by Pastor Cherie Dearth
We are continuing our sermon series, see all the people. It is inspired by that old rhyme. Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Look inside and see all the people, but we are changing the ending a little. It is still here is the church, and here is the steeple, but we are making it, look all around and see all the people.
Last week, we touched on the question of why. Why do we do what we do as individuals? We will be looking at those more closely today.
Today’s scripture looks a little at Jesus’s why, and what he did to empower all of us.
Matthew 9:35 – 10:1 NIV
9:35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
10:1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
When we hear Jesus talking about wandering sheep without a shepherd, that can be something that is fairly easy to imagine. However he is also making reference to different passages in the Old Testament. In Numbers 27:17, Moses asks God to appoint a new leader for the Israelites in the desert to leave them after he is gone in order, quote to go out and come in before them, one who will leave them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd. In Ezekiel 34:5 there is an indictment of the Kings and the rulers who failed in their responsibilities to the people. Since they did not take care of Israelites as they should have, the Lord says through Ezekiel, “They were scattered because there was no Shepherd, and when they were scattered, they became food for all the wild animals.”
But Jesus has come to be the Good Shepherd, and he is empowering his followers to act. We saw it a couple of weeks ago with the feeding of the 5,000. The disciples come to Jesus saying the people need to go somewhere where they can get something to eat. Jesus says, “They don’t have to go; you give them something to eat.” They did it through Jesus, but they were empowered by Jesus. (Matthew 14:13-21)
In our passage today Jesus says to the disciples, pray for the people to help the multitude find God’s kingdom. Then it’s, Congratulations! You have been empowered to share this message with the people. And this empowerment is for us to. Part of Jesus’s mission or purpose is to train followers to join the purposes for which his father has sent him. (Colin Yuckman, WorkingPreacher.org)
Jesus tells us, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” (9:37) The people, the crowds, were eager for God’s kingdom, but they didn’t know where to find it. They were ready and waiting for God to act, but who would tell them that this action had already begun? (Matthew for Everyone pp 109-110)
We are living in a time when the church seems to be in decline, but people are thirsty for spiritual connection and for relationships. This desire for connection, relationships, encouragement, affirmation is a huge part of the rise of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many others that increase by the day. You may or may not be involved in those. If you have a computer and have friends and family who live elsewhere, it can be hard to avoid them all if you want to keep in contact.
Regardless of whether we as individuals participate or not, the people all around us, outside our walls, are participating. People who can feel alone and isolated, can feel connected to the world through things like Facebook. There was a time in my life that practically my only social interaction was through something like this.
Just because they don’t feel connected to God or the church, doesn’t mean they aren’t looking or craving for spiritual connection. In Romans 1:20 Paul says, “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen…” In other words, we look at all of this around us, and humans instinctively know it did not come from nothing. Whether they know God or not, almost all people believe that there is some kind of higher power, whether they say they can’t know what it is, like an agnostic person, or they connect with it via one of the major world religions, astrology, other New Age spirituality or what have you. The only scientist I know of that has suggested that the universe was able to create itself is Stephen Hawking, but, as far as I know, no other physicists has agreed with his hypothesis or accepted his analysis of how it would be possible. So, we have people searching, searching. I did quite a bit of that myself. Searching and searching not knowing that the answer was right in front of me.
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”
“The problem in our time isn’t that there are fewer people to reach, fewer people in search of spiritual fulfillment, fewer people in need of God’s love. The problem is our inability to see and reach them.” (Developing an Intentional Discipleship System p 4)
Here is the church, and here is the steeple. Look all around, and see all the people.
Last week, we started exploring why. Why we do what we do as a church? When we think of what we do as a church, we can come up with a lot of great things. What do we do?
We love our neighbors in many ways. We feed them, and teach people about food and nutrition for the magic garden. We feed and help people through the food bank, and now our blessing box. We are helping people build a house from materials from the old Methodist Youth House. We have helped animals and our community through Church Out of Church. This spring we were even doing some tutoring. We pray for our community through the prayer chain. UMCOR, mission trip, buckets, kits and so on. We have a benevolence fund. We host AA meetings, Bible studies, health and wellness classes, and community events. These are all wonderful things.
But the question is why? Do we do it because we’re nice people? Because we want people to like us? Because we think it is the right thing to do? These are all excellent reasons, but if that is the case we are no different than any other nonprofit organization out there. Oregon Public Broadcasting, the Sierra Club, the United Way, the American Red Cross, and more. They are all great organizations.
We are the Church of God. Perhaps our why goes a bit deeper. Perhaps, it means a little more than simply being nice.
John Wesley said, “At the same time that we are justified, yes, in the very same moment, sanctification begins. In that instant we are born again, born from above, born of the spirit. There is a real, as well as a relative change. We are inwardly renewed by the power of God. We feel the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us, producing love to all humankind…” (John Wesley, Sermon “The Scripture Way of Salvation”)
Now, that is a why! “We are inwardly renewed [or transformed] by the power of God… Producing love to all humankind…”
When that happens, we want to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We want to be workers bringing in the Harvest. When we know that, we get to share the kingdom of God… When those things that we should do become disconnected with our why, they become burdensome chores. It is difficult to build up a great passion for them under the circumstances.
John Wesley teaches that the early Methodist were very connected with their sense of why. They began to ask things like:
- How do I grow in my faith?
- How can I use my gifts?
- How can I give?
- How can I serve others?
- Can I invite a friend?
As Junius Dodson says, “being a disciple of Jesus is not a list of shoulds but rather a way of being.” The ways of Jesus Christ stop being things we should do, but things we get to do. We can’t help it. (Developing p 19)
There is a comedian and motivational speaker named Michael Junior, and he has a great demonstration of the importance of why.
“When you know your why, your what has more impact. You are walking in or towards your purpose.” (Michael Jr.)
John Wesley gave voice to a great why, being inwardly transformed by God allowing us to have love and share it with all of humankind. It motivated everything he did for God and what he hoped was a renewed movement for the Anglican Church, a church at the time that was very much going through the motions and the form of church but had lost its why.
Your why may sound a little different. Ask yourself these questions. Why are you a follower of Jesus Christ? Or a disciple? Or why are you considering being a follower of Jesus? Why do we share our faith? Is that something that is challenging for you to do? Another way of thinking about it is, with the love, forgiveness, and life you have in Jesus Christ, is that something that you believe others might need?
We never want to push things or pressure people with the gospel message of God’s love for us, but is that something that you think people might need to know about?
When we see all the hate and vitriol all around us on the news, what we see going on around the country and around the world, what is our response to be? We are not immune from it here in Wallowa County. Just a few months ago someone was talking to me who have lived here a long time, recently moved away, but was here for a visit. They said it wasn’t as friendly here as it used to be. We can respond to it with more hate, or we can be the example of God’s love. One of the things that makes me the most angry is when I see people on TV representing themselves as the church, as representatives of Jesus, spewing hate. Those darling people all around us who are looking for God, looking for love, acceptance, relationships, community, see that, and they have a definition of the church.
We can give them an alternative example and alternative illustration. Why? “Because God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son… God did not send his son to condemn the world but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Jesus did it for you. He did it for me. We are now his emissaries, his ambassadors. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” What an honor, what a privilege that is.
Here is the church and here is the steeple. Look all around, and see all the people!
Next week, we will look more closely at the question of how. Join us in this Great Adventure!