September 25, 2016 – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proclaimer: Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Sermon Series: LORD OF THE HARVEST
Sermon: Laboring with God
Scripture: Matthew 9:35-38; 22:34-40
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary commitments and active faith. When you pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” is that a serious prayer for you? Are you seeking to align your life with the life of God, as a follower of Jesus, so this prayer is answered in you and, through you, in the world?
Two young women met for dinner. Stephanie had recently broke it off with the fellow she had been dating. Her friend, Ginger, asked her ‘why,’ and Stephanie replied, “Our religious views were very different; he thought he was God and I disagreed.”
When you pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” you are giving God authority in your life and asking God to shape your life. You are not merely saying a traditional prayer; You are asking God to set the direction and course of your life.
In the life of St. John’s, we are entering a season of spiritual renewal. Friends, this past week in Charlotte reminds us there are many needs in our world. Hopefully, you understand that the depth and maturity of your active faith makes a difference in the world. From time to time, we must give our attention to our relationship with the Lord of the Harvest and our commitment to the Lord’s Harvest. So, during the next 60 days, until Advent, we are on a spiritual renewal journey. Often, people observe 40 days for spiritual renewal; we will invest 60 days – because I know you are busy people.
We have chosen the phrase, ‘Lord of the Harvest,’ as our theme for this spiritual renewal season because of this story about Jesus found in Matthew 9:35-38. Matthew’s Gospel builds to this story by using the first four chapters to tell us Jesus is one with authority. In Matthew 5-7, we are told Jesus’ words have authority. In Matthew 8-9, we are told Jesus’ deeds have authority. Then, here, in these last verses of Matthew 9, Jesus sees all of the needs and has compassion for people who are like sheep without a shepherd. And he says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Here, Jesus does not tell us how to pray; he tells us why we should pray.
Jesus tells us we must do more than merely recognize the existence of human or social need; we must recognize our responsibility toward human and social need. This is why Jesus used this phrase, “like sheep without a shepherd.” He was moved with compassion for the many people who have no relationship with God. Each person needs a shepherd; an authority under whose guidance they find identity, safety, peace, nourishment, hope, direction, community and purpose.
The authority of Jesus matters in the life of his Church and in the individual lives of his followers. The authoritative Christ is the good shepherd who teaches authoritative words that become authoritative deeds. And these authoritative words and deeds express an authoritative call for us to follow him with our lives.
Often, you do not take well to other people having authority over you. Assigning authority to someone else requires you to humble yourself and take on the form of a servant. Yet, that is who you are; you are servants of God laboring with God in God’s harvest. You become answers to your own prayers: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth – within me and through me – as it is in heaven.” Assigning authority to God, praying to God, means that you are not God.
This is why Jesus taught the greatest commandments to be, ‘loving God with all your heart, soul and mind’ and ‘loving your neighbor the way you need to be loved.’ In the life of St. John’s, we call this ACTIVE FAITH; Actively Faithful Faithfully Active.
On your worship folder cover, you find a brightly colored diagram. I will be using this diagram to remind you that your discipleship is lived out on two axes: an active relationship with God as a servant of God and an active relationship with others as their servant. When we say, “We will be a servant church,” we are saying, ‘As followers of Jesus, we are laboring with God.’
Each and every human is created in the image of God and is gifted with faith. Some people never develop this life of faith – lower left box – Undeveloped Faith. Some people develop this life of faith on the horizontal axis by serving other people – lower right box – Horizontal Faith. These persons may relate with others by serving; yet, their service is not inspired by an active relationship with God. Some people develop this life of faith on the vertical axis by pursuing a relationship with God – upper left box – Vertical Faith. These persons are often busy serving God in worship, praise, prayer and even Bible study; yet, their pursuit of a relationship with God does not send them forth in service of their neighbor.
During our season of spiritual renewal, we will focus on ACTIVE FAITH; an active relationship with God that overflows in active service of others and active service of our neighbor that moves us deeper into an active relationship with God for spiritual renewal; Actively Faithful Faithfully Active. In this way, our relationship with God matures because we see how God’s love shapes us and our relationship with our neighbor matures because our love toward them and our experience of being loved by them is shaped by the character of God.
A fellow once asked me, “When I pray for the kingdom of God to come, what am I asking?” I told him, “You are only asking God to help you love God with all that you are and all that you steward and to love your neighbor as you need loving.”
This past Thursday was the first day of autumn. So, this morning, some of you found falling leaves when you picked up your worship bulletin. Please use these leaves as note paper through the next 60 days, as we pray to the Lord of the Harvest.
- You may carry a leaf in your purse or pocket to remind you to pray for spiritual renewal.
- You may write a few words representing the laborers you see are needed in God’s harvest today or how you want to deepen your relationship with God during the coming nine weeks.
- You may place your prayer leaf in the offering plate or in this basket on the Communion Table. You can sign your name on the leaf or not.
- Some of these will be used each week to become a prayer wall window by the church offices.
- If you want to write a private prayer request that will only be seen by your ministry staff, please hand it to one of us and we will pray for these requests as a team.
Throughout the Orthodox Church in the Mediterranean Sea region, they tell the story of a wealthy merchant looking for the distinguished Pharisee, Paul. He found Timothy, who arranged a visit. Paul was, at the time, a prisoner in Rome. Stepping inside the cell, the merchant was surprised to find a rather old man, physically frail, but with a peaceful serenity and magnetism. They talked for several hours. Finally the merchant left with Paul’s blessing.
Outside the prison, the merchant asked Timothy: “What is the secret of this man’s life? I have never seen anything like it before.” Timothy asked, “Why do you not understand? Paul is in love.” “What do you mean, he is in love?” Timothy answered, “Paul is in love with Jesus Christ.” The merchant looked even more bewildered and asked, “Is that all?” Timothy replied with a smile, “Sir, that is more than all; that is everything!” (G. Curtis Jones, Illustrations For Preaching And Teaching, Nashville: Broadman, 1986, p. 225.)
Amen and AMEN!