Sermon for Pentecost 7
Luke 10:1-12,16-20 + 1 Kings 17:1-16 + Galatians 6:1-10,14-16
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” That’s how Jesus saw the Judean landscape as he slowly made his way to Jerusalem to be crucified. Not a harvest of wheat, but a harvest of souls. There was plenty of harvesting to be done, but precious few workers to do the harvesting. Jesus sent out the 72 into that harvest field, and there was plenty for them to do. But Jesus, the Lord of the harvest, saw beyond the Judean landscape, too. He saw the whole harvest – through the centuries, throughout the earth, and what he said then still holds true now: The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. There’s plenty of work to do: for the 72, and for you.
What does Jesus mean by “the harvest”? This isn’t the first time he’s talked about a harvest of people. Back in John 4 after Jesus spoke with a Samaritan woman by a well, she went back to her village to tell the people she had met a man who might be the Christ. As the people started streaming out of that village to go meet this man and listen to what he had to say, Jesus looked out at them and that’s when he said to his disciples, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest!” The harvest wasn’t just anyone and everyone. The harvest were those whom God had prepared, in one way or another, to hear the message of Christ.
Sometimes God does that through his Law, like the Ten Commandments that show us so clearly how far short we fall of God’s requirements. Sometimes God does that through suffering – financial crisis, family crisis, health crisis. Sometimes he does it through the simple voice of the conscience that he’s implanted in the soul of all people, the voice that whispers the truth underneath all the attempts to shut it out: “You have offended the Creator. You are not what you are supposed to be. You haven’t done what you’re supposed to do. You’re going to die one day, and when you do, watch out!” People will go through their whole life sometimes trying to drown out that voice of conscience, but then God does something that causes them to see their desperate need. There they are! The harvest, ready to be harvested!
You were among them at one time, too. You were part of the harvest that still needed harvesting, still firmly rooted in this dying planet, still separated from God and his kingdom because of your sin. You would have been burned up with the rest of the weeds, except that God sent workers out into the field and harvested you for eternal life.
People are harvested out of this terminally sick earth and into God’s family, God’s kingdom, through the preaching of the gospel of Christ – that Christ Jesus is the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world, that Christ Jesus is the righteousness that God demands – the promise that, by faith in Christ, your sins are forgiven and God is a loving Father in heaven.
The Lord Jesus rejoices over you who believe in him, who follow him. But he still sees a harvest out there. He still sees those whom he has chosen in eternity to hear his gospel and believe in him and be saved by him, and the workers are still relatively few.
So there’s work for you to do. “Ask! Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field!” See how God involves you in his important work? This is his field. This is what matters to him more than anything else in the universe. This is the whole reason why Jesus lived on earth and suffered on earth and died on earth – to purchase the earth for God with his blood and to bring in a harvest through his gospel. He isn’t going to let this harvest go unharvested, whether you care about it or not. But what’s important to God is important to God’s people. And so he gives you work to do, this work of asking the Lord of the harvest to do what he already intends to do, this work of joining him in his zeal for the harvest. Pray for the workers to be sent out with the gospel!
The Seventy-Two were instructed to ask, and then the Seventy-Two were sent to go. They weren’t supposed to take along their own money or means of living. They were sent out with the gospel to be supported by the gospel. They were sent out to the homes and villages where Christ was just about to pass by on his way to Jerusalem, so the mission was urgent. Jesus was only coming by one more time on his journey to the cross. There was no time for delay.
There was plenty of work for the Seventy-Two to do. In each town they entered, two by two, they were to knock on some doors and proclaim peace to the houses they entered, and if a man of peace was found – one that welcomed them as messengers of Christ, they were to stay there and eat and drink there and be supported by that family until it was time to move on to another town.
That was the work of the Seventy-Two, similar in some ways to those who offer themselves to be sent out as pastors and missionaries today. We don’t usually go to a congregation or a mission field with a lot of our own money or resources. We don’t usually have a job on the side. We depend on the people we serve to support us as they will, trusting that those who welcome our message of Christ will also take to heart the words of Christ that “the worker deserves his wages.”
There’s plenty of work to do for you, too, in this harvest work of Christ. You haven’t been sent to leave your homes and go and make a career of proclaiming the gospel. Your work is to welcome those sent to you, to be people of peace, to provide for the workers the Lord of the harvest sends to you. And you’ve done that and you’re doing that even now with your offerings – generously and gladly; a salary for your pastor, a housing allowance, health insurance, transportation – and even a vacation so that he can be refreshed to serve you better. You’re even extending that welcome and support to the missionaries sent out by our synod and to the professors who train them. That work of yours is no less important in the cause of the harvest than the work of the Seventy-Two. There’s plenty of work to do.
There was plenty of work to do for the Seventy-Two: “Heal the sick who are there,” Jesus told them, “and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’” That’s the same thing Jesus had been doing: healing the sick and proclaiming, “The kingdom of God is near! Repent and believe the good news!” And what’s the kingdom of God? It’s the reign of Christ as King. How does it come near? When Christ comes near! And he was coming near to those towns. Those workers were sent forth with the Word of Christ to invite the people there to believe in him and enter his kingdom of grace. Whoever listened to the workers, listened to Christ, as he said, “He who listens to you listens to me.”
But not everyone would listen. Not everyone would believe. Some people – entire towns, in some cases, would reject the workers of Christ. “But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.” For those who didn’t welcome the Seventy-Two, it was the same as not welcoming Christ. “He who rejects you rejects me.” The kingdom – the reign of Christ was still coming near. But that wasn’t good news for those who rejected Christ’s salvation. His kingdom would come…and crush them. But no one could say they hadn’t been warned. There was plenty of work to do for the Seventy-Two.
There’s plenty of work to do for you, too. If you aren’t the ones sent to proclaim the kingdom of God, then be those who listen to the gospel preached by the workers of Christ and receive the gospel with believing hearts. The Kingdom of God comes near in Word and Sacrament. Be among those who honor God’s Word by hearing it and doing it. Be among those who treasure the Sacraments – who take God at his Word and believe what he says, that in the Gospel you have Christ, with all his benefits, even forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Don’t be among those who reject the Seventy-Two. Be among those who listen to them.
And as you listen and believe, do what the people surely did in the towns and villages where the Seventy-Two went. Invite your neighbors to hear their message. Invite your friends, invite your family, invite your community, not just to come to your church with you, but to hear about the kingdom of God in your home with you – I would be perfectly willing to have a Bible study in any of your homes.
And as you go about your daily life, your Christian life, your Christ-centered life, see if you don’t also have the opportunity from time to time to join in the work of the Seventy-Two, to speak the simple message that the kingdom of God is near, that the kingdom of God is Christ, that now is the time to repent and believe, before his kingdom comes with crushing force and it’s too late for faith and salvation. Christ could come at any moment. There’s plenty of work for you to do.
And at the end of the day, when your work is done and the work of the Seventy-Two is done, the thing to get most excited about isn’t the success you see or don’t see. Even if you had been given the power to do great and mighty miracles and cast out evil spirits, like the Seventy-Two did, the thing to get excited about wouldn’t be that. It’s what Jesus said to the Seventy-Two, which applies just as much to you as it did to them: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
There’s plenty of work to do: for the Seventy-Two, and for you. God has prepared that work for you in advance. But all the work that it took to get your name transferred from Satan’s realm to God’s – all that work was done by another, by the Lord of the harvest himself. Let his work be your confidence. Let his work be your joy. There’s plenty of work for you to do, but not to win for yourself a place in the harvest. There’s plenty of work for you to do, because your place in the harvest has already been won. Rejoice in the Lord’s zeal for his harvest. It’s that zeal that has gathered you in and made you fit to work alongside him. Amen.