Friday, June 12, 2020

June 14, 2020 The Harvest

At Home Worship 
First Presbyterian Churches of 
Paris and Deport, Texas 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 2 Cor. 13:13 
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  
And also with you.  

Trusting in the word of life given in baptism, we are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Out of the depths we cry to you, O Lord: Ps. 130:1–2 
Hear our voice and answer our prayers! 
The word of the Lord is like fire in my bones; Jer. 20:9 
I am weary with holding it in. 
 What does the Holy One require of us?Mic. 6:8 
To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. 

This is a time of God’s appearing; let us worship! 
Let us recognize that God is within and among us 
God’ ear is inclined toward us. 
We know that God listens and hears our prayers. 
We are here to offer our thanks to God. 
We will pay our vows to God in the presence of others. 
We are grateful for the grace in which we stand. 
We praise God with great joy and gladness. 
God bears us up on eagles’ wings. 
God draws us into .covenant community. 
We will listen for God’s commandments. 
We will seek to do all that God requires. 

God of all creation, help us to recognize your presence among us. May we greet one another as your precious children and as messengers of your care. Help us offer such hospitality to one another that even the most skeptical among us will be touched by love. You are love; in you we find hope amid our weakness and doubt. Let your glory shine in this place today as we lift up the cup of salvation and call on your name. 

Meeting God can be a very disturbing experience, for God may require of us changes that we fear. We may hear challenges that push us beyond our comfort zones. In our prayers of confession, we seek to overcome our resistance to God’s direction and open ourselves to greater possibilities. 

God, we often fail to recognize that you are always with us. We are the ungodly ones who deny your love by our failure to love. We deny your law by our failure to live by it. We laugh at your promise. We appear more burdened than joyful in the midst of the wondrous gift of life. We seldom pause to give thanks. The compassion of Christ finds little echo in us, who claim to be Christians. We need your forgiveness, O God, and a new vison. 

God’s favor rest on us. Sincere confession is met with caring and acceptance. God hears the prayers of our hearts and grants us peace the world cannot give. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, that we might have access to the grace in which we stand. Lift up the cup of salvation and offer sacrifices of thanksgiving. God has loosed our bonds and freed  to share God’s glory. 

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Amen. Amen.  

Let us pray:  
Shepherd of the flock, whose compassion reaches out to all who are harassed and helpless, teach us and empower us to proclaim the good news of your dominion, that the healing may be offered, new life received, and demons overcome. May your love tend us day by day, transforming us in the image of Christ.         


 18:1 The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on–since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.”  Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.  18:9 They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.”  Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.  Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.  So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?”  18:13 The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’  Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”  18:15 But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”  The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised.  21:2 Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.  21:5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.  21:6 Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she said, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”  

PSALM 116:1-2, 12-19  
116:1 I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.  116:2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.  116:12 What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?  116:13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD,  116:14 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.  116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.  116:16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds.  116:17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD.  116:18 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,  116:19 in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!  
5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  5:2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  5:3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  5:4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  5:7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  5:8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus according to Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23) 

9:35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.  9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  9:37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;  9:38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  10:1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.  10:2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John;  10:3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;  10:4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.  10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans,  10:6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  10:7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  10:8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.  10:9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts,  10:10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.  10:11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.  10:12 As you enter the house, greet it.  10:13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  10:14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.  10:15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.  10:16 “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  10:17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues;  10:18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.  10:19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time;  10:20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  10:21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death;  10:22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  10:23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” 
 The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ. 


Here is the text of Armel's sermon.  Or you can skip to the video of Jane's sermon. 

First, Armel Crocker on The Harvest: 

Have you been shopping late afternoon during this pandemic, when the lines are long at the cash register?  The lines are so long.  Do you enjoy standing in line for a long time, waiting for your turn at the cash register?  Of, course not! And so there is a sigh of relief when you hear thehear the voice of the manager of the grocery store speaking through the loud speaker system:  “Cashiers to the front please.”  And you want them now.  Not in five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes.  The crisis at hand is now and needs to be solved now, not in fifteen minutes.

It is with these images that we hear the famous teaching of Jesus when he says:  “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Pray to the Lord of the harvest that he will send!”

I would like to look at the original calling of the first disciples and see how that paradigm for ministry then applies to our understanding of ministry today. I would like us to look what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus and then examine how the original call has been changed through the centuries. 

So, looking at the story for today, we discover that the first disciples were to carry a simple message:  The kingdom of God is at hand.  God is real; God is present; God is near to us, in us, around us, alive and powerful. Their original message was very simple:  the power and presence of God is alive, near and around you and in you.

Then, these first disciples had a simple method.  Go to the needy.  The sick, blind and crippled, those with leprosy, those who experienced death.  Go to people who have a real heartfelt need for God’s help in their lives.  Jesus later said:  “Healthy people don’t need a doctor; it is sick people who do.”  The disciples’ original method was very simple:  Go to those around you who have obvious needs for God to rule their lives, who need the power and presence of God to help them.

Then, these first disciples had a simple but crucial attitude:  compassion to those in need, those who were hurting.  The Bible says that Jesus had compassion on them, like sheep without a shepherd, and the Greek word of “compassion” is deep feelings, gut feelings of love for the hurting.  The way you reach people is with this attitude of compassion.  Not with an attitude of cynicism:    Not with an attitude of condemnation:


Not with an attitude of constructive criticism:   Rather, the attitude of deep compassion is what makes ministry possible.

So, these first disciples had a simple message, a simple method to go to those who were hurting, and they had a simple but crucial attitude:  compassion for those whose lives were messed up with pain.

Then, Jesus chose twelve common and ordinary people to go and do his work.  There was not one religious person among them.  

Peter  yes, Peter, fisherman by trade.  The leader type who cracked under pressure and denied Jesus three times when the going got tough. 

James and  John?  They had thunderous tempers.  They would have qualified for anger management class.  Hot headed.  Hot tempered.  And Ambitious.  They wanted to sit at the head table at the future banquet.  Not the meek and mild persons we often would expect to be disciples of Jesus.

Andrew, the kid brother of Peter.  Always trying to live up to his brother’s long shadow. 

Judas, the greedy one.  He sacrificed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  

Thomas, the doubter.  He wanted proof that Jesus was raised from the dead. 

Matthew, the tax collector.  Half crook.  Half businessman. 


Simon, yes Simon the Zealot.  He was a political fanatic, liberal or conservative we don’t know, but he was a fanatic and probably wanted Jesus to be a political revolutionary. Bartholomew?  Thaddeus?  Don’t know anything about them.

So, as we look at the original group of twelve, we find people who are not the heroes of faith; they are not the model citizens of our stereotype of the kingdom of God.  Jesus chose twelve common and ordinary, imperfect people. 

And you will notice that not one of them is a priest or rabbi or religious lawyer or prophet.  Not one.  What does this mean that Jesus avoided all the religious professionals of the Old Testament people?  This becomes important later in this sermon. 

OK, the original disciples; those first twelve disciples had a simple message, a simple method to those in need, a crucial compassion, and they were common and ordinary, imperfect people, with not one religious professional among them. 

First, the gospel of Christ is always directed to those are in need; to those who are hurting:  the sick, the hungry, the poor, and the weak, those whose lives are all messed up or screwed up.   You feel instantly how Christ connects to the need of the person you are talking to.   Or when a friend goes through a divorce or is grieving the death of an ex-spouse with all the complications of feelings; a person’s instinct is to feel instantly how Christ and their needs belong together.  To listen, to grieve, to connect other people who have lived through a similar experience. 

Among the original disciples, the first disciples always related Christ to the human need of their friends around them:  blindness, leprosy, and death, whatever it was.  And so it is with disciples two thousand years later, we always relate Christ to the deepest needs of the person we are talking with. 

And so at the heart of discipleship is reaching out to our friends and neighbors and strangers in need with the genuine love and compassion of God living inside of you. These quality relationships of compassion are the means, the simple method, which God uses to reach others.

A second thing we learn is that Jesus chose common and ordinary people to go and do his work. A third thing we learn is the prayer:  Lord of the harvest, send workers... now.

What did it mean to be a worker in the kingdom of God?  To go to one’s friends and neighbors who were in need and hurting, to go to them with compassion and message of hope to their need.  

To be a worker in the kingdom today means to do the work around the church:  paint the walls, sing in the choir, usher, attend worship, and study the Bible, all of which are noble and good.  But, when there was no church building and membership to maintain; what it meant to be a worker was to do the work of going to neighbors in need with the Gospel.  The church in the twenty first century needs to recover the meaning of the original work of the first disciples.

I also want to talk about work and coasting along.  I would like to focus on the word “coasting?” To coast through life means to sail through life daily; it is just going with the flow and seeing what life throws your way.

Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, American Baptists, were all once growing, energetic and thriving denominations.  These denominations have lost the original message of discipleship; their primary work now is maintaining their denominations and they have been slowly going downhill for decades now.

I believe our congregations are coasting.  That is, we are living off the energy which was given during the past years, but now we are coasting and living off that past energetic momentum.  Our first time visitors are fewer; our adult baptisms are fewer;   our membership classes are smaller; our worship attendance is down; we have more room in the parking lot; fewer of you are intuitively talking to your friends about how Christ can make a difference in their lives; fewer of you are inviting and bringing friends to church. I believe that the Church is coasting along, living off the energy and momentum of the past decade.

And knowing how the original disciples worked, with common and ordinary people sharing the Gospel with their friends in need, and with Jesus not choosing religious professionals to do the work, Jesus prayed:  “God, Lord of the harvest, please send workers now.  Now Lord. Workers.  Not coasters.  But workers.    There are tens of thousands around us who need the Gospel now.  Please Lord. Send”   And that is my prayer today:  that this congregation would reclaim the original work of the first twelve disciples; that God will answer our prayer and send... workers... now.  Amen.

And now Jane has a story to tell: 

Here is the text.  After the text of the sermon is a hymn.

Let me condense our scripture for today a little bit here: 

Do impossible things for no reward. Jesus tells the disciples where to go and what to say and what to do.  But it is all impossible things:  curing sick, raising dead, cleansing lepers, casting out demons.  Impossible things with no reward.  No wonder the laborers are few.  The problem doesn’t lay in the harvest; it lays in the workforce. There aren’t enough laborers.  There never are. 

But looking at the situation today it’s not the amount of laborers. The earth has more people on it today than ever before; indeed, one of our greatest problems now is over population.  The problem, then, is a willing workforce. And I think we are not willing mostly because we defeat ourselves before we even start because we fool ourselves into thinking the task is impossible.  Sarah herself laughed because she deemed motherhood impossible at her age. 

Then I went back and re-read the Matthew scriptureJesus had gave these guys the authority to do the impossible right there at the first part:  In verse 1 of chapter 10 when Jesus gathered the disciples before he did anything he gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.  So, no, it wasn’t impossible for them.  But it seemed like a daunting task nonetheless.  It still would have been enough to make me pause. These guys still ended up in jail and other kinds of trouble. It was still hard. And for me, today, I haven’t been given this special gift.  It is still impossible for me.  Easy for the disciples.  Still impossible for me. 

I watched a church do something impossible once.  They had several people in the congregation who felt a message from God telling them to feed people. It was a clear message to them but at the same time clearly impossible because they had never done anything like this before—because everything can look impossible until you have done it. They thought through their vision and decided to start a community breakfast.  They did a little research by going to a couple of churches in different parts of Dallas who were already doing a breakfast.  Then, with no more research than that—no spreadsheets, no cost analysis or marketing—they did it: they just bought some groceries and stuck a sign in the yard that read “Free Breakfast Every Saturday 8-10 a.m.”  

I was there that first Saturday and counted how many people came because I wasn’t sure at all how things would end up. 16 people showed up that first Saturday.  It’s over ten years later and they now serve over 150 people a week.  It is one of the most vibrant ministries of the congregation.  Not everyone participates but for those who do, it is the highlight of their week—almost the equal of the worship service because, for them, this is how they worship God.  Instead of singing beautiful hymns this is how they express their love to God. 
By every account they have succeeded at something that was a roll of the dice on that first morning. But I think I have a clue to their success.  
They listened to God.  And you always have to listen carefully because most of the time God whispers. But if you get really still and really quiet you can hear a stirring in your soul. That’s why you have to be so quiet: it’s not an audible sound it’s a sound within your soul. That will be God’s instruction. Then you must act.  

It’s not our job to give God excuses.  And we can see from Sarah’s story that it wouldn’t make any difference anyway.  If God wants something to happen, it will happen.  

It’s never going to be easy to do these things. But it starts with listening to your soul.  Then trusting that God will walk with you and pave the way in front of you to make it happen, then you take the first step. If God wants something to happen, it will happen. 

Let us pray:   
O Creator God,  
We know the seeds you planted are ready for harvest.  And we know we are the workers you  have appointed to harvest. Grant us through your Holy Spirit the energy, intelligence, imagination and love to fulfill those tasks ahead of us. In Christ’s Holy Name we pray.  Amen. 

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen. 

Friends in Christ, God invites us to hold the needs of our sisters and brothers as dear to us as our own needs. Loving our neighbors as ourselves, we offer our thanksgivings and our petitions on behalf of the church and the world. Hear our prayers, God of power, and through the ministry of your Son free us from the grip of the tomb, that we may desire you as the fullness of life and proclaim your saving deeds to all the world. 
We ask this through Christ our Lord who taught us to pray;  Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever.  

Beloved people of GodPhil. 4:8–9 
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 
whatever is just, whatever is pure, 
whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, 
anything that is excellent and worthy of praise— 
keep on doing these things, 
and the God of peace will be with you. 
Alleluia! Amen. 

Now let us end with one of our favorite musical benedictions from Carolyn Arends:

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