Scattered to Gather

Matthew 9:37-38 Then he (Jesus) 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."

It's been decades since I've lived in a house with trees that drop their leaves in the fall. As I face another scorching hot Southern day, I look out into my backyard which is a virtual canopy of deciduous trees. I am looking forward to breathing the crisp air as I pile up the leaves and then leap into the pile. This is one of many pleasures in life best shared with a friend so I can't wait to introduce this ritual to my kids come autumn. It seems illogical to spend all that work gathering the leaves only to scatter them across the yard again. Once you've experienced it for yourself though, you actually begin to enjoy the labor of scattered leaves.

Today my reading is Acts 8:1-25. Stephen has just become the first martyr in church history. His friends are still mourning his death, when the entire church becomes the target of great persecution. Saul is leading the charge going from house to house and dragging off suspected Christians to imprison them. I picture myself in a cold, dark prison cell praying my fate is only a beating and not a cruel death. Throughout the hours of the night, my thoughts linger on my kids. I realize that I didn't get to say goodbye to my children and tell them one last time how very loved they are.

Followers are also scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. I number myself among those running for their lives. I am aiming for an obscure town in Samaria. What would I do when I arrived? How would I survive without the network of believers supporting me? Would these people so different from me help or hurt me? According to Verse 4, those who were dispersed "preached the word wherever they went".

I conjure up in my mind the groups of people from whom I feel the most different. These range from those living in government projects to the homeless. They have various cultural backgrounds and skin colors. Some speak broken English if any at all. What would I do if I had to run for my life and found myself among any of them? Philip found himself unexpectedly in just such a place, Samaria (Verse 5). I'm certain this turn of events wasn't in his life plan yet when he arrived he just continued being faithful to his calling and preached the gospel to everyone he encountered. He healed the sick and made well the cripple, just as he had in Jerusalem (Verse 7). Many believed the truth about Jesus and were baptized.

When this news reached Jerusalem, Peter and John traveled to the town to lay their hands on the people themselves so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Most scholars believe this was so that what happened at Pentecost for the Jewish believers would be duplicated for the Samaritans. Their long-time nemeses had just become their brothers and there was no effort to which they wouldn't go to ensure they felt totally accepted into the brotherhood.

What about you, Shannon? When you see someone at church who's "different" from you, how much effort do you make to ensure that person feels equal in Christ with you? Do you go out of your way to notice the poor, lonely or distressed? What would you be willing to sacrifice so that just one of them might know Jesus?

Today, Jesus, I know the greatest desire of Your heart is to gather Your people back to You. This day, I will look beyond the exterior of skin color or socio-economic status and see people's hearts. I will give them the very best I have to give - You. I will scatter myself wherever You send in order that You might gather those who are Yours.

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