Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Down On The Farm: Bringing In The Sheaves

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 10:1-18.  This series was based on a series created by Rev. Adam Hamilton.

There was a little boy and all he wanted in the world was a horse.  Every day he asked his parents if he could get a horse and when they would get him a horse, and every day his parents told him no, and his father in particular told him how much work horses were and that he was not old enough to handle the responsibility.  But every day, without fail, the boy asked for a horse.  Finally, the father got tired of it and decided that he could end it once and for all if he showed him how much work a horse required, and so while the boy was at school, he filled up his room with horse manure.  When the boy come home from school, he walked through the front door, smelled the distinct odor in the house and he whooped and ran to his room, and when he saw what awaited he started screaming and then ran to the garage, and came running back with a shovel and ran into his room, opened the window and started shoveling everything outside, all the while singing and dancing, and whooping and hollering.  Finally his father couldn’t take any more and went into the boy’s room, and said, ‘what are you doing? Why and you so happy to have all this manure in here, don’t you realize how much work this is going to take to clean up?”  and the boy said, “Yea, but with all this manure there’s gotta be a horse in here somewhere.”

I wasn’t actually planning on telling on more bad jokes this week, but I heard that joke this week and just had to pass it on.  For the past four weeks we have been looking at the keys to living life as a disciple of Christ that we can learn by looking at life on the farm.  We began by talking about being stuck in the mud, and to get out we must accept, surrender and follow, and that is the first step of discipleship.  The second step is to make sure that our spiritual fields are not being filled with weeds or bugs or disease, that we are only growing what God is planting in our lives, and that is through the practice of the spiritual.  The third step to discipleship is to gather together for worship, in order to turn over the pains and difficulties, hardships and sorrows, the manure in our lives, to turn it over to God, to expose it to oxygen and sunlight, and allowing God to turn that manure into compost, in order to give us something that can give new life and new energy to us and our spiritual growth.  The fourth step was being in community, about recognizing that we cannot walk this path alone, that we need a small group of other committed disciples who will not only celebrate with us and help us when we are down, but who are willing to ask “how is it with your soul” and to hold us accountable when we are no longer walking the right path.  Which then leads us to the final step, and that is the harvest.

Harvest might be one of the best times of the year.  It is the time in which rejoice in the bounty that God has produced in our lives, even if that bounty is not as great as we might like, and to do so in and as a community.  There is a reason why fairs typically take place in the fall, as well as Thanksgiving.  It is the time in which we can see the results of all of the hard work that we have put in to bringing this crop to fruition.  The same is true in our spiritual lives as well.  The word harvest is mentioned 84 times in the Bible, and you might have noticed that many of the passages that we covered over the past five weeks were not only about agriculture, but also specifically addressed a harvest.  In last week’s passage, Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

When you plant something you expect something will happen, that it will grow and it will produce what you expect it to, and the same is true with us.  God has planted us, and God expects us to bring forth fruit in our lives, to produce a harvest.  Strangely, almost like I had planned it, the passages we have been reading from James have also matched this same idea, culminating in perhaps James most famous phrase that “faith without works is dead.”  When we become disciples of Christ there is something expected of us, we have to do something with it.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism said that the only appropriate response to accepting God’s saving grace on our behalf, is to act on the grace in the world.  While we are saved by faith alone, once we have accepted that grace and salvation, we are not done with the path of discipleship, instead we are just beginning.  We are, again in Wesleyan language, seeking sanctification, seeking to live every single day more and more like Christ, to move ourselves more and more into alignment with God’s will for our lives.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”  So how do we do that?  What is the harvest, or the fruit that God has called for us to produce?

In the story immediately after today’s passage from Luke, a lawyer goes to Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life, and in Luke’s version of the story, Jesus says, “What is written in the law?  What do you read there?” and the lawyer says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  And Jesus tells him he has answered correctly, and that if he does these things he will live.  Love the Lord your God with all that we are and all that we have, with our entire being, and love our neighbor as ourself, with, as Jesus says here in the parable of the Good Samaritan, neighbor defined in the broadest possible terms so that it even includes those who are our worst enemies and those whom we want to destroy, as much as they might also want to destroy us.  Or maybe we might also remember the famous passage from the Prophet Micah, Micah 6:8 which says, “what does the lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”

The Rev. Zan Holmes has said that these injunctions, to love God and to love neighbor really are at the center of living a cross centered life. The vertical is our relationship with God, and the horizontal is our relationship with others.  There are some who would like to emphasize simply the relationship with God, and say that everything else doesn’t matter.  Others will argue that it is relationships with others that is most important and that the relationship with God thing is secondary.  But both parts of the cross are necessary, and then Jesus tells us to pick up our cross, how often? Daily.  Pick up your cross daily and follow me Jesus says.  To produce the fruits of the harvest that God has called for us, we must live cross-centered lives and we do so by loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our strength, all of minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

But, notice that the harvest we are called to produce is both inwardly and outwardly focused.  Even the fruits of the spirit that Paul highlights in his letter to the Galatians, which include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, are both inward and outward focused.  They help us in relationship with God, and they help us in our relationship with each other.  If you’ve ever looked at what we vow to do when we become members of the Methodist church you will find they are both inward and outward focused as well, and they can be our guide whether we are members of this congregation or not.  The membership vows for the United Methodist Church say that we are to support the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness, inward focused and outward focused.  And if all of us were to live into those vows, again whether we are members or not, the church would have little to worry about.

If all of us were to pray, the first step in connecting us to God, of being in relationship with God, if all of us were to pray for the church, to pray for its leaders, for guidance, for forgiveness, and then to take the time to listen to God, then we would never have to worry about what we should be doing or where we should be going because God would tell us, and we would be empowered by the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit gives us what?

If all of us were to be present for worship, were here every single Sunday that we are in town and are available, and I know I’m sort of preaching to the wrong group about this, but if every member, and all those who are associated with the church were to be here every Sunday, this sanctuary would be filled each week.  If all of us were to give with the tithe being the goal, then we would have many fewer financial problems, but giving is not just give of our money, but we are also to give of our time in service, to be in sevrice, not only to the church but to the community as well.  To be a dedicated Christian, you cannot sit on the sidelines.  God isn’t looking just for cheerleaders, or worse just fans, but players, those who are willing to go out onto the field and participate, those who are willing to work towards the harvest and to help bring it in.  Like I said it means participating in the life of the church, and there are hundreds of ways to do that, but also working out in the world to bring about the kingdom of God.

But we no longer live in a world in which people understand why Christians are in service to the world, and so we have to give our witness of saying why Jesus has made a difference in our lives, or how Jesus has made a difference and why we are acting on that in the world.  But it’s not just witnessing when we are in service, but it’s also about witnessing to our friends, our families, our coworkers, and I’m not talking about being obnoxious about this, but simply being honest about whom we are and that all begins where? With prayer.  Inward and outward, vertical and horizontal. This week Jodie and Wendell and Becky gathered together to look at the puzzle pieces that were submitted last week in answer to the question where we will be in three to five years, and what they came up with was a phrase that I love which says, we are going to grow big by focusing within, so that we can go big by focusing and going out.  We are to know Christ so we can make Christ known.

Only in  today’s passage from Luke do we hear this story of the 70 who are sent out.  We’re of course familiar with the disciples, but these are a different group, and notice that they are sent out in pairs, because community is important, and then Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.”  Sometimes this passage has been used to justify few people doing lots of work, but notice what it really says.  It says that right now there are few laborers, that’s why we are asking God to send out more laborers.  That is in order to bring in the harvest, in order to do the things that God is calling us to do, we must all be willing to accept, surrender and to follow.  To follow, leads to the spiritual disciplines, which leads to being in worship and turning our stuff over to God, which leads us into community, which leads us to bringing in the harvest, which leads us into the fields because God has called us as laborers, which leads us to being willing to follow….  and then we are told that when the 70 return they come back with joy, because they have understood the true power of being a servant of God at play in the fields of the Lord.  May it be true with us as well my brothers and sisters. Amen.

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