Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sermon: Matthew 9:35-38 Look Around, Look Up, Go Out

What can we do to make an impact on our local community? How do we go about introducing people to Jesus? When the church family seems so small, with so many people on the outside, what should we be doing? How can we help people get to know about God’s love for them? As we see Jesus engaged in mission in the gospels, we get a glimpse of how we can follow in his example.

First of all, we look around. Matthew tells us: ‘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. When he saw the crowds...’

Jesus has appeared on the scene, ministering around the towns and villages, and suddenly everyone is talking about him. The way that he can teach with authority, heal people, drive out demons, even raise the dead, it’s no wonder that people flock to be hear Jesus. His fame is increasing. The crowds are following. And Matthew tells us what Jesus saw as he looked around: ‘When he saw the crowds... they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’

Have you ever watched a field of sheep? They’ll not all be together in a nice bunch; they’ll be all over the place, doing their own thing. A while back I went for a walk up Slieve Croob in the Dromara Hills with my brother-in-law. There were sheep roaming free on the path, in the ditch, all over the hill. They needed a she[herd to come and gather them together, to keep them safe, to take them where they needed to be.

The people in this crowd are lost, unsure of where to turn, without anyone to guide them, trapped in their sins and burdens, wandering aimlessly. Their life has no purpose, no direction. Matthew tells us, they are sheep without a shepherd.

As we look around us, we too find many who are like sheep without a shepherd. You can see it in young people, where trends develop and change, and there’s peer pressure to follow the crowd. But it’s not just young people. Think for a moment of your neighbours or work colleagues. Some are lost, driven by the desire to keep up with the Joneses with houses and cars and gadgets and holidays. Plenty of money, but harassed and helpless.

Some, though, are caught in all sorts of terrible situations, feeling helpless, not knowing where to turn - as yet another rejection letter is received; or the final demand bills come through the door; loneliness, depression, sickness, burdened and bowed down, under pressure.

People will have all sorts of needs; some obvious, some less so. But alongside all that, deep down is the greatest need - there’s the weight of a heavy conscience, weighed down by sin - yet harassed and helpless, unable to know what to do, or how to get rid of it.

I suspect that, just like Jesus, we won’t have to look too far to find people like this. As we look around in Fivemiletown, we’ll see people who are harassed and helpless; like sheep without a shepherd. It’s one thing to see what Jesus sees; but do we feel how Jesus feels about them?

Do you ever watch TV quiz shows? Sometimes we watch the odd one - The Chase when it was on or Pointless. Have you ever watched a quiz show where the people seem to be really silly? You know the answer, you’re shouting at the TV, you can’t believe they can’t get it, you wonder where they get such stupid people from!

There’s a danger that we could view those on the outside in the same way as my Quiz Show quitters. They might be harassed and helpless, but why don’t they just get it and come to church? We have the answer, why can’t they see that? But that attitude isn’t going to win anyone. Rather, we need to see people as Jesus sees them and feel as Jesus feels about them.

Let’s look again at verse 36: ‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ Jesus, the good shepehrd, sees these sheep without a shepherd, and he has compassion for them. He is moved with pity, with feeling for them, and so is moved to action.

If Jesus has compassion for the lost, then how can we have a different reaction? How could we turn away, not wanting to get involved? We who have also been lost and found, we who know the good shepherd. Just as the Lord has saved us, so we want to see others come to share in it.

As we look around, we see the lost. We have compassion for them, but before we rush headlong to try to help, Jesus points us to the next step. We look around, then we look up.

Jesus says 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.’

There’s a staffing problem - there’s more work than one man can take; an overwhelming burden. Just think of the huge job of harvesting crops before tractors and machinery came in. Nowadays a farmer in a tractor can harvest a field in no time, but what if he was going out with a scythe? The work would be overwhelming.

But Jesus isn’t talking about harvesting crops and gathering food into the barn - he’s still looking at this vast crowd of lost souls, people to be brought into God’s harvest-home. People who need to hear about the good shepherd who loved them so much that he gave his life for them, so that they might live; who need to be told that they are not helpless, or hopeless, but can have help and strength - grace - and hope through the Almighty and Everlasting One. The world is vast, the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.

So what to do? Jesus sees the need then turns to prayer, calling on his disciples to do the same. Looking around will lead us to look up as we ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field. Jesus prays because it is the Lord’s harvest. The very thing the Lord wants is for his harvest to be gathered in - and so he will answer this prayer to send workers into the harvest.

It’s not that we have to beg and plead and cajole God into sending out workers, yet he delights to involve us. He calls us to partner him as we pray for gospel workers. We recognise the need, and turn to God to meet it. When we look around at our community, we begin to see the needs, the gaps, the opportunities, the ‘wouldn’t it be great if we had ... or someone did...’ We can’t do it in our own strength or power, so we look up to ask him to send the workers.

This is the Lord’s other prayer - you see, we regularly pray the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father...) but this is the Lord’s other prayer, asking for the Lord to send out workers into the harvest.

Now you might think that you’re off the hook. You’ve looked around, you’ve looked up - and we’re at the end of our passage. In a few minutes we’ll be praying for our community, so are we in the clear? Just leave it to the Lord and keep your head down?

Sometimes those chapter divisions are in really bad places. You see, we didn’t have those big number 10s for the first thousand years of the New Testament. And sometimes when we read, whether it’s in church or in our quiet times, we go as far as the end of a chapter and then stop. But the story continues. And what we find when we read on into chapter 10 is that the disciples were the answer to their own prayers. They pray for workers, and Jesus sends them out (10:5) to get on with the work.

You don’t have to go away to be a missionary; you don’t need to go to a far off corner of the field to bring in a harvest. As Jesus teaches us in our reading tonight, you just need to look around (and see the hopeless and helpless); look up (and ask the Lord to send out workers to share the good news); and go out (as the Lord sends us to share his love).

This is a prayer that still needs to be prayed - the lost are still lost; the Lord still saves; there’s still room in his harvest-home. So pray, pray, pray; keep praying for your friends and neighbours and colleagues; pray for opportunities to open up like the uniform shop, and other ways to meet needs and show God’s love; and if the Lord is prompting and prodding you to go out, whether across the world or across the street, then go in his strength, with his promises. It’s his work, and he will bring it to completion.

This sermon was preached at the Evening Praise service in Fivemiletown Parish Church on Sunday 18th August 2013.

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