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Live from Mountain Top: Sunday Worship (June 14) & Children's Sunday School

. 7 min read

Harvesters 
Praying
the Scripture, Psalm 116
Kids,
Genesis 18.1-15 (prelude to Abraham’s conversation about the destiny of Sodom)
Message,
Matthew 9:35 – 10:15
This
week’s theme: Harvest
Pentecost,
which we celebrated two weeks ago, was a feast that celebrated, among other
things, the beginning of harvest. Asparagus and lettuce have come in.
Blueberries and strawberries are next. Winter wheat will be harvested in
midsummer and spring wheat in late summer. And Brussel sprouts are best after
the frost.
       When I think of harvest, I think of a
dairy farming community I served as pastor – Airville, Pennsylvania. The church
held a series of community dinner events during the year and one of the features
of those dinners was sweet corn pulled fresh, processed, and frozen for great
pots of chicken corn soup and other sweet corn delectables.
       At some point in August, we’d get a call
from Kay that the sweet corn would be ready next week, maybe Tuesday or
Wednesday. The word would go out to be followed up by a one-day notice the
night before the big day – when the corn would be pulled at the peak of flavor,
before any of the sugars had converted to starch. Pastor JP, meet Sam and Shane
out behind the milking barn at 6:30 tomorrow morning. It seemed an early start
for me, but they would already have milked and fed all the cows.
       So, I show up in boots and old jeans and
walk through the corn field with Shane, followed by Sam driving the tractor. We
pull one ear of corn after another and toss them into the tractor bucket. When
the bucket is full, Sam dumps it in the trailer – and it’s a huge trailer – and
then comes back for more.
       By 8:00 that morning, parents, kids,
grandkids, widows, teenagers … forty people show up to shuck corn, boil corn,
cool corn, cut corn, bag corn, box corn. One year, I’m not sure the number,
maybe 250 half gallons of corn were put up? We filled a chest freezer and two
upright freezers. And, of course, for lunch we had sweet corn … lots and lots of
it. I have never had better sweet corn. Harvest is definitely sweet.
       Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful.
Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest fields.”

Message
Harvest
is a metaphor for mission. And mission proceeds not from obligation or condemnation.
Mission proceeds from the compassionate heart of Jesus: “Jesus had compassion
for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a
shepherd.”  No wonder he sends the twelve
out on mission “to the lost sheep of Israel.” They are the first objects of his
compassion, and mission proceeds from the compassionate heart of Jesus.
You
may have noticed some of the judgment language in the story. “Shake the dust
off your feet against them.” “It will be more bearable for Sodom than that
town.” Wow. If Sodom had it good compared to those who reject the kingdom
message shared by the apostles … But we must not hurry too much to condemn, we must
not rush to judgment. The mission proceeds from the compassionate heart of
Jesus, not from an angry God. God’s most essential attribute is not wrath but
love.
       So, why the judgment talk? Some of that
is natural consequence, just like the biology of harvest. When you pull the sweet
corn, the stalk is chopped up, left on the ground to decay and nourish the next
harvest. When you harvest the wheat, the weeds are sorted out. Some off the
judgment talk is just natural, fitting the biological metaphor of harvest. Those
who refuse the love of God aren’t going to have it forced upon them. And some
of it sets disciples free from failure. Not everyone will say “yes” to your
invitation. Not everyone will agree with you. Not everyone will acknowledge the
wisdom you offer. And there are times when we need to take “no” for an answer
and move on without getting stuck emotionally.
You
may have noticed the limited nature of this mission: to the “lost sheep of
Israel.” Mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel does not mean that
broader mission is not important. It is just a way of focusing their work, as
they learn what it is to be in mission with Jesus. They are called to practice
mission in what is for them the easiest arena. This narrow focus doesn’t mean
that mission should not be extended to all, to Gentiles, to Samaritans.
Just like saying “Black Lives Matter” or “Save the Rainforest” does not mean
that other lives or other forests don’t matter. It just means that things are far
out of hand and this requires our special focus. But for the twelve, Jesus
says, “Focus in your comfort zone for now. You’ll be out of your comfort zone
soon enough.”
The
judgment language and the specific focus are interesting, but they are side
notes to the main things I want to lift up today.
·       Spiritual
formation: Become the answer to your own prayers.
·       Abundance:
Opportunity comes to those who go knocking.
Spiritual
formation: Become the answer to your own prayers.
I
love that Jesus, full of compassion, sees the opportunity in the harvest, sees
the people seeking the kingdom, and asks the disciples to pray. Prayer isn’t
about our shopping list. Prayer is about getting our hearts aligned with the
heart of God. And, once the disciples enter fully into the prayer for the
“sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless,” Jesus invites them to become
the answer to their own prayers, Jesus calls them to join him in mission. You
see, when the compassionate heart of Jesus is beating in our chest, we become
the answer to our own prayers and not only our own prayers, but the prayers of
Jesus himself.
       So, I challenge you to begin to pray the
prayers of Jesus for our world. And, start with the easy prayers. Pray for the
people you already know and love. God will take you out of your comfort zone
soon enough. Then, you’ll find yourself praying for that immigrant household,
the neighbors whose parties are louder than you’d like, the co-worker who takes
credit for your work. But start with the easy stuff. See how God changes your
heart and makes you the answer to your own prayers.
Abundance:
Opportunity comes to those who go knocking.
We
all have heard the expression, “When opportunity comes knocking….” From Jesus’
perspective, opportunity is constant, and we find it if we look for it. “Ask
and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be
opened” (Matthew 7.7).
       There is so much opportunity, in fact,
that it is present in abundance. You don’t need to take extra with you. You
don’t need extra cash, you don’t need a change of clothes. You will find all you need in the mission field. Sometimes when people are making
decisions, they focus on what they don’t have available, on what they can’t do.
We forget that once we start on the path, once we step out on the adventure,
new resources come our way; we discover things we never would have discovered;
we find that there are worthy homes, men and women of peace, who want to
partner with us.
       The more we ask (that is, pray), the more
we seek, the more we knock (that is, step out on this adventure of mission),
the more resources we discover along the way. The more resources we discover
(and stories of God at work are our primary resource), the more invested we
become. Or, to put it another way, the more ownership we feel.
       Here in the middle of this pandemic, we
have someone who has expressed the desire to join the church and has begun to
serve on one of our ministry teams, albeit remotely. Imagine that! Stories like
that get me excited, and make me invested even more in what God is doing among
us.
Ownership:
Get your skin in the game.
Jesus
expected the disciples to get their skin in the game, to be invested in the
community to which they were sent. Shaking the dust off our feet is, among
other things, a way for them to get unstuck when they are rejected, when they
fail. It is a way for them to divest from a place in which they are invested.
You don’t do that unless you are first invested, unless you actually care. Get
some skin in the game.
       Our Abraham story is fascinating. The
Holy Trinity visit the ancient patriarch and promise a son. What a 100th
birthday present for Abraham and what a 90th birthday present for
Sarah! Happy Father’s Day! A whole week early! But after Abraham has dinner
with God – and this part is worth going back and reading the rest of Genesis 18
– after dinner, God and Abraham go for a walk and Abraham overhears God’s
internal conversation. “Shall I conceal from Abraham what I’m planning to do?”
That would make your ears perk up! God’s got a secret and is about to spill it!
“There is a horrible outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah, so I’m going to check
it out to see if it is as bad as I’ve heard.” Uh-oh. Abraham’s nephew Lot lives
in Sodom. Abraham has skin in the game. The outcome matters. Abraham cares.
“Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty
righteous people there?” “I’ll spare it for fifty.” “Let me, dust and ashes as
I am, be so bold as to ask again. What about forty?” “Okay. Forty.” “Please
don’t get mad. What about thirty?” “Deal.” “Bold again. What about twenty?”
“Agreed.” “Please don’t get mad this time. What if there are only ten?” “For
ten I won’t destroy them.” I know Jesus taught the disciples that there are times
to take “no” for an answer in their mission, but Abraham wasn’t going to take
“no” for an answer.

       Did you know you could haggle with God
like that? Did you know that God wants you to have skin in the game? Did you
know that God wants you to have ownership of the mission of Jesus Christ? Did
you know that every resource for the mission can be found in the mission field
itself, that opportunity comes for those who go knocking? Did you know that God
wants us to become the answer to our own prayers? Be the ten that save a
city. Be the twelve that bring the kingdom of God to a nation. 

And, all children are invited to join the Children’s Sunday School class at 9:30 am on Zoom.

Conversation starters for this weekend’s themes:

  • What
    is your experience with harvest? What do you most enjoy about the harvest?
  • How
    is Jesus calling you to pray for your community and region? How can you be an
    answer to your own prayers?
  • How
    are you invested in your community and region? What can you do to strengthen
    those ties?
  • Where
    do you need to accept “no” for an answer? Where do you need to persist and not
    accept “no” for an answer?