian is a lot like being pregnant — either you are, or you aren’t. There is no such thing as being “a little bit pregnant,” nor is there such a thing as being “a little bit Christian.” At the same time, the phrase is used regarding pregnancy in an attempt to describe verbally how much the condition shows or doesn’t show. Similarly, when the King James Version of the Bible describes Mary, as being “great with child,” we need neither a Biblical interpreter nor a doctor to understand her condition. We can imagine Joseph arguing with the innkeeper, “Man, she is not just a little pregnant; she is a whole lot pregnant!”
Maybe St. Paul is saying that the death of Christ opened the door to us for the Christian faith. But the life of Christ makes us “great with Christianity!” For instance, the time came when the disciples were no longer a mission field, but missionaries; not just students, but teachers; not just listeners, but speakers; not just watchers, but doers; not just followers, but leaders; not just receivers, but givers; not just saved, but savers. This does not happen on our own, any more than our initial salvation. Notice how Jesus gave the disciples power and authority before sending them out.
One of the most fascinating scenes in the movie The Witness, is an “old fashioned” barn-raising. An entire Amish community gathered to build a huge barn. Everyone had a job — anything from baking a pie, to driving a nail, to joining with 20 others just to lift a beam!
Many years ago, we had a “deck-raising” at our house. One of the strongest memories of that event came right near the conclusion. The most varied group of people you could imagine were sitting on one set of deck boards and nailing down others. It was even more heartwarming than it was humorous, and it was hilarious! Everyone was laughing and carrying on and rushing each other to get ready for the next board. There were enough of them that each person had about four nails to drive per board, but nail-driving skills were far from equal. Some were working at a pace of about six or eight nails to others’ one! At the same time, it suddenly struck me that every “one” was a labor of love. I found some excuse to walk away and just let the tears flow. Every now and then, it’s pretty wonderful just to step back and be able to say, “I am loved.”
God, as Paul so vividly reminds us, loves us beyond all comprehension. And yet, do you suppose, that when He sees His friends pulling together to do His work, fulfill His mission, perform His ministry, bring in His harvest, or otherwise “raise His barn,” that He ever steps back with a burning sensation of love and joy in His eyes? I sincerely pray that we give Him reason to.