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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
The Harvest is so ripe!!!

Pentecost 6C     Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Jesus said:  “The harvest is so ready.  The harvest is so ripe.  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 mile.  Jackson, 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. 

Jesus said:  “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 the church.

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 gospels together.

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 saw.

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 indifference.  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 hearts.

Secondly, a great missionary congregation sees and feels the pain of the people around us.  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.

 “And 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 back.  Divorce.  Drugs.  Illness.  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.

The third 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 prayed:  “Lord, send....workers.”  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 congregation cheered.)

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.  Amen. 

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