Live from Mountain Top: Sunday Worship (June 14) & Children's Sunday School

Praying the Scripture, Psalm 116
Kids, Genesis 18.1-15 (prelude to Abraham’s conversation about the destiny of Sodom)
Message, Matthew 9:35 – 10:15

This week’s theme: Harvest
Pentecost, which we celebrated two weeks ago, was a feast that celebrated, among other things, the beginning of harvest. Asparagus and lettuce have come in. Blueberries and strawberries are next. Winter wheat will be harvested in midsummer and spring wheat in late summer. And Brussel sprouts are best after the frost.
       When I think of harvest, I think of a dairy farming community I served as pastor – Airville, Pennsylvania. The church held a series of community dinner events during the year and one of the features of those dinners was sweet corn pulled fresh, processed, and frozen for great pots of chicken corn soup and other sweet corn delectables.
       At some point in August, we’d get a call from Kay that the sweet corn would be ready next week, maybe Tuesday or Wednesday. The word would go out to be followed up by a one-day notice the night before the big day – when the corn would be pulled at the peak of flavor, before any of the sugars had converted to starch. Pastor JP, meet Sam and Shane out behind the milking barn at 6:30 tomorrow morning. It seemed an early start for me, but they would already have milked and fed all the cows.
       So, I show up in boots and old jeans and walk through the corn field with Shane, followed by Sam driving the tractor. We pull one ear of corn after another and toss them into the tractor bucket. When the bucket is full, Sam dumps it in the trailer – and it’s a huge trailer – and then comes back for more.
       By 8:00 that morning, parents, kids, grandkids, widows, teenagers … forty people show up to shuck corn, boil corn, cool corn, cut corn, bag corn, box corn. One year, I’m not sure the number, maybe 250 half gallons of corn were put up? We filled a chest freezer and two upright freezers. And, of course, for lunch we had sweet corn … lots and lots of it. I have never had better sweet corn. Harvest is definitely sweet.
       Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest fields.”

Harvest is a metaphor for mission. And mission proceeds not from obligation or condemnation. Mission proceeds from the compassionate heart of Jesus: “Jesus had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  No wonder he sends the twelve out on mission “to the lost sheep of Israel.” They are the first objects of his compassion, and mission proceeds from the compassionate heart of Jesus.

You may have noticed some of the judgment language in the story. “Shake the dust off your feet against them.” “It will be more bearable for Sodom than that town.” Wow. If Sodom had it good compared to those who reject the kingdom message shared by the apostles … But we must not hurry too much to condemn, we must not rush to judgment. The mission proceeds from the compassionate heart of Jesus, not from an angry God. God’s most essential attribute is not wrath but love.
       So, why the judgment talk? Some of that is natural consequence, just like the biology of harvest. When you pull the sweet corn, the stalk is chopped up, left on the ground to decay and nourish the next harvest. When you harvest the wheat, the weeds are sorted out. Some off the judgment talk is just natural, fitting the biological metaphor of harvest. Those who refuse the love of God aren’t going to have it forced upon them. And some of it sets disciples free from failure. Not everyone will say “yes” to your invitation. Not everyone will agree with you. Not everyone will acknowledge the wisdom you offer. And there are times when we need to take “no” for an answer and move on without getting stuck emotionally.

You may have noticed the limited nature of this mission: to the “lost sheep of Israel.” Mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel does not mean that broader mission is not important. It is just a way of focusing their work, as they learn what it is to be in mission with Jesus. They are called to practice mission in what is for them the easiest arena. This narrow focus doesn’t mean that mission should not be extended to all, to Gentiles, to Samaritans. Just like saying “Black Lives Matter” or “Save the Rainforest” does not mean that other lives or other forests don’t matter. It just means that things are far out of hand and this requires our special focus. But for the twelve, Jesus says, “Focus in your comfort zone for now. You'll be out of your comfort zone soon enough.”

The judgment language and the specific focus are interesting, but they are side notes to the main things I want to lift up today.
·       Spiritual formation: Become the answer to your own prayers.
·       Abundance: Opportunity comes to those who go knocking.

Spiritual formation: Become the answer to your own prayers.
I love that Jesus, full of compassion, sees the opportunity in the harvest, sees the people seeking the kingdom, and asks the disciples to pray. Prayer isn’t about our shopping list. Prayer is about getting our hearts aligned with the heart of God. And, once the disciples enter fully into the prayer for the “sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless,” Jesus invites them to become the answer to their own prayers, Jesus calls them to join him in mission. You see, when the compassionate heart of Jesus is beating in our chest, we become the answer to our own prayers and not only our own prayers, but the prayers of Jesus himself.
       So, I challenge you to begin to pray the prayers of Jesus for our world. And, start with the easy prayers. Pray for the people you already know and love. God will take you out of your comfort zone soon enough. Then, you’ll find yourself praying for that immigrant household, the neighbors whose parties are louder than you’d like, the co-worker who takes credit for your work. But start with the easy stuff. See how God changes your heart and makes you the answer to your own prayers.

Abundance: Opportunity comes to those who go knocking.
We all have heard the expression, “When opportunity comes knocking….” From Jesus’ perspective, opportunity is constant, and we find it if we look for it. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened” (Matthew 7.7).
       There is so much opportunity, in fact, that it is present in abundance. You don’t need to take extra with you. You don’t need extra cash, you don’t need a change of clothes. You will find all you need in the mission field. Sometimes when people are making decisions, they focus on what they don’t have available, on what they can’t do. We forget that once we start on the path, once we step out on the adventure, new resources come our way; we discover things we never would have discovered; we find that there are worthy homes, men and women of peace, who want to partner with us.
       The more we ask (that is, pray), the more we seek, the more we knock (that is, step out on this adventure of mission), the more resources we discover along the way. The more resources we discover (and stories of God at work are our primary resource), the more invested we become. Or, to put it another way, the more ownership we feel.
       Here in the middle of this pandemic, we have someone who has expressed the desire to join the church and has begun to serve on one of our ministry teams, albeit remotely. Imagine that! Stories like that get me excited, and make me invested even more in what God is doing among us.

Ownership: Get your skin in the game.
Jesus expected the disciples to get their skin in the game, to be invested in the community to which they were sent. Shaking the dust off our feet is, among other things, a way for them to get unstuck when they are rejected, when they fail. It is a way for them to divest from a place in which they are invested. You don’t do that unless you are first invested, unless you actually care. Get some skin in the game.
       Our Abraham story is fascinating. The Holy Trinity visit the ancient patriarch and promise a son. What a 100th birthday present for Abraham and what a 90th birthday present for Sarah! Happy Father’s Day! A whole week early! But after Abraham has dinner with God – and this part is worth going back and reading the rest of Genesis 18 – after dinner, God and Abraham go for a walk and Abraham overhears God’s internal conversation. “Shall I conceal from Abraham what I’m planning to do?” That would make your ears perk up! God’s got a secret and is about to spill it! “There is a horrible outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah, so I’m going to check it out to see if it is as bad as I’ve heard.” Uh-oh. Abraham’s nephew Lot lives in Sodom. Abraham has skin in the game. The outcome matters. Abraham cares. “Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people there?” “I’ll spare it for fifty.” “Let me, dust and ashes as I am, be so bold as to ask again. What about forty?” “Okay. Forty.” “Please don’t get mad. What about thirty?” “Deal.” “Bold again. What about twenty?” “Agreed.” “Please don’t get mad this time. What if there are only ten?” “For ten I won’t destroy them.” I know Jesus taught the disciples that there are times to take “no” for an answer in their mission, but Abraham wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer.

       Did you know you could haggle with God like that? Did you know that God wants you to have skin in the game? Did you know that God wants you to have ownership of the mission of Jesus Christ? Did you know that every resource for the mission can be found in the mission field itself, that opportunity comes for those who go knocking? Did you know that God wants us to become the answer to our own prayers? Be the ten that save a city. Be the twelve that bring the kingdom of God to a nation. 

And, all children are invited to join the Children's Sunday School class at 9:30 am on Zoom.

Conversation starters for this weekend's themes:

  • What is your experience with harvest? What do you most enjoy about the harvest?
  • How is Jesus calling you to pray for your community and region? How can you be an answer to your own prayers?
  • How are you invested in your community and region? What can you do to strengthen those ties?
  • Where do you need to accept “no” for an answer? Where do you need to persist and not accept “no” for an answer?


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