The Harvest is so ripe!!!
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
“The harvest is so
ready. The harvest is so
The grapes are so ready to be picked. Pray
that the Lord of the harvest would send workers into this harvest.
The harvest is so ripe and ready to be plucked.”
This past week I
have been trying to think of images of fields and crops that are
ripe and ready to be picked. That
the fruit is so ripe and so ready that
the fruit is ready to fall off the vine.
So, my mind went to
work and I thought of myself growing up as a
boy in Jackson, Minnesota. Jackson,
Minnesota, with its thick black earth, stretching out mile after
Minnesota with its lush cornfields, stretching out mile after mile,
with endless rows of corn blurring by as you drove past them in your
car. Jackson, Minnesota, with its corn festival and corn queen and
corn king. When I was a boy growing up in Jackson, Minnesota, we
prayed that the spring and early summer rains would be good, so the
corn crop would be abundant that year. When I was a boy growing up, we would walk in the cornfields
on July 4th, to see whether or not the corn was up to our knees.
When the corn was to our knees by July 4th, we knew that the corn
was off to a good start. And
then, as it came to the end of the summer, all of us kids were hired
to detassle the corn. We
would go out by the hundreds on the detassling machines and pull
those tassles off the top of each corn stalk. The corn was so
ripe. It was so
ready. Each stalk
was so abundant with ears
of corn. Mile after
mile after mile after mile, it was the same. It was incredible.
The corn was so ripe for harvesting.
Another example of
the fields being just right to harvest.
It was several decades ago this summer that we carried our
little infant son out to the blueberry fields near Eugene, Oregon.
Grandma Cook was visiting from St. Paul, Minnesota. Grandma
Cook had come out to see the new baby, her first grandchild. We
wanted to show off our baby but we also wanted to also show Grandma
life in the West coast. So we went to one of those blueberry farms.
This blue berry farm had the really old blueberry vines. And
the blueberries were clustered like grapes.
Grandma Cook had never seen anything quite like that before:
blueberries clustered like grapes. She had seen only the little scrub blueberries from cold
Minnesota; she hadn’t seen the real thing before. Grandma would put her hand underneath those grape clusters of
blueberries and twiggle the berries. The berries were so ripe, they
would simply fall off into her basket.
The berries were so ripe, you just twiggled them and they
fell. If you had to pull the berries instead of twiggle them, that
meant the berries were not quite ripe. That meant you needed to wait
for those berries to ripen.
But it is not only
blue berries that become perfectly ripe. So do the blackberries. The
summer is upon us and soon we will have blackberry pies.
At our house, we love those fresh blackberry pies.
At this time of year, we carefully approach the prickly
blackberry bushes on our street, when the blackberries are just
ripe, so perfectly ripe. We gently twiggle the berry with our
fingers. We touch the berries gently with a slight pull; and the
berries fall into the bowl. Soon they will be made into pies. In a
matter of days here in western Washington, the blackberries will be so ripe.
“The harvest is so ready; they are so
ripe; they are so ripe,
you just touch them; they are so ready for the kingdom of God. Pray. Pray to the Lord of the harvest that he will send
workers out into the fields to touch others in order that they would
fall into my hands.”
It is with these
images and word pictures that we approach some of the most famous
Bible verses in the whole Bible about the central mission of the
church. The harvest is
ready; send workers. The
text is so clear: the church, our church, is to go and gather the harvest. All
missionaries and missionary congregations know this passage from
John chapter 4, verse 45 that says, “Lift up your eyes and see the
fields which are white and ready for harvest.”
This Bible passage clearly announces the mission statement of
You know the unofficial
mission statement of this congregation.
It is the sign as you leave our parking lots. You complete the following sentence that is printed on the
sign. You fill in the blank: “You
are now entering ________ (your mission field).” You all know the
words on those simple signs as you leave the parking lots of this
church. You all said it together.
“You are entering your mission field.” The mission
of our church is so clear: go
and work in our mission field. And our mission field is so ripe and
so ready for harvest. It always is, as I will explain as we move forward today.
The Bible passage
that says, “The harvest is so ready, send workers” is found in the
Gospel of Matthew and Luke and John. This famous Bible verse is
found in three different settings.
In the sermon for today, I am going to blend these three
I also want to
explore with you the four qualities found in great missionary
congregations and missionary individuals.
Our congregation has the potential to be a great missionary
congregation. The potential is here. It is wise for us to discover
the four characteristics of great missionary congregations as
revealed in the gospel lesson for today.
First, a great
missionary congregation is filled with compassion for the crowds of
people around us. In Matthew’s version of the Gospel lesson for
today, it says that “Jesus
looked out on the crowds, and he was moved with compassion.”
Jesus was “moved to compassion.”
According to a Greek dictionary, this is the strongest word
for “pity” in the Greek language. Jesus was moved to the deepest
bowels of compassion, deep within himself.
When Jesus looked out on the crowds of the people around him,
he was moved with pity; he
was moved with empathy; he
was moved with deep feelings
for all those people around him. He was not like the Pharisees. The
Pharisees looked at the crowds and there was very little pity, there
was very little empathy, there was very little feeling of the tragic
circumstances of the masses. Why
did the Pharisees of yester- year have so little compassion for
those around them? Because
they were busy living life. They were good people; they were moral
people; they were upstanding people; they were religious people but
their hearts, tragically, had become hardened towards the common
people in the common crowds around them.
But not Jesus. Jesus,
looking around at the crowds, was moved with compassion by what he
This incident tells
us about the feelings of Jesus. It tells us about the feelings of
God. It tells us about the feelings of God’s people, that we are
people who look at the crowds of unchurched people around us, and
our hearts are moved. Our
hearts are moved with compassion, and our hearts are moved with
sympathy, and our hearts are moved with inner feelings.
And if our hearts are not, there is something tragically
wrong with our hearts.
For God wants to
pour his heart into our hearts, that our hearts would be soft like a
garden. Our hearts are to be like soft dirt that is found in the
garden in your yard. The soft soil in this garden has been spaded,
hoed, rototilled and watered, year after year, and the ground has
become ever so soft. Imagine
in your hands dirt that is soft, oh so soft and moist.
The soft soil receives the water and the soft ground covers
the seed and the soft ground produces the fruit.
So it is with your heart.
Jesus looked at the crowds and was moved with compassion.
You cannot be a great
missionary congregation or missionary individual unless your heart
is soft with compassion to
the crowds of unchurched people around you.
Not cynicism. Not
“I’m too busy.” All the great missionary congregations have
this compassion for the crowds of unchurched people around us. The
seed of God’s compassion is planted in our softened hearts and
that seed of compassion grows in the good softened soil of our
Secondly, a great
missionary congregation sees and feels the pain of the people around
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus uses three words or phrases
to describe the crowd: “bewildered,”
“dejected,” “like sheep without a shepherd.”
Let us briefly focus on each of these three words/phrases.
I looked up the
word “bewildered” in a Greek
dictionary, and it said and I quote:
“like a person after they have been raped.”
Like a person after they have been raped.
They are bewildered.
They are stunned; they are
shocked; they are confused. They
don’t know what they feel; their world is all turned upside down,
inside out; they are bewildered.
The Greek dictionary also said:
“Like a person who is wearied after a long journey that
never ends; they are all worn out.” Yes, people in that crowd two
thousand years ago were all worn out. Similarly, people in the
crowds of our neighbors are all worn out today. Tough jobs and touch
schedules and tough marriages and tough money. One parent, three kids, one lousy job, and all worn out.
And Jesus, as he looked at the crowds around him, his heart
was moved with compassion to the very depths of his being, for he
saw that they were bewildered.
dejected.” The word
“dejected” in the Greek dictionary says that “they were laid
prostrate, flat on their back, knocked down, wiped out.”
There are plenty of people in the crowd, two thousand years
ago and today, who have been knocked down and they are flat on their
No money. No
family. No sanity. You
hit the bottom and you’re almost out.
Jesus said, “The
crowd is like a sheep without a shepherd.”
In that crowd around our congregation and two thousand years
ago, people lacked a moral guide. They didn’t and don’t have a
shepherd to guide them, an inner moral compass.
They don’t have people to feed them spiritually and they
are hungry for things of the Spirit.
O yes, I know, you
may be feeling happy. You may think that the crowd is feeling happy,
but maybe you know only part
of the crowd. Maybe your crowd
is feeling happy today, and maybe that is part of the problem. Maybe
your crowd of people “has got it made.” Maybe you haven’t been
walking through all those apartment buildings right down the street
from church, where all those kids have only one parent, and that
parent rides the bus to a low-income job, and the kids sleep in
during the summer months because no parent is around and those kids
are bored all day long as they watch TV alone in their apartment.
Maybe you and I don’t know the crowd because our
crowd is “up and out.”
But Jesus had those
eyes that could see past the pretenses.
Jesus had those eyes which could see past all the pretenses.
Jesus could see all the pain behind those smiling perfect faces,
behind the facades of happiness.
Jesus, because he was so deeply compassionate, had a way of
seeing past the facades that we all put up. Jesus sees us when we
are bewildered; when we are confused; when it “ain’t” going
the way that it is supposed to be going in our lives.
The point is, in
all the great missionary congregations, those congregations and
individuals feel the pain and suffering of the people around them,
people who are stunned by life, down and out, and are in need of a
spiritual shepherd to guide them.
characteristic of a great missionary congregation is prayer.
The great missionary congregations are people of deep prayer.
Jesus, looking out at the crowds with compassion, saw their
pain and said that the crowds were bewildered by life, down and out,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus said, “Pray. Pray to the Lord of the harvest that God
would send workers. Pray to the Lord of the harvest.” It always begins with prayer, morning, noon and night.
We are the people of God and so we begin our mornings in
fellowship with God. We
are the people of God and so we end our night in fellowship with
God. We are the people of God and we talk to God day and night and
night and day. God’s spirit lives in us and we live in him because
at the heart of the Christian life is prayer.
You cannot even think of being a Christian without your life
being imbued with prayer. Pray.
And specifically, we pray that God would lead us to other
people who are in need of God. We pray for ourselves that we would
be willing to be missionaries and witnesses.
You can’t do missionary work without prayer for others,
one’s self and our congregation.
It won’t work. We
won’t be effective at God’s work without prayer.
I am thinking of my
friend Norm Carlsen, a member of our congregation who has cancer and
is undergoing radiation treatments.
He is in prayer every day, not only for his healing, but that
God would use him as a witness for Christ where he receives
radiation treatments. When
you are getting radiation, you are thinking about life, death, God
and your own mortality. It
blows my mind to hear Norm talking about his prayer life and all the
people he has been able to talk with about God, as he sits quietly
in a waiting room, waiting for his radiation.
He prays that God will send him the opportunities.
That’s the way it is with great missionary congregations
and missionary individuals: they know the importance of prayer. They
pray that God will send them opportunities to witness.
The fourth mark of
great missionary congregations is that God sends them workers.
In the passage for today, Jesus doesn’t ask:
“Lord, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send members.”
The purpose of
the church is not to find members or be members who have their names
of the membership role of Grace Lutheran Church.
Jesus didn’t say, “God, sent attenders.”
Those who attend on Sunday morning and Christmas Eve and
Easter Sunday. Jesus
didn’t say, “Send members or attenders or youth
lenders.” Send us
some parents who will lend us their kids for a few years so that the
kids will get a little religion in them during their Junior High and
Senior High years. Jesus
didn’t pray for members, or attenders or youth lenders.
Jesus loved that word, “workers.” That God would send
people who know how to work with their hands. That God would send
people who know how to work with their hearts. That God would send
people who would be willing to enter into the suffering and pain of
our community around us. Jesus
prayed, “O God, send workers.” You cannot be a great missionary
congregation without work, without doing the work of evangelism,
without going out to pick those bushes.
Somebody has got to do the work.
At this time, I
would like to call Lloyd Meyer forward to illustrate the sermon for
today. Lloyd would you
please tell what happened this past week. Lloyd: “Thank
you, Pastor. Several
weeks ago, Sharon Richardson in our congregation had the vision of
having a Vacation Bible School down the street in the apartment
units a few blocks down the street from church.
A group of us were drawn together, and we prayed to God for
help. Just like you
said, prayer is important. After prayer, the two of us approached the apartment manager
and asked for permission to have a vacation Bible school at his
apartment complex. We also asked permission that we could knock on
all the doors of the apartments and ask people to come.
The apartment manager answered “yes” to both questions.
We prayed hard, and for several weeks, Dale Mahlum and I
knocked on all the doors and told about vacation Bible school. Only one door was
slammed in our face, by a big burly guy wearing a bathrobe.
It is helpful to go with a friend, two by two, as it says in
the Bible. A friend gives your courage and strength to knock on
doors or to have doors slammed in your face. We had a great response. We developed a team of 12 workers,
primarily retired people. We got materials for our Vacation Bible
School and we were ready to go.
The first day arrived, and ....only one student showed up.
We prayed hard and went looking for more kids and by the end
of the day we had seven kids. By the end of the week we had
twenty-five kids. We
were on a roll by the end of the week.
We discovered that most of the kids were still in bed at 9:00
AM. Their parent or parents had gone to work and the children were
alone for the day. So the kids got up late and then watched TV.
Next time, we will start in the afternoon rather than the
morning.” I asked
Lloyd, “Were the kids ripe? Were
they ready and interested about God?” Lloyd:
“Ripe, they were so ripe;
they were so ready and
eager and enthusiastic. Most
of them hadn’t ever been in church.
And their parents were
equally ripe. I
talked with one mother in the hallway who was going in for surgery;
she was worried about it; and we prayed together in that hallway.
There were so many people there in that apartment complex who
were ripe for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
I asked: “Was
it work?” Lloyd: “Of
course, it was work. For
all of us. But it was
fun, rewarding, a positive experience, which we will all do again.
And we have plans for these same kids from the apartment
complex to come to our Vacation Bible School at church in a few
weeks and some of them to come to Bible Camp.
Maybe we can get a van going down to pick up their families
on a regular basis for Sunday morning.”
(We thanked Lloyd and his friends for their efforts and the
You see, the Gospel
is forever true. And it
will be forever true that there will always be crowds of unchurched
people around us who are ripe and ready to be “twiggled” into
the kingdom of God. It was true in Jesus’ lifetime.
It is true for us as well.
And it always takes workers, those people who are actually
willing to do the work, like the group of twelve workers from our
congregation at the apartment complex.
Two thousand years
ago Jesus said: “The harvest is so
ripe. Lord, please
send workers into the harvest that the harvest may be gathered.”
And Jesus’ words are equally true today.
I am a parish
pastor who very much believes that we are a missionary church, in
the midst of a missionary field.
We have the potential to be a great missionary congregation. What are great
missionary congregations? We have hearts of compassion for the
crowds of unchurched people around us. We feel their pain. We pray.
We become the workers who do the work for Jesus Christ.