A Prayer for the Harvest

A sermon preached on Matthew 9:35-10:8 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on June 28,2020.

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Today, as we focus on the importance of sharing the gospel to those around us; I’m reminded of a story I heard my vicar year. One night, there was a  terrible storm just off the shore. The next morning, a man was walking down the beach assessing the damage. The shore was just littered with star fish and other things washed up from the sea – thousands of them up and down the beach for miles. As he walked down the shore he eventually came to a little girl carefully and calmly walking up and down the beach picking up star fish and whatever she could find and tossing them back into the water. She was working hard…but she wasn’t making a dent. With good intentions, but a bit flabbergasted, he walked up to her and asked her why she was bothering. The beach was littered for miles, she wasn’t going to make a difference. The girl calmly just picked up another star fish and tossed it into the sea and looking at him, pointed to the sea and said: “It made a difference to that one.”

Jesus looked at the people in our reading and he had compassion on them as our reading says: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” Jesus had been traveling around. He healed a man with leprosy. He healed many diseases. He calmed a storm with nothing but his words. He drove out demons. He forgave the sins of a paralyzed man and then healed him to show he had power to forgive him. He went on to bring a dead young girl back to life.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. There’s a poignant picture in these words. The word “harassed” carries the picture of sheep being torn apart: either by a wolf among them or trying to force their way through a thorny bush. Jesus had compassion on the people because it was like they were getting cut to pieces as they tried to get through their spiritual leaders’ demands without hearing about God’s love and mercy. They were helpless – thrown down, cast aside and left for dead.

So Jesus looked at them and had compassion. Another word loaded with meaning. The word compassion here means Jesus’ entire being – literally his guts, his organs started churning with compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

They were suffering as their spiritual leaders led them to doubt God’s forgiveness and love. They had believed Satan’s lies. They became convinced that if they hoarded enough for themselves…then they’d feel secure. One last hit of their favorite substance and then they’d be at peace. One last hook up and then they’d be happy. In reality, it just made them more and more harassed.

So in his compassion, Jesus came to be their shepherd. He came as a shepherd who didn’t just care about himself. He cared about his sheep. As our reading opened, he went around helping and healing all those he could. More importantly, he brought the Word of life and salvation to them as he preached. He served as their Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep. He would pay for their sin and call them by name into eternal life. No one would ever snatch his sheep from his hand. After all, God had promised of Jesus: “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (Ezekiel 34:15-16).

And Jesus did this for you. He died to pay for your and my sins and restore the God sized hole in our lives. We might have tried to fill that hole with one last hookup, one last hit, one last possession. But that hole can only be filled by a right relationship with God. And you and I have that right relationship through the forgiveness won for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Because Jesus came as your Good Shepherd.

What else did Jesus do as he looked at the crowds and had compassion on them? He said to his disciples: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” In other words, there are beaches loaded with star fish… but one person isn’t getting them all back in there. Ask God to send out workers into his harvest field. Otherwise, it may be too late.

So Jesus says, “Ask the Lord of the harvest…” in other words, pray. Pray for workers. Pray the Lord would guide more young people to train for public ministry. Pray for the young men and women assigned to new ministries this Spring. Perhaps you didn’t realize, one of our own daughters here, Kasandra Wagner, is starting her service in the teaching ministry this year in Milwaukee. Pray for her. Pray for your workers here. We are blessed with many workers here at Good Shepherd that share God’s Word with you and your children. Pray for them. Whether it’s Pastor Werre or myself or our teachers Mr. Schubkegel, Mr. Georgson, Mr. Hunt, Mrs. Lindwurm, Mrs. Georgson, and soon Mrs. Sharon Dahlberg serving the Bible stories and outreach in our ECC. They are gifts to you. Pray for them. This coming month as I am humbled by the milestone of a decade in the public ministry, this is my chance to thank you for your prayers and support you have given me and my family.

Pray for workers for the harvest field. Yet, as Jesus asks us to pray, he also shows us that we can be the answer to that prayer. Chapter 9 ends with Jesus’ prayer request. And what do you see in the very next verse? Chapter 10 begins with the answer to Jesus’ prayer: “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness… These twelve Jesus sent out.” Jesus told them to pray for workers and then immediately sent them out, in essence saying, “guess what! You’re it!”

You have received Christ’s great commission to go out and make disciples of all nations. He is sending you out into the harvest field. We’re in this together. How can you help? You are far more an effective evangelist than I am. Your friends and coworkers see the life you live and will be far more willing to listen to you share the Word than a pastor who they think it’s his job. You can share the gospel through your offerings that support work here in Sioux Falls, in Brandon, and around the world. You support mission work as you pray for your workers. More than that, I can rejoice when sinners are found and brought to faith. Remember how in his parable of the lost sheep, Jesus says: “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). It makes a difference to that one.

Soon there will come a time when the chance to reap the harvest is over. Jesus said once: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). Let us pray for that work, and ask – Lord how can I be an answer to that prayer.