Harvest Time 09 25 11

My sermon from September 25th, 2011 based on Matthew 9:35-38 and Matthew 22:34-40.  5th of 5 in “Lessons from the Farm” series.

This morning we conclude our series, “Lessons From the Farm on Growing in the Christian Life.” For the last four weeks we have explored various attributes or principles of the Christian life, specifically as they are related to images and metaphors from the farm and from agriculture.

If you have been with us through this series you know that none of the principles shared or the lessons are particularly earth shattering or new; they’re simply the kinds of things that we often know, but struggle to actually live day to day.

On the first Sunday of this series we talked about the reality of the human condition, all of the stress and pressure of living, of trying to meet the expectations that others place upon us. We likened the mess of the human condition to being stuck in the mud and addressed the reality that, try as we might, we aren’t able to get ourselves unstuck. As the starting point for our spiritual lives we must surrender our lives to Christ and then turn to follow him. In this act of surrender we are able to get unstuck from the mud.

On the second week we talked about the next step in our Christian journey, the need to be in community and relationship with other Christians. We talked a bit about the act of putting up a field’s worth of those small square hay bales and how to try to do so on one’s own would be a nearly impossible task. Just like putting up hay, we identified that growing in our Christian faith is not to be done alone.

A couple of weeks ago now we talked about what the gardens of our souls need as we seek to grow into who God wants us to be. Specifically we talked about the weeds that can grow out of control and choke out the good that God hopes for us. In order to grow as God would hope for us to grow in the Christian life we must tend to the weeds, we must use discipline.

And last week we talked about the need to effectively manage the manure in our lives. If you were with us last week you’ll remember that we named the reality that manure happens. There is no denying or hiding from this reality. However, we also named the fact that it is not the manure of our lives that will ultimately define us, it is what we do with the manure in our lives. And so we talked about the need for a manure management plan, a way to turn the manure of life into compost, something that can be rich and life giving to others.

As we conclude this series this morning we’re talking about the end, goal, purpose, mission of the Christian life. As we explore this reality today we do so using the framework of the harvest. Again I asked Ben Myers, one of our resident farming experts, to tell me a little bit about what the harvest means in the life of a farm. Hear what he had to say…

(Ben’s Harvest Video)

Some of what Ben says here is key. The harvest is a very important time, of course, it is the culmination of months of hard work. And so you watch very closely and you wait very patiently so that you might harvest at the just right time so that your work hasn’t been in vain. When it is time for the harvest, we can see if the things we have done in cultivating our spiritual lives have been done well.

Throughout this series we have talked a lot in generalities about the life that God would want us to live, the fruit that God might hope for our lives to bear. As we talk today about preparing for the harvest, I want to spend just a bit of time talking a bit about what that life might look like, about what it is that God might hope for from us.

In the passage we read a few minutes ago from the 22nd chapter of Matthew Jesus gives us insight into this very question. He is essentially set up in this story. The Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Saducees when they put him to the test. So the Pharisees, the religious rulers of the day, gathered together and one of them, a lawyer we’re told, asked him a question, ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ By asking Jesus this question, the lawyer was seeking to trap him, to have to give priority to one law at the expense of all the others. Jesus’ response, is magnificent…

‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

What kind of fruit does God look for in our lives? What should be the goal or the end or the purpose of the Christian life? You should love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. You should love your neighbor as yourself.

To love God with our whole heart and soul and mind is about more than simply professing love or even than feeling affection. Loving God with all of our heart and soul and mind requires energy and work and investment on our part. Regularly being engaged in worship is an important part of this, having time and space in our routines where we can pause and breathe and feel God’s spirit at work in our lives is important. Gathering with other Christians to sing songs of praise and to hear the scriptures read and God’s word proclaimed is an important part of growing in our love with God.

Sometimes we will need to do these things even when we don’t particularly have warm and fuzzy feelings toward God. The closest illustration I can make to this is the relationship that we have with our partners. There are times that I don’t necessarily feel warm and fuzzy feelings toward Heather. You’ve experienced this, right? You’re tired, you’re stressed, you and your partner have been going in a million different directions trying to stay on top of the demands of life and it’s just not really much fun.

Even in these times I know I am to show my love to her as her partner. I am to act in loving ways. So it is with our relationship with God. Sometimes we feel really close to God and it’s easier to do these things. Sometimes we don’t feel particularly close to God, but we are still to take the opportunity to show our love.

The other piece of this, then, is that we’re called to love our neighbors as ourselves. I realize that statements like these often lend themselves to the most favorable definition possible. You might seek to define love as simply as you can or to define neighbor as narrowly as you can, but I challenge you to think expansively about this. Define love as generously as you can, define neighbor as broadly as you can. Love your neighbor as yourself.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement that evolved into our United Methodist Church called these two things, loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind and loving our neighbors as ourselves, sanctification. It is important to understand that growing in the Christian life is to be a daily journey that unfolds throughout the course of our lives. I often try to look at it like this. Today, I hope to love God and to love my neighbors just a little bit better than I did yesterday. Tomorrow I will hope to love God and to love my neighbors just a little bit better than I do today.

There will be days when I fail to do this. There will be days when I make mistakes and turn my back on God. There will be days when I fail to extend love to my neighbors, but the good news is that even in the midst of my failings God loves me and forgives me and calls me into another day. I invite you to consider adopting this perspective. I know you’ve heard my say it before, but it’s worth repeating here, God love you exactly the way you are, but doesn’t want you to stay that way.

Bit by bit, little by little, day by day, over the course of a lifetime, we can make incredible progress as we grow into the people God calls us to be.

The harvest that God hopes for in each of our lives is that we do these two things and that we do them better today than we did yesterday. We are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The extent to which we do these two things is the harvest our lives bear. However, there is another way in which the harvest of our lives can be measured and gauged. This is related to the other parable we read a few minutes ago. Jesus is traveling through Galilee healing and teaching and performing miracles and Matthew explains to us that 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’”

Jesus saw hurting and broken people who were in need of a shepherd. Jesus charges his disciples with going out into the field and to helping people meet and connect to God. Jesus lived for reaching people who have no connection with God. Jesus calls us to help with that work. We are sent out to help find others who are lost and hurting, we are sent out to share the good news with others who might join us as workers cultivating the great harvest.

Regardless of who you are, the family you come from, where you work, or the connections you have, there are people in this world with whom you have unique and special connections. You all know people who trust you in ways that they would never trust me. I’m the pastor, it’s my job to tell people about Jesus, it’s my job to tell people that God loves them. I know this might sound odd, but people are sometimes less likely to hear those things from than they are from you. You are just a friend or a co-worker or a neighbor, you don’t necessarily have an agenda.

I was recently told the story of a man who was traveling with his family and staying in a hotel. One evening the man and his daughter were in the lobby playing a board game and they watched as a woman came into the hotel to check-in. Sitting in the lobby they couldn’t help but overhear as the desk clerk had to explain to the woman that her credit card had been declined. The woman was clearly embarrassed and expressed frustration, saying that she wasn’t sure what she could do. She said she was going out to her car and would look for another card and come back in a few minutes.

Without really thinking the man grabbed a pad of paper and wrote a couple of notes and took them to the front desk with his credit card. He handed them to the clerk with one note on that read, “I am a Christian and want to share God’s love by paying for that woman’s hotel room tonight. Please don’t tell her it was me and please just hand her this other note when you tell her her room is paid for.

The man returned to his board game with his daughter and the woman soon came back to the desk. The clerk explained to her that her room was paid for and handed her the second note that the man had written. It simply read, “I am a Christian who believes deeply in God’s love. I also believe that as a Christian I am to share that love with others. I have paid for your hotel room tonight and want you to know that God loves you.”

The woman was clearly moved and expressed her disbelief to the clerk who simply said that it had been an anonymous gift. After the woman went upstairs to her room the clerk came over to the man and expressed how much his gesture had touched her. “I’m going to call my boyfriend and tell him what I witnessed on my break and I can’t wait to tell my manager on Monday. What you did is one of the neatest things I have ever seen anybody do.”

Do you see the power of what this man did? In one simple gesture he shared God’s love with the woman who needed a room for the night. He showed his daughter what it looked like to extend Christian love. He showed the desk clerk how Christians share God’s love and give. His actions also impacted the desk clerk’s boyfriend who would hear the story that night as well as the hotel’s manager who would hear the story early the next morning. The man who put forth the effort to share God’s love in this simple act would later say it was the best $60 he ever spent.

You too can do things like this, can share God’s love with a hurting and broken world in seemingly simple and insignificant ways. And so I leave you with a couple of questions. What fruit are you going to bear? What will the harvest of your life look like? This is why we’re here. The harvest is plenty, the laborers are few.

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