Saturday, June 14, 2008

Calling all Harvesters

Matthew 9:35-10:8

I don’t have a lot of personal experience with farming. Although I may have grown up in an agricultural area, I’m still a city boy! Besides going out in the back yard to pick some apricots, the closest I’ve ever gotten to farming was an essay I wrote for a history textbook on the Agricultural Revolution of the 18th Century. So when it comes to talking about harvesting, any expertise I have comes from book learning. Fortunately you’ve not come today hoping to learn gardening techniques. If you have, then you have to look elsewhere!

I don’t know if Jesus was an expert on farming either, but he seemed to understand the basic principles of farming. The first principle is simple -- if something looks ripe, then you better pick it! The second principle simply insists that it takes workers to harvest a crop. Jesus may be correct about the principles of farming, but I don’t think he was interested in farming per se! So, maybe in this passage, when he talks farming, he’s talking metaphorically!

1. Casting an Eschatological Vision
Harvest language in the Bible is usually eschatological in nature. That is, it’s focused on the future – on what God is about to do in the world. These visions begin by suggesting that God is at work in the world – and not only that, but God is going to bring this work to a full and proper conclusion. God doesn’t do things half-way!

In this passage Jesus casts an eschatological vision that declares God’s concern for people who wander through life as if they’re lost and alone. These are, Jesus says, sheep without a shepherd. In his mind, this is a people in need of God’s compassionate care and feeding.
The second part of the story is the one Matthew addresses to us. As Jesus looks at this job of bringing God’s good news to the world and with it God’s healing presence, he realizes that he can’t do it by himself – he needs help.

This is an important point – God needs us. God may be at work planting and caring for the fields but when it comes to bringing in the harvest God needs us. That means that we’re important players in God’s work of redemption. God is calling us to share in building the kingdom.

2. Jesus’ Ministry is our Ministry

If God needs us to complete this eschatological vision, then the question is how we should go about it. And here we get some direction. If you compare Matthew’s description of Jesus’ ministry, with that of the twelve disciples you’ll notice that they’re almost exactly the same. In other words – Jesus’ ministry is their ministry, and their ministry is our ministry. Don’t let the use of the word Apostle make you think that this passage doesn’t apply to us. Apostle simply means “sent out one.” We usually think of apostles as the earliest church leaders, but the New Testament never uses the word that way. An apostle is simply a missionary – and we’re all called to be missionaries.

So, in sending out these twelve Apostles, Jesus commissions them to preach the good news and heal the broken and the hurting. If we look to Luke’s gospel we can get an even broader sense of what it means to share in Jesus’ ministry. In Luke 4, Jesus claims the mantle of Isaiah and insists that God has called him to “bring the good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18).
If we take these two commissions together we get a good sense of what we’re supposed to be doing as church. It’s hard work – but it’s transformational as well! And if we engage in this ministry then we join Jesus in bringing in the harvest.

3. The call for Harvesters of the missional church

Because I only have one more Sunday left, I had to decide whether to load it on you or keep it short and simple! Taking the better road, I’ve decided to keep this thing short! As I looked at this passage this week, the word I heard was simply this: We are a missional people. We’ve been called by God to make a difference in this community and beyond. We’re not a social club or even a service club – we’re the church of God. In other words, we’re a missional church. And as we think about being a missional church there are a few things we can learn from this call to apostolic ministry.

  • First, do what Jesus did -- Our calling to missional ministry is to do what Jesus did. Preach the good news, care for the sick, and offer spiritual comfort to those in need of it.
  • Second, don’t get caught up with the money. This is a congregation that has been blessed with resources that can fuel and sustain its ministry. Use the money wisely, but use it for the kingdom. Don’t hoard it when it can be used to expand the work of the kingdom.
  • Third, travel light – I’m not the best person to talk about traveling light. In getting ready to move, I realize that I have a lot of books to move. I hate to give them up – so traveling light isn’t an easy thing for me. But, if you continue reading into chapter 10 of Matthew you’ll find Jesus telling the twelve what to take with them. He tells them, to leave behind gold, silver, and copper coins, and in fact, don’t even take a bag of clothes. Just take the clothes on your back and depend on the goodness of your hosts. That’s traveling light! But the point is, to be a missional church requires us to act in faith and trust in God for our sustenance.

The harvest is ready, and the call has been issued. May we hear it and respond accordingly!

Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
5th Sunday after Pentecost
June 15, 2008

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