A Harvest for the Helpless!
Rev. Glenn F Merritt
October 17-18, 2009
Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, St Louis, MO
Grace, mercy and peace be multiplied to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
The title of my message is “A Harvest for the Helpless!” The text is a portion of the Gospel lesson as read earlier:
Luke, chapter 10, verses 1-3
1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 And he said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.
My dear Christian friends;
Today as we celebrate the feast of St Luke, we learn from his writings that God’s grace through Christ is a message is meant for all people. In his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke teaches us the importance of fervent prayer, joyful proclamation, and deep concern for the lost and helpless.
Luke is the loyal comrade who stays with Paul when he is imprisoned in Rome and after everyone else deserts Paul, it is Luke who remains with him to the end (2 Timothy 4:11). Luke was a physician born at Antioch in Syria as Greek and Gentile.
It is not at all surprising then that Luke's gospel would show a special sensitivity to the Gentiles. In Luke’s gospel, we find parables and stories laced with God’s forgiveness for all, Jew and Gentile alike.
Luke's unique perspective on the ministry and message of Jesus can be seen in the six miracles and eighteen parables not found in the other gospels. Only through Luke do we have the parable of the Prodigal Son and the story of Pharisee & the Publican—teachings on unwarranted forgiveness and sincere repentance.
Luke is the one who tells the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man who ignored him. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus' feet with her tears. Throughout Luke's gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God's mercy.
Luke records how Jesus to welcomed and ate with sinners; how Jesus interceded for those whose faith wavered (Peter who denied him), how Jesus offered eternal life even to the world’s worst (the thief on the Cross); and, how Jesus came to seek and save the lost.” Forgiveness and God's mercy to sinners is of first importance to Luke as he urges us on to “A Harvest for the Helpless!”
Part 1: I know what it’s like to be helpless, do you?
After getting out of the Air Force in 1966, I went to work on the 5600 level of a phosphate mine in western Montana. One day the miners in the main tunnel, called a drift, hit an underground lake plunging me (and others) into ice cold water and total darkness for over 28 hours. As I struggled to keep my head above the rising water, I was left helpless and on my own. No friends, no family, no help, no rescue!
Slowly, I felt my way up dark mining shafts, called stopes, trying to find a way out, a way to the next level, a way to save myself, only to be disappointed time and again. There was no way out! Hours passed as I searched alone in the cold and dark. Rescue, Rescue, Rescue was my only hope.
When you are trapped you feel was lost and alone, cold and fearful, without hope and helpless! I never wanted to know that feeling again but I’ve been helpless other times too! Lots of times!
Part 2: Have you ever know the helplessness of sin?
I have and it’s a feeling more dreadful than being caught in a cold dark mine shaft! When the darkness of sin closes, we are truly helpless! We are plunged into a cold, dark mind shaft. Search as we may, there’s no way out; try as we might we’re trapped, lost and alone; at a spiritual dead end with rescue our only hope.
Sin brings us to an emotional, spiritual, and physical darkness that chills us to the bone, that leaves us lost and alone, fearful of God and separated from our family and friends. It’s, easy, so easy, to find ourselves up to our chins in sin and there’s no way out; there’s no way out unless someone rescues us.
Now Christ’s words recorded by Luke, echo in our ears, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Just when we’ve given up; when we were totally helpless; when there was no hope, God rescued us. He sent laborers to bring about “A Harvest for the Helpless!” You and Me!
Think about it! The Apostle Paul writes, “For, there is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:23)
‘A Harvest for the Helpless!’ is first and foremost about you and me! The harvest is plentiful and we are the harvest! Somebody, somewhere, sometime, some place prayed to the Lord of the harvest to send out a laborer to bring us safely into God’s storehouse of mercy and peace; to give us hope and a future; to harvest the helpless; and to rescue you and me. Yes, the harvest is plentiful and we are it! The Harvest of the Helpless begins with us!
Part 3: But it doesn’t end there.
In a strange turn of events, God plans that the harvested, you and me, become the harvesters of the world’s helpless! And, there are plenty of helpless out there, living without hope; at a life’s dead end; nowhere to go; trapped in the cold and dark of despair.
The darkness of despair is the kind of helplessness that closes in on the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick or the imprisoned. These are ones that Jesus talked about in Matthew 25:
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'
Again, Christ’s words in our text echo across the reaches of time, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Part 4: A harvest for the helpless waits only for more laborers!
The words of an old hymn keep going around and around in my mind—
Hark, the voice of Jesus calling,
“Who will go and work today?
Fields are ripe and harvests waiting,
Who will bear the sheaves away?”
Long and loud the Master calls us,
Rich reward He offers free;
Who will answer, gladly saying,
“Here am I, send me, send me”?
I can’t get them out of my mind. I’ve seen too many helpless too many times; first as a police officer, then as a missionary, then as a parish pastor, and now as the director of disaster response for LCMS World Relief and Human Care. Site examples: American Samoa, Eldora, IA, Baja California, Atlanta, GA, Sumatra, Winnie, TX, India, Alaska, the Phillipines, and in Beulah, ND.
I’ve seen the helplessness of despair causes people to think that no one cares; that there’s no hope, that there’s no possibility of rescue.
Oh, I know that you remember the story of the U.S. Navy submarine that was rammed by a ship off the Massachusetts coast many years ago. I’m sure your pastors have used it! It true! The entire crew of the submarine was trapped hundreds of feet below the surface. Every effort was made to rescue them but all without success. They were alive but losing hope.
Near the end of the ordeal, a diver descended to the sub and pounded on the hull of the sunken vessel. In response, he heard this message tapped out in Morse code—“Is there any hope?”
Is there any hope?
Thousands of people, people just like you and me, are lost in the cold dark waters of life. They, too, are tapping out, “Is there any hope?”
There is hope!! There is a harvest for the helpless! There is the gospel and there is Christ! It’s easy to give up without hope but Jesus Christ is their hope—just like he is our hope—all it takes is laborers to bring in the harvest. That’s all!
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
By now you’ve probably figured out that I survived the darkness of that mine disaster more than 40 years ago. Three men didn’t survive but I was rescued when a burst of light broke through from up above and guided me to safety and to life. Life is such a good thing when you’ve been a prisoner of death. Saved to save others!
Christ’s vision for his Church is one of selfless service to others rather than selfish service for our own benefit. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, so we come to the poor and needy to serve, not be served, and to give our lives in the service of Christ’s gospel.
A touch of mercy, the gospel of hope and forgiveness, only takes a minute to deliver but its effect lasts an eternity. Moments of mercy turn a lifetime of misery into a meaningful eternity!
Christ’s mercy toward us motivates us to be merciful to others. No one ever need suffer again in the cold and dark of despair and sin, lost and alone. There is hope!
Our nature as Christians is to be merciful, sharing the gospel in word and deed, not with ulterior motives, but purely because of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. If you’ve received mercy, it’s the most natural thing in the world to share mercy! There’s a lot of talk about being merciful and sharing love out there but all talk and no action brings few results.
John puts it this way, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:16-20)
James put it a different way for those who don’t get it: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (James 2:14-18)
Together, as the Church we are committed to doing what needs to be done at home and abroad; proclaiming the gospel, forgiving sins, feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, sheltering the strangers, clothing the naked, treating the sick, and visiting the prisoners all on Christ’s behalf.
Through Christ and because of his gospel we are empowered to turn chaos into compassion, misery into mercy, darkness into light, and death into life. There’s no turning back, we are the Church! You did it to me! You did it to me! You did it to me!
Yes, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
Father, all that we’ve done or ever will do is done because of your love for us. In Christ, we’ve been harvested so that we might reach out to harvest the helpless and hurting for an eternity with you. Strengthen us for the work ahead; give us eyes of compassion and hearts of mercy as we serve you and our Savior in all things. Bless us with the power of your Holy Spirit that we may never tire of sharing the gospel and serving others. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen