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Edward F. Markquart

Series A
The Original Recipe: The Harvest is Ripe

Pentecost 4A  Matthew 9:35-10:8 

Have you ever been down to the bank on late Friday afternoons to deposit a check?  Are the lines long on Friday afternoons?  Yes.  Do you enjoy waiting in those lines?  No. And you are pleased when you hear the voice of the bank manager echoing through the bank:  ‘Tellers to the front window please.”  And you want those tellers to come immediately, when the line is long.  Not in five minutes or ten minutes or fifteen minutes.  The action is now. We need some extra workers now.

Same song, second verse.  Have you ever been grocery shopping on Friday late afternoon about 5:30, when the lines are long at the cash register?  The lines are so long.  Do you enjoy standing in line for a long time, waiting for your turn at the cash register?  Of course not. And so there is a sigh of relief when you hear the voice of the manager of the grocery store speaking through the loud speaker system:  “Cashiers to the front please.”  And you want them now.  Not in five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes.  The crisis at hand is now and needs to be solved now, not in fifteen minutes.

Same song, third verse.  It’s that time of year when we start to hear radio advertisements calling for strawberry pickers.  When the strawberries are ripe, they need to be picked immediately, so we will hear advertisements calling for “workers for the strawberry fields are needed now.”  Not in a week, five weeks, ten weeks.  Those workers are needed now in the fields when the harvest is so ripe.

It is with these images that we hear the famous teaching of Jesus when he says:  “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Pray to the Lord of the harvest that he will send!”

Today, I would like to examine the appointed text for today, the call of the disciples, and see how it applies to our ministry today.  I would like to look at the original calling of the first disciples and see how that paradigm for ministry then  applies to our understanding of ministry today.  I would like to look at the original recipe for discipleship. It is kind of like going to Kentucky Fried Chicken.  You go to Kentucky Fried Chicken and they have the original recipe; but then they have all the later recipes for fried chicken.  I would like to look at the original recipe for what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus and then examine how the original recipe has been changed through the centuries. 

So, looking at the story for today, we discover that the first disciples were to carry a simple message:  The kingdom of God is at hand.  God is real; God is present; God is near to us, in us, around us, alive and powerful.  There weren’t sixty-six books in the Bible to memorize; nor a long doctrinal confession of faith to be recited.  Their original message was very simple:  the power and presence of God is alive, near and around you and in you.

Then, these first disciples had a simple method.  Go to the needy.  The sick and blind and crippled, those with leprosy, those who experienced death.  Go to people who have a real felt need for God’s help in their lives.  Jesus later said:  “Healthy people don’t need a doctor; it is sick people who do.”  The disciples’ original method was very simple:  Go to those around you who have obvious needs for God to rule their lives, who need the power and presence of God to help them.

Then, these first disciples had a simple but crucial attitude:  compassion to those in need, those who were hurting.  The Bible says that Jesus had compassion on them, like sheep without a shepherd, and the Greek word of “compassion” is deep feelings, gut feelings of love for the hurting.  The way you reach people is with this attitude of compassion.  Not with an attitude of cynicism:  those people are all messed up and nothing can be done about it.  Not with an attitude of condemnation:  boy, did those people mess up their lives.  Not with an attitude of constructive criticism:  let me point out the ten mistakes that these people made to mess up their lives.  Rather, the attitude of deep compassion is what makes ministry possible.

So, these first disciples had a simple message, a simple method to go to those who were hurting, and they had a simple but crucial attitude:  compassion for those whose lives were messed up with pain.

Then, as part of this original recipe, Jesus chose twelve common and ordinary people to go and do his work.  There was not one religious professional among them.  Without cheating and looking back on your bulletin and Gospel reading for today, let’s have you recall the names of the original twelve apostles.  Shout out the names of the first twelve disciples.

Peter?  Yes, Peter, the big fisherman by trade.  The leader type who cracked under pressure and denied Jesus three times when the going got tough.  He also had a case of foot in mouth disease, often saying the wrong thing at the right time.

James?  John?  Yes, the two sons of thunder.  They had thunderous tempers.  They would have qualified for anger management class.  Hot headed.  Hot tempered.  And Ambitious.  They wanted to sit at the head table at the future banquet.  Not the meek and mild persons we often would expect to be disciples of Jesus.

Andrew?  Yes, the kid brother of Peter.  Always trying to live up to his brother’s long shadow. 

Judas?  Yes, the greedy one.  He sacrificed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  In the history of religion, there are always those who love gold more than God.  Real basic.

Thomas?  Yes, the doubter.  He wanted proof that Jesus was raised from the dead.  He was a natural born skeptic and even at the end at the Ascension, some of those disciples were still doubting.

Matthew?  Yes, the tax collector.  Half crook.  Half businessman.  Tax collectors will take financial advantage of you if they can.  He reminds me of a used car salesman; they often don’t tell the whole truth about the car you may be buying.  No offense to used car salesman; that’s my family background and I speak from experience. Make an extra buck if you can. Use Jesus if you need to.

Simon?  Yes, Simon the Zealot.  He was a political fanatic, liberal or conservative we don’t know, but he was a fanatic and probably wanted Jesus to be a political revolutionary.  In the history of  Christianity, people are always interested in using Jesus to further develop their own political agenda.

Bartholomew?  Thaddeus?  Don’t know anything about them.

So, as we look at the original group of twelve, we find people who are not the heroes of faith; they are not in the “who’s who” of religion; they are not the model citizens of our stereotype of the kingdom of God.  Jesus chose twelve common and ordinary, imperfect people. 

And you will notice that not one of them is a priest or rabbi or religious lawyer or prophet.  Not one.  What does this mean, that Jesus avoided all the religious professionals of the Old Testament people?  This becomes important later in this sermon. 

OK, so in the original recipe of discipleship; those first twelve disciples had a simple message, a simple method to those in need, a crucial compassion, and they were common and ordinary, imperfect people, with not one religious professional among them. 

Now, these original twelve also had a dress code.  These verses were not included in the lectionary reading, but in the following verses of Matthew’s story.  The disciples are told to carry no gold or silver with them and they are to dress simply.  One tunic. Two pairs of sandals.  That’s all.  Now what is behind this?  I am convinced that Jesus is aware that some people may be attracted to Christianity for the wrong reasons  e.g. Christianity will make you healthy, wealthy, and rich.  Fancy clothes and a bulging wallets may send the wrong message.  The only thing the disciples have to offer is the kingdom of God, the power and presence of God to heal their lives, to make a difference in the way they live.  Nothing more. 

So, if these were the ingredients of the original recipe of discipleship, what does that mean for us today? How does this original recipe work itself out for us today?

First, the gospel of Christ is always directed to those are in need; to those who are hurting:  the sick, the hungry, the poor, the weak, those whose lives are all messed up or screwed up.  Phillips Brooks, in his Lectures on Preaching, 1877, has a line that I really like:  The preachers/ the person’s instinct is to feel instantly, how Christ and human need belong together.  Let me say it again:  a person’s instinct is to feel instantly how Christ and human need belong together.  You feel instantly how Christ connects to the need of the person you are talking to.  For example, this past week in our parish, two women lost their husbands, both 55 years old, Mary Koch and Cookie Morris.  The pain and sorrow and shock were great, and person’s instinct is to feel instantly how Christ and their human need belong together.  To be with them, to hold them, to comfort them, to listen to sorrow, to listen to their sure hope for eternal life, in a thousand little ways, to know what it means to connect the love of Christ to their human need.  Or..... when a friend goes through a divorce or is grieving the death of a ex-spouse with all the complications of feelings;  a person’s instinct is to feel instantly how Christ and their needs belong together.  To listen, to grieve, to connect other people who have lived through a similar experience.  Or.... when young Carley Marchitto brings four young friends to seventh grade confirmation and who have become vibrant young Christian girls three years later; Carley’s instinct was to feel instantly how Christ was important to her friends’ needs as they were growing up as teenagers and how Christ could help them in every way. What teenager doesn’t need Christ?  

In the original recipe among the original disciples, the first disciples always related Christ to the human need of their friends around them:  blindness, leprosy, death, whatever it was.  And so it is with disciples two thousand years later, we always relate Christ to the deepest needs of the person we are talking with. 

And the good attitude, the crucial attitude of compassion is so very necessary.  Not cynicism:  you are stuck in your life situation and there is nothing that can be done.  Not condemnation:  look at all the little mistakes you have made to bring this disaster on yourself.  Not constructive criticism:  here are some suggestions that if you follow them, you will get better.  Rather, Jesus’ attitude was the compassionate love of God for the hurting person.  Not cynicism or condemnation or constructive criticism. 

And so at the heart of discipleship is reaching out to our friends and neighbors and strangers in need with the genuine love and compassion of God living inside of you. These quality relationships of compassion are the means, the simple method, that God uses to reach others.

A second thing we learn from the original disciples in the original recipe is that Jesus chose common and ordinary people to go and do his work.  He didn’t choose one religious professional.   I would like to prove to you how this principle is still valid some two thousand years later.  Researchers tell us how people come into the life of faith, and these researchers tell us that only one fourth of one percent come into the church by means of a famous evangelist or TV evangelist.  So I ask you here today and I need a show of hands:  how many of you were brought to faith initially or brought to church initially because of a famous evangelist, at a revival or on TV?  Could I see your hands?  Not one.  Out of the three worship services today and 800 people, not one of you was brought to faith through a famous TV evangelist?  A second question:  how many of you were initially brought to faith because of a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, brother, sister, or friend?  Could I see you hands?  Hmmmm.  It looks like all of you were brought that way.  Now, a third question:  how many of you were initially brought to faith or the church because of a pastor?  Let’s see, that’s five out of all who were present at our three worship services. Only five.  But I thought the pastors or evangelists were the ones who did that kind of work. 

What this proves to me and you is that Jesus’ original recipe is still working.  That is, people are still brought to faith and church by religious non-professionals.  You were all brought to faith and church by some common and ordinary persons. That’s the way it was in the original recipe. But in today’s religious recipe, we often erroneously think that a person is brought to faith or the church because of a pastor, a childhood pastor, a dynamic pastor, or a suped up evangelist like Billy Graham.  In the original recipe, it was the common and ordinary laity; but in the further evolutions of the recipe and in today’s contemporary recipe, we think this work is done by pastors and suped up evangelists. 

You have proven to me and yourselves that it is not pastors and suped up evangelists but that it is the common and ordinary people like you that God uses to bring people to faith and church.

And you have been given the authority to do this.  Clearly, in the text for today, Jesus gives you the authority and power to do this.  You don’t have to go to seminary or Bible school or have a religious title as pastor to have this authority.  You, the common and ordinary people of God, need to realize you have been given the authority by Jesus Christ  to do this.  And when you sense you have the authority to do it, that makes a difference in how you talk to and relate to others.  You have greater inner confidence.

A third thing we learn from the original recipe is the prayer:  Lord of the harvest, send workers... now.

In the original recipe, what did it mean to be a worker in the kingdom of God?  To go to one’s friends and neighbors who were in need and hurting, to go to them with compassion and message of hope to their need.  But does it mean to be a worker today, in the later evolutions of the recipe?  To be a worker in the kingdom today means to do the work around the church:  paint the walls, sing in the choir, usher, attend worship, study the Bible, all of which are noble and good.  But in the original recipe, when there was no church building and membership to maintain; in the original recipe, what it meant to work was to do the work of going to neighbors in need with the Gospel.  The church in the twenty first century needs to recover the meaning of the original work of the first disciples.

I also want to talk about work and coasting.  I would like to focus on the word “coasting?”  Being honest, when you were a student, did you ever coast through a class?  Could I see your hands?  Be honest here.  Yes, we have had many coasters.  You know what coasting means?  Another question:  have any of you ever coasted at work?  You  know, pretending you are working, going through the motions so that it appears you are working but you actually aren’t producing much.  Oh yes, we have numerous people who have coasted at work but we don’t like to admit it, especially if our boss is seated within view.  Coasting?  It is pretending that you are working.  Of course, we don’t want to coast so much as to flunk or to get fired.  We don’t want that. But we know what coasting is?  

Now, another thing I know about coasting is that we can be coasting because of past momentum; we have been going hard and now are coasting off that past energy and gradually slowing down.  But you won’t coast for long that way, living off of recent past energy and momentum.  Or.... we can be coasting because we are simply going downhill. If you are coasting for a longer time, that simply means you are going down hill. If you are coasting, you are doing one or the other:  coasting as a consequence of recent energetic momentum  or coasting because you are going downhill.

I would like to suggest that the mainline denominations in the USA have been coasting for many years now; we are no longer coasting as a result of energetic effort, but rather we are coasting because these denominations are going downhill.  Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, American Baptists.  These were all once growing, energetic and thriving denominations.  These denominations have lost the original recipe of discipleship; their primary work now is maintaining their denominations and they have been slowly going downhill for decades now.

Here at Grace Lutheran Church, it is a bit different.  That is, I believe our congregation is coasting.  That is, we are living off the energy which was given during the past ten years, but now we are coasting and living off that past energetic momentum.  Our first time visitors are fewer; our adult baptisms are fewer;   our membership classes are smaller;  our worship attendance is down slightly; we have more room in the parking lot;  fewer of you are intuitively talking to your friends about how Christ can make a difference in their lives; fewer of you are inviting and bringing friends to church. I believe that Grace Lutheran Church is coasting along, living off the energy and momentum of the past decade. 

And knowing how the original recipe worked, with common and ordinary people sharing the Gospel with their friends in need, and with Jesus not choosing religious professionals to do the work, Jesus prayed:  “God, Lord of the harvest, please send workers now.  Now Lord. Workers.  Not coasters.  But workers.    There are tens of thousands around us who need the Gospel now.  Please Lord. Send”   And that is my prayer today:  that this congregation would reclaim the original work of the first twelve disciples; that God will answer our prayer and send... workers... now.  Amen.

(As always, this sermon was preached orally on Sunday morning, without a manuscript, and then typed up later.

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