2nd Sunday after Pentecost
June 14, 2020
“Workers for the Harvest”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson from Matthew 9.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Next week marks a milestone in my life and I suppose it also marks a milestone in our life together. Next week on Monday (June 22nd) I will celebrate my 17th year in ministry in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. It has been 17 years of ups-and-downs, victories and losses, joy and heartache. But here I am, now in my 3rd congregation…with no plans to leave anytime soon.
My first-ever sermon that I preached as a pastor was about sheep and shepherds based on Psalm 28. Since that Sunday in June 2003, I have preached another 1,116 sermons. At roughly 18 minutes apiece, that’s about 334 hours of preaching or almost 14 days of non-stop preaching; perhaps that’s why some of you feel like my sermons are 2 weeks long! Anyway, how appropriate it is that as we near my 17th ministry anniversary we are talking about shepherds and sheep one again.
Anniversaries and other accomplishments in life like graduation, weddings and so on are often charged with emotion. Showing emotion is a very natural thing for us to do, and people have been overrun with emotion the last 3 months: fear over COVID-19 and now anger over George Floyd. Emotions are natural things.
Our Lord Jesus also experienced emotion on many occasions during His earthly ministry. He experienced anger at those who were buying and selling in the temple. He expressed sorrow and grief at the tomb of Lazarus, and, in the shortest verse in the Bible, John records how “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He expressed anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane as He engaged in prayer with the Father, so that, as Luke records, His sweat fell to the ground as drops of blood. Jesus showed emotion repeatedly during His earthly ministry.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus expresses an emotion as He looks out over the crowds of people. Matthew says that “Jesus had compassion on them.” This word compassion is much more than a simple feeling of regret or sorrow. Instead, it denotes a deep anguish, a gut-wrenching type of anxiety and sorrow over the condition of people; a feeling of sorrow way down in the pit of your stomach.
What was the problem that was so troubling for Jesus? Matthew records that “(the people) were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” This was a description of the spiritual lives of those who were living outside of the salvation offered by our God. But what does this description mean?
Think for a moment about actual sheep who are without a shepherd. A shepherd would lead sheep and make certain that they were where they could find a supply of food and water. But sheep without a shepherd have no direction. They can even starve to death or die of dehydration without a shepherd to lead them. A shepherd protects the sheep from predators and anything else that would be harmful to them. Sheep without a shepherd tend to wander off on their own and, being helpless and defenseless, become easy targets for predators. Sheep without a shepherd are in great danger.
From a spiritual standpoint, would the expression “like sheep without a shepherd” be an apt description of many people in America today? Absolutely! Over the last 20 years, American church membership and attendance has declined by 20% or more. And today we see the highest-ever amount of fear and anger and being “lost” than we have ever seen before in America’s history.
Directionless, helpless, vulnerable to the attacks of Satan, many people today are in the very same condition as the people observed by Jesus in our text from Matthew 9. “Like sheep without a shepherd” is an accurate description of the spiritual lives of many 21st century Americans, especially young Americans. They are more than just a little vulnerable. They are running on fear and anger and selfishness. They are directionless…like sheep without a shepherd.
Fortunately for all of us, Jesus did a lot more than just feel compassion for those in our text and for all people. Jesus went far beyond what any earthly shepherd would be expected to do for the sheep: Jesus laid down His life for us as His sheep. As the Good Shepherd, He sacrificed His own life in order to defeat the predators of sin, death and the devil. Thanks to this perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world and thanks to God’s working in our lives, we have a Good Shepherd who provides direction; leads us to green pastures, still waters, and will lead us down the path of life for eternity.
But, as He told His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” In short, there are so many people, so many souls at stake, and the laborers, those to proclaim the Word of God, are so relatively few.
Today, indeed, the harvest is plentiful. In 2020, around 2.3 billion people are Christian. That’s good. But, that’s only 29% of the world’s population. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that means 71% of the world is NOT Christian. That’s an abundant harvest field! And this abundant harvest field is not just across the ocean. It is also across the yard or across the street. The harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few when compared with the enormity of the task at hand.
So what can be done? Exactly what Christ asks in today’s text. Pray that the Lord of the harvest would continue to raise up workers for His harvest field. Second, thank the Lord of the harvest for the way He answers the prayers of His people to raise up workers for His harvest field. God is responding in a wonderful way to these prayers. This spring, 188 calls and assignments were filled from both seminaries. God is answering the prayers of His people to provide men for the Holy Ministry, and we can give thanks to the Lord of the harvest for His gifts to us . Finally, encourage those who might be considering such service, whether it is as a pastor, a teacher, a director of Christian education or any other church-related vocation.
Pray for workers to go out and work in our Lord’s harvest field. Give thanks as God answers the prayers of His people and raises up workers. Encourage those who are expressing a desire to do so. Had these things not occurred, I would not be your shepherd, a pastor for the last 17 years and your pastor for the last almost 6 years. I guess God does answer prayers both for the sheep…and for the shepherd. Be strong and stay safe, my friends.