The Original Recipe: The Harvest is
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
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.
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.
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.
Yes, the kid brother of Peter.
Always trying to live up to his brother’s long shadow.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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...
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
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
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
are tens of thousands around us who need the Gospel now.
Please Lord. Send workers....now.”
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...
(As always, this
sermon was preached orally on Sunday morning, without a manuscript,
and then typed up later.