At the end of last year I spent a day driving from the top of Wales to the bottom and back again. From Deeside to Llanelli, via Castle Street Church, Tredegar for the induction of my friend Moses Tutesigensi. During that journey I passed the state of the art Airbus factory in Hawarden and the ancient mining communities of south Wales. I drove through English and Welsh speaking communities. I drove down rural Wales on B roads and along the new-ish Newtown bypass. I drove through towns where they play rugby and towns where they play football. Wherever I drove I passed churches and chapels, the legacy of Welsh Christianity.
At the end of last year the census reported that the number of people professing Christian faith in Britain fell below 50% for the first time. Wales stood out as having some of the least Christian areas in Britain. Did those statistics change how you feel and pray about Wales?
We often hear people quote the words of Jesus in Matthew 9: ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.’ Yet right now, Wales feels like the very opposite of that. In Wales today we have some excellent resources to draw on. We have good quality materials published in English and Welsh. We have conferences and conference centres, good churches in big cities and many faithful ministers, elders and church members. Of course we would ask for more but we are by no means without workers.
It’s the field that’s the problem, isn’t it? In Matthew 9 we see crowds of people willing to listen to Christ or ask questions of Christ or seek help from Christ. True, many are antagonistic but at least they are engaging with him. What would we give for some debate rather than the dreadful ignorance? The crop seemed ripe in Jesus’ day. Today we struggle to even see green shoots.
Look again at what Matthew tells us.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’
Doesn’t Jesus’ appraisal of Israel sound just like Wales? Haven’t we known disease and sickness over the past few years? Don’t we see the harassed and helpless struggling every day with a tsunami of stress, anxiety, loneliness, unhappiness and dissatisfaction? The only difference seems to be that Israel had not given up its heritage. They believed in God, they knew his promises, and longed for a shepherd. They just didn’t know who he was.
Tragically, in our nation today, we live amongst sheep that do not even know that a shepherd exists. They don’t know anything of God, or the Bible, or what is promised to them if only they would seek him out. Perhaps this anecdote is not typical but in an Air Cadets meeting I led with 40 young people before Christmas, only one cadet said they had sung a Christmas carol that year. If our children don’t even sing carols at Christmas anymore, what chance is there that they hear about Jesus at any other time of year?
So what must be done?
In Matthew 9 Jesus tells his disciples to pray for workers. Perhaps you hear that command and do the same. You pray for men to be raised up to preach the gospel. You pray for ‘prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service.’ You do that because you have compassion on the harassed and helpless.
Look at the very next chapter. Those disciples who were invited to pray at the end of chapter 9 were invited to become the answer to their prayer in chapter 10! Look at how long the chapter is. Jesus tells them to think about where they are going and who they are going with, what they are going to take with them and how long they will stay. They are to be ruthless in their intentions, pausing longer where they are welcomed, moving on where they are rejected.
Look at what they are commissioned to do. They are not to settle for an annual carol service or an occasional coffee morning. They are commanded to ‘Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, and drive out demons.’ They are warned to expect rejection, persecution and even death. They are commanded to be shrewd in their activities. They must be intentional: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’
Some people in Wales understand this, don’t they? Lorna has started coming to our church. Lorna would say she’s had a pretty chaotic life and she’s new to our church but she tells everybody she meets how much she loves it, how much it’s changed her life, and how they should come to church too. When was the last time you told someone how brilliant your church was?
Maybe talking to your friends about Jesus feels as if you’re speaking a foreign language? Margaret is from Poland and has been coming to our church for a year. English is her third language. She gets some words slightly wrong like calling the ‘gospel’, the ‘gossip’, but, boy, does she gossip the gospel! Everybody she meets knows that she loves Jesus, that Jesus loves her, and that Jesus loves them too. When was the last time you told someone that?
Perhaps you worry that people would laugh at you or belittle you? Margaret’s husband Will was baptised last year. He knows that being a Christian means showing integrity at work. He knows his colleagues laugh at him for his faith but he tells them about Jesus all the same and prays for them when they are sick or struggling.
Maybe you don’t have the strength to do anything dramatic for Jesus. Pauline has dementia. She struggles to remember what she’s done in the week, but she turned up at coffee morning one week in November and met Mark. When she heard that Mark was living in the cold she put a halogen heater on the back of her mobility scooter and dropped it round to him.
These are all people who were harassed and helpless. They didn’t even know that a shepherd existed until the Shepherd came to rescue them and now they spend their time working in the fields telling others where to find life.
Sent by the shepherd
How about you? You know the need but do you have the heart of Christ? There are new converts and Christians from overseas doing their bit. They are sharing what they have with their workmates and families because they know the Shepherd. What about you? Jesus looked with compassion on helpless and harassed people. They were desperately lost. They needed a shepherd. The work needed doing and he called his disciples to the task. What about you? Will you listen to his call? Will you be intentional? Will you get up, get out and work for the kingdom in the harvest fields of Wales?