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The Harvest Is Ready
July 3, 1983

LUKE 9:57-10:2

Jesus found himself in an enviable position. According to our scripture lesson this morning, which came from the lectionary, the suggested passage for the day,  which is a beautiful passage and very appropriate for a first sermon, Jesus found himself in an enviable position. Jesus’ ministry was beginning to catch fire. People were beginning to respond. Success was waiting in the wings to enter front and center, and steal the show. Jesus found himself to be an administrator as he recruited some 72 persons to go into the towns to preach, to teach, to heal, to bring the kingdom of God. Jesus recruited, Jesus taught them, inspired them, commissioned them and dispatched them. He said, “The harvest is ready,” a large harvest.

I'm glad Jesus used the image of harvests to illustrate ministry. When I was a boy on the Minnesota farm, I eagerly looked forward and enjoyed the fall harvest season, especially the oat crop when the big threshing machine would roll cumbersomely into the neighborhood pulled by the gigantic, at least I thought so, antique tractor. How many of you have ever seen those threshing machines? It was a big time in the neighborhood as the threshing machine went from farm to farm. All the farmers together would help one another bringing the oats from the field to the machine where the machine separated the oats from the straw. The best part of the day was the meals! Oh, how the women would compete with each other to prepare the best feast! The joy, the love, the warmth, the community spirit generated were terrific.

The worst part of the day was my job. I was usually the bagger. I got to stand under the chute, catch the oats, tie the sack and stack it up. It was a hot dusty, dirty job and paid 15 cents an hour. When I finally reached the age where I could drive the tractor out into the field, load the oats on the wagon and have a nice refreshing cool breezy ride on the way back to the threshing machine, the combine had come in. The threshing machine was extinct. The combine undermined community spirit. The only other time the neighborhood got together then was for funerals.

Harvesting was a celebrative time, a happy time, a community time. Harvests were great times of rejoicing except when the crop failed. I'm glad Jesus used the example of harvests to illustrate ministry, to illustrate the work of a church for harvests are not constant. Farmers are not constantly harvesting. There are periods in the winter when the land rests, when it recuperates. Then there is the period of preparation. The land is plowed, harrowed, planted, fertilized, watered, weeded, pruned.

Harvests are not always successful. Having lived in the far country for the past nine years in the San Joaquin Valley, I have come again to appreciate the life of a farmer, a rancher, a grower. City people either forget or never understand the risks involved in farming. Not every harvest is large or productive or economically profitable. Sometimes the weather is against them—rains too much, like last winter, or rains too late in the spring so they can’t plant, or rains too early in the fall, or the frost comes too early. Sometimes the weather is uncooperative so the harvest is not a successful harvest. Sometimes the crop is over abundant. The experts predicted the wrong crop to plant. We have a farmer in the Modesto Church who is tearing up, ripping up acres of beautiful, sturdy, productive Freestone peach trees because the co-op won't buy them anymore, because your tastes have changed. And now he will lose years of recompense because the almond trees that he plants takes three to four years before they will produce. The public's tastes change. Not every harvest is successful. Not every harvest is successful because of those little insects. My, how the medfly crisis panicked us over in the valley. Our very survival was at stake, all due to a little insect.

And then there are always people problems—labor problems, shortage, incompetence, strikes or what have you. Our middle son Tim works at a tomato receiving station this summer and reports that the one field anticipated to be large is a very small crop because the human laborers planted the plants erroneously and left too much exposed to the sun. No crop. And then of course there are management problems—inefficient, inadequate management problems. Not every harvest is successful. Farming is a risky business and harvests are not automatic.

I'm glad Jesus used the image of a harvest as the ministry of the church because our ministry is not always productive, It's not always successful. The harvest is not always plentiful. There are times in a church's history when the harvest is magnificent, when throngs fill the sanctuaries, when there are multiple services with children all over the place, financial abundance and outreach into the community, build senior citizens residences, and outreach to the ends of the world. Sometimes there there are great harvests and then other times there are periods of crop failure, labor problems, ineffective management, inadequate planning and preparation, or misreading the public’s tastes. What was popular in churches and communities 20 years ago is no longer applicable, like Freestone peaches. Not every harvest is automatic. And then, like the range grass in the valley, sometimes fire is needed. They light a fire to burn off the old grass and to rejuvenate the soil to cleanse. Sometimes fires rage through churches. People leave. Many get hurt, burned, singed and scorched. Not every harvest is successful.

Most of the time in the church, we find ourselves about the work of preparation. And that's not always exciting—planting, plowing, weeding, pruning. But then God sends the harvest in God's own good time. I pray today that Palo Alto First Church is getting ready for a harvest. Do you think so? Are you ready? Cliff Droke and Nadine DeWitt have ministered well, have put things together, planned, prepared, reconsolidated and now today a new era begins. I have come and Glenn has come because we believe God wants us here for planting, for weeding, fertilizing, for nurturing, for loving and for harvesting, for reaping.

How do we do it? How are harvests reaped? Our lesson today from Luke gives us some guidelines. When the harvest is ready, first, we begin with Jesus. It's Jesus who did the calling. It’s Jesus who did the recruiting. It's Jesus who does the teaching, it's Jesus who does the commissioning. It is God's harvest. This is Christ's church—Christ’s ministry and Christ's crop, God's harvest, and you and I are the farmworkers. We are the laborers. A church is not a church unless Jesus Christ is the head, unless Jesus Christ is the Savior, unless Jesus Christ is the Lord. Until we have a common commitment to Jesus Christ, we are not a church. We may be a nice social club, we may be a nice fraternal organization, but we're not a church until we are commonly committed to Jesus Christ. In that commitment we find our unity as farmworkers. Our unity as farmworkers is that we do not need to like one another. Isn't that great? You don't have to like the next person if you're both weeding. You don't have to get along. You don't have to agree. Our unity is not how we feel towards one another. Our unity is not our commitment to one another. Our unity is because we're committed to Jesus Christ. In our common commitment to him, we join hands with each other, and we reap the harvest that God sends us. We begin with Jesus.

Then Jesus gives us some very specific instructions in this passage, summarized in verses two and three, “pray and go”. “Go”, said Jesus, get moving. Go into those towns. Go. Get off your you know what, and go. It's not easy. It's not easy to be a Christian these days. It's not easy to work in a church. It's not easy to be about Christ's causes. He was very, very specific about that. No one ever promised us a rose garden. He was very specific about that in the preceding verses in Luke 9:57-62. Jesus laid it all out. He said in verse 56, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” There is little security. There are very few sure things for Jesus constantly calls. You never know where God wants you to go. He may even move you after two years. God may uproot you and pull you out after two years and the wife just loves to move. Little security. A few months ago, when we found out the price of houses in Palo Alto, we didn't think we'd have a place to lay our heads either. And then you very creatively got together and came up with an ingenious plan and next month we move into a house. Now, times have changed. We haven't sold the other one. So probably we'll have two places to lay our heads. Two payments. There is little security in serving Christ.

And there's little security in church work. It's not promised to be easy. But the command is “Go”. Go. He goes on in verse 60, “Another man said I will follow you but first let me go and say goodbye to my family. And Jesus said to him, anyone who starts to plow and then keeps looking back is of no use for the kingdom of God.” No looking back. We are In a future oriented ministry, and we're concerned about today and tomorrow. Yesterday can never be changed; yesterday can never be redone. The words can never be resaid. The deeds cannot be redone. It's past. We've come through whatever we've come through, and here we are today. We’ve survived and praise God, tomorrow is that way. Jesus says don't look backwards. Put your hand on the plow and go forward into the future. Let's lay aside and cast aside anything that would hold us to the past. Cast aside all hurt feelings, cast aside all anger, cast aside all resentments, cast aside all disappointments, cast aside all mistakes, errors and failures. They're done. Tomorrow's ahead. If you look back, you're of no use to the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “Go”.

The second command is, pray. Pray. He said, “Pray that God will send out workers to gather in the harvest.” Pray for the workers. Pray for one another. Let us begin this term of ministry in prayer. Will you covenant to pray daily for the ministry of this church? Will you covenant and make a pact to pray daily for me, for Glenn, for the directors, for the staff of this church? Will you pray daily for each other that we may know the will of God, and that we may have the courage to do it. We undergird this ministry in prayer—God will send a harvest. Praying for one another, especially for those at whom you're angry. If you're upset with anyone, if your feelings have been hurt, if someone has said something or done something to you, or if they failed, if they have left you down, if they have let the church down in your opinion, or someone changed something that was dear to you, pray for them.

And when you pray for someone, pray that they will be used by God as a worker for the harvest. Pray that the barriers will be knocked down and that the love of God will permeate. Pray that we will experience forgiveness, love and joy in the Holy Spirit. Pray that God will empower that person. When you pray for someone, they will be changed and you will be changed, which brings up a word of caution. When you pray, please do not pray for someone if you are enjoying the hurt feelings or if you're enjoying your anger, or your bitterness, or if you enjoy holding those grudges. If you enjoy basking and reveling in self pity, or “poor little old me, please do not pray for anyone. Because when you pray, the hurt begins to heal, the anger subsides, the self pity turns outward to a concern for others.

If on the other hand, you are tired of the barriers, if you are weary of the hurts, if you want more friends, if you miss some of the old friendships, if you want to see Christ’s church come alive and grow in the Holy Spirit, if you want to see a harvest here, and if you want to be a part of that harvest, then let's heed Jesus’ admonition, “Pray that God will send out the workers for the harvest”.

As I begin today, I ask you to please pray for one another and for us that we might truly follow Jesus. Let us pray and go forward. Praying on the run is what it is, praying while we're going forward. I would like to do something very dramatic this morning. I would like you to come forward when we do our praying after the offering. When we sing the doxology and the ushers bring up the offering, I invite you to come and let's join as a family all up here in the chancel. Let's get together, touch one another and come in the spirit of “Yes!” I will pray and come in a spirit of let's commit ourselves and our church to Jesus Christ. You may say that is dramatic but let's be dramatic and let’s go. Let’s get off the pew. Let’s symbolize our desire to move together in unity as a family of God, as the people of God. Heed Jesus’ admonition to pray and to go.

© 1983 Douglas I. Norris