Bringing the Harvest Home

BRINGING THE HARVEST HOME

 

MATTHEW 9:35-38

the harvest 

 

A little over a year ago now I learned about this strange church in the Midwest.

They made Chicken Pie.

Not Chicken pot pie. I was told there is a big difference and you best know the difference.

I was told it was a pretty big deal.

I was told they used to pluck the chicken’s themselves.

I was told that the gravy might have been a cholesterol hazard at one point but things have gotten a lot better.

I was told at the time that this was the 115 annual Harvest Home, and we just completed our 116th annual Harvest Home. ( Pastor’s note. I realize 116 years is 1899 not 1914. Sorry)

That’s like 1914 folks. I looked up some stuff that happened in 1914. Henry Ford brought his assembly line for the model T online, Gandhi was over in India doing his thing, Babe Ruth played his first professional game, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Mother’s Day, Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated setting off World War I, the First International figure skating tournament was held in New Haven Connecticut , and of course Pierceton Presbyterian Church held its first Harvest Home.  Now I thought 1914 was pretty uneventful. But then I found out that was when Harvest Home started and that changed my mind. 116 years later we are still going.

That’s a lot of Pie.

That’s a lot of work for the amount of money we get.

But we all know it’s not about the money.

And it’s not about pie.

It’s about a Harvest. I know some of you are concerned about continuing the tradition of Harvest Home. But today I want to shift our attention from keeping Harvest Home to bringing a harvest home. A harvest for the Kingdom.

“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and village , teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Today I want you to know 1. Who is the harvest in this passage. 2. Why the crowds are harassed. 3. How we are called to pray. 4. What we are called to pray for and what the answer to those prayers looks like in our context.

First, we must ask what or who is the harvest that Jesus is referring to? This passage is clear. The harvest of the Kingdom are the harassed and the helpless. The word for harassed here means to skin or flay. These people are the lambs led to the slaughter. Abused and misused. Worn out and forgotten. They are the refuse and the wretches of the Earth. But it is this huddled mass of hurt that Jesus calls the harvest.  Not a valued crop like wheat or corn. The harvest is the least of these. Many of you know what it means to harvest a crop. Better than I do. But in the spiritual realm the Lord tells us that we will not reap a harvest if we pick and choose. If we choose the rich over the poor. The glamorous over the plan. The beautiful over the ugly. The new over the old. I came here to this church with a conviction. That we must make room. That we must welcome the unlovely. And if we pick and choose who we wish to come God will not grow this church. I still believed that.

Second, we must ask why are the crowds being harassed? This verse reminds us of many Old Testament verses like Ezekiel 34:1-6 where the leadership of Israel has abandoned its people. And indeed, in Jesus day the Jewish Elite had sold the country out to Rome. The people have been abandoned because of lack of leadership. And I know for two years you all have been like sheep without a shepherd. And when one is abandoned I know it is hard to trust again. I know it is hard to love again.  I’ve been learning a lot about leadership this past year. The sort of things they don’t teach you in seminary. I’ve had my failures and my successes. I think there is a debate in this church and in churches in general about what the leadership of a pastor should be. I think this passage shows us two things about Christian leadership. This passage shows us leadership requires compassion and leadership requires vision.

This passage says that Jesus had compassion on the crowds. The word for compassion in the Greek is splagchnizomai.  The word means too feel something in your gut, and even when you say the word you feel your gut turning. One translator suggested that the modern day expression, “his heart went out to”, describes what Jesus is feeling here. The word is always used in reference to Jesus’ compassion. It is a divine compassion that we can not produce on our own. It’s so easy for leaders to think about the numbers, budgets, goals and objectives and forget that there are people behind those numbers and those people are not just giving units or souls to be won they are beloved children fashioned in the image of God. Jesus tells us that where our treasure is so our heart will be also. So a lack of resources a lack of funds shows a lack of relationship, a lack of connection, a lack of compassion. It is the job of a spiritual leader to bring his or her people back to the roots of compassion. It is a job of a spiritual leader to call his or her people to dig deep even when they feel they have little left.

When I came here I had a very bottom up view of leadership. I saw my role as to listen to you, the people, the communion of saints, to inspire and equip you. As Scott Cormode author of the article Cultivating Missional Leaders says, I saw leadership in a model where, “ leaders lead by following- that is by following the people of God, who are themselves following the move of the Spirit.” ( Cormode, 103) If I was a leader I was a leader who followed.

Other Christians might believe in a model more based on authority, what we might call the CEO model. You lead by delegating and telling people what to do. Both these models have their benefits and drawbacks. Both are appropriate at certain times. But they fall short of biblical leadership and biblical authority. As Cormode suggests the Bible presents a third way of leadership. He suggests that Christian leaders lead by changing the way their people see the world. They lead by casting a vision and letting the Spirit catch that vision ablaze in the minds of the people. That is my intention in leadership. Yes I will follow where I lack wisdom, yes I will tell people what to do and exercise the authority God has given me as your pastor, an authority you recognized when you all installed me, but most of all I am here to cast a vision. As proverbs 29:18 says, “without vision the people perish.”

Jesus’ solution to the problem of a lack of leaders and a lack of labor is a little counter intuitive for our day in age. He doesn’t call for protests, the formation of a nonprofit, or the formation of a Political Action Committee ( you know those shady political groups that can get unlimited campaign contributions), Jesus calls for his disciples to pray. The verb here for to pray means to cry out for a deep personal need. It is to pray as if one is starving, as if one is dying of thirst, as if one’s child is near the point of death. It is to pray with urgency. It is to pray as if there is no tomorrow.

The reason for this urgency is two fold. The situation of people really is desperate. People are hurting, people need healing, people need ministry. But there is also an urgency, this scripture and most of the New Testament tells us, because Jesus is coming back. In the New Testament there is this age and then there is the age to come. And the age to come is breaking into this age, though it is not here yet. And though it has been two thousand years since Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven the scriptures still call us to live with that sense of urgency. Because people are hurting and because Jesus is coming we have no time to waste.

And I believe in my heart there is a great opportunity for a great harvest to be reaped by this church. As Dr. Terry W. Dorsett author of Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, points out, the small church in the small community has traditionally been the center of social life in the community and it can be so again.  Dr. Dorsett tells the story of Washington Baptist Church in the small village of Washington, Vermont. To quote Dorsett, “ At one time, the church was the social center of the community, but in 1993 the church had dwindled to less than twenty active members and was facing possible closure. The church’s denominational leadership encouraged the church to call a young pastor who would focus on reaching the next generation. They did so, and he led the church to host a variety of concerts, outdoor barbecues, and sports activities designed to help the church regain its position as the place where exciting social events happened.” Dorsett goes on to say,

“The community responded positively to those efforts because in the collective consciousness of the community, the church had a long history of doing such events even though the church and not done them recently. When that young pastor moved to a new church in 2001, the church had returned to a place of health. The congregation had more than tripled in size and become significantly younger than it had been in many years. The congregation continued to host a variety of community events each year, and in 2007, the church called a second staff member to serve as a youth pastor to more effectively reach the next generation. In 2011 the church continued to be healthy and clearly remains the social center of the village.” ( Dorsett, 17).

Dorsett points out that yes this church embraced technology, yes this church tried new programs. But what this church mainly did was to make the commitment to spend time with people in the community. To say, I know my schedule is busy and hectic, but I love my church, I love my community, this takes priority. To quote Dorsett, “ just having a nice website or an active Facebook page is not enough to help the church regain its position as the social center of the community. Remember, the church is really the people, not the building. Therefore, small churches should be looking for ways to engage people relationally to share the gospel with them. It is difficult to engage people relationally until we have spent time with them. Relationship building is not a program. It is a process that requires face to face interaction. Technology can connect us to the next generation initially, but then we must use those connections to build relationships.” (Dorsett, 18)

Part of being a laborer for the Kingdom, this scripture tells us, is being pushed out beyond our walls. The verb here for “to be sent” literally means to be expelled or thrown out. Even the Apostles, in the book of Acts, rather had stayed in Jerusalem. But a great persecution expelled them, almost forcing them to evangelize the nations, which is what Jesus commanded them to do in the first place. A church that lives for itself will die by itself. A church that is on a mission to grow God’s Kingdom and not just its membership rolls will be blessed in its membership roles. I really meant it when I said several weeks ago after Harvest Home that I have never been more proud of you as my people as when I saw what you did at Harvest Home. My favorite part was seeing all the Kitchen staff come out clapping their hands and singing to celebrate Judy’s mother Evelyn’s 93 birthday. I saw that she was moved to tears. I saw in that room people of every generation, friends and strangers, believers and unbelievers, rich and poor, gathered around in celebration. And I was brought to tears. Because I knew this is the Kingdom. This is the Harvest. This is worth fighting for. This is worth sacrificing for. And I wondered, “Why does this only happen once a year?” I don’t mean the pies, I mean that experience, that feeling, that fellowship. Why can’t it happen every Sunday, and every day of our lives? I believe it can. I speak the vision to you though it be far off that a fire may be started in your hearts. So let us pray my people that the Lord may send out laborers into the fields. For the Harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. But that is not how it has to be. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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