The farmers have large barns and silos. These buildings are meant for gathering the harvest and preparing it so it can be sent out to bless the community. But with no workers the produce stays outside and the whole intention and work of planting and tending remains incomplete. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray for harvest hands!
This is what we hear Jesus saying to us this morning. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Church buildings are like barns. They were built to accommodate the harvest. They were meant to be places for gathering many of God’s people together to hear the good news that God loves them, God forgives them, God has a place for them in his heavenly kingdom. While spending time with the gathered church God’s people can begin to experience living in the kingdom of God here and now. They can find healing and peace.
But when there is a shortage of farm workers the barns and silos don’t fill up. With a shortage of workers in the church our sanctuaries are half full, or less. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray for harvest hands!
Now this metaphor of harvest and workers only goes so far, right? A harvest of apples will come into the barn if someone just does the work of picking them and carrying them in. A harvest of people have their own will. There was once a church with a confirmation class in which the students were expected to attend worship each week. There was a girl in the class whose heart wasn’t into it. One Sunday morning she refused to go to church. Her father found himself trying to pick up this 13 year old girl and stuff her into their mini-van, and finally he gave up. We all know a lot of people who once were part of the church and then gave up on it – for one reason or another. They have removed themselves from church, made other commitments on Sunday mornings and tell us they are spiritual but not religious. They might show up for holidays, or a wedding or a funeral. But other than that they say church isn’t for them.
Yet Jesus is telling us today that the harvest is plentiful. How can that be? What is the harvest that is so plentiful? Let’s go back to Matthew and look again. Jesus went outside to the villages and cities and also in the synagogues – the places where religious people gathered. So first of all we see that the ripe harvest in this case is both outside of the church and inside of it.
What are the signs of a ripe harvest according to Matthew? Those who have diseased bodies, bruised lives. Those who are harassed and helpless – another translation says those who are confused and aimless. King James says those who fainted (who have grown so weary with the ways of this world they were exhausted) and scattered abroad. We know people like that. People overwhelmed with grief. People who are running here and there chasing after happiness and never finding it. People who are miserable in good paying jobs but don’t have time for their families. People who have gifts that are not recognized or rewarded in school or on the sports field. People who need to know the good news of Jesus Christ.
And here the Bible changes the metaphor – the harvest Jesus is talking about is not grain and fruit – it is more like sheep – sheep without a shepherd. Sheep can wander away and get lost. They can get stuck in thickets. They need shepherds – farm workers – to get them back to the green pastures and still waters where they were meant to be. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray for harvest hands!
Who, then are the workers Jesus needs? He needs people whose lives have been touched, and healed by the love and grace of God. Those who can praise God in spirit and truth because they are full of the joy of the Lord. Those who once were lost, but now have been found by the Good Shepherd and led back to the green pastures of the kingdom of heaven. If you have been received a blessing from God and you know it from the inside out, then you are qualified to be a worker. If you find it difficult to testify to how God has blessed you, then you are likely still a sheep.
Finally we get to the vertical habit for today. Dedication – stepping up to the plate and asking God “How can I help?” The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray for harvest hands! We can become harvest hands when we can say to God, "I have been blessed by you, I have been forgiven by you, I’m ready to feed your sheep the good news of your salvation and lead them into this barn/sanctuary. How can I help?" Matthew lifts up three characteristics of the helpers.
First they need to have compassion – Jesus has compassion on those who were like lost sheep (verse 36). “Compassion” is deep feelings, gut feelings of love for the hurting. The way you bring the harvest of people into the church is with this attitude of compassion. Not with an attitude of condemnation: boy, did those people mess up their lives, we’re going to avoid them. Not with an attitude of constructive criticism: let me point out the ten mistakes that these people made to mess up their lives. Rather, the attitude of deep compassion is what allows people who are ripe for the harvest to receive the good news of Jesus and be ready to follow the Shepherd into the kingdom of heaven.
Second harvest hands give their spiritual gifts to Jesus. Not all of us will labor in the same way. But like a human body we can function in different ways – working together. for the common goal. The church’s aim/ our mission, our one task is to bring in the harvest by giving Jesus to his beloved people.
Third, the test for whether you’re doing what God is calling you to do to help is joy. If the work you are doing is compassionate, utilizes your spiritual gifts and brings joy then you can be assured that you are truly helping.
If you have not yet felt the sure and certain love of God in your life – you are part of the harvest. And when things get so tough in your life that you feel harassed and helpless, confused and aimless, like a sheep without a shepherd then you are ripe for the harvest. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray for harvest hands!
But if you feel the presence of Christ, if you see how the Holy Spirit is guiding you day by day, giving you a measure of peace and joy and there are people in your life who are like sheep without a shepherd – then ask God “how can I help?” Then the Holy Spirit will guide you to fruitful service.