This is a copy of my talk given to the 8.30 am service on Sunday 4 October 2015, Harvest Sunday, and the text was Matthew 9:35 – 10:8.  It looks at Harvest from Jesus’ perspective.

This passage can be an uncomfortable read for churches and Christians today because it’s a challenge to us to move away from the safety and comfort of our church buildings to go into the world. But that was Jesus’ ministry, wasn’t it?  Going to where the people were.

In Matthew ch8-9, we see how Jesus went into the villages, taught in the synagogues and proclaimed the good news of God’s kingdom wherever he went.  And, as he did so, Jesus met both their physical and spiritual needs.

But Jesus saw much deeper into people’s hearts and lives didn’t he? And  I believe Jesus wants us to see people as they really are. He wants us to see the plight of humanity as He does. He wants us to be moved in the heart just as He was. He wants us to be able to see the harvest through His eyes and that’s the title of my talk: Harvest Through Jesus’ Eyes!

1) Jesus was filled with compassion, 9:36
Jesus ministry was so often motivated by the compassion he felt for the crowds as they followed him?  It affected so much of Jesus’ ministry. He was able to look beyond the façade and saw the pain, the loneliness and the misery the crowds felt in their hearts!  He saw people as they really were: harassed and helpless, wilting under the worries of life. He saw people who were wandering aimlessly, ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ hopelessly lost.

It seems to me that Christians can easily forget what it means to have compassion for the lost – especially when there are so many demands for financial support.  We can become susceptible to what we call ‘Compassion Fatigue’ which means we switch off or put that letter in the waste bin. We’ve all done it.

Have you ever been so consumed by someone’s spiritual state it caused you to weep? I have, but not as often as I should. Should we ask God for more compassion and more tears?  It will change our heart/church if we do.

2) Jesus saw the potential, 9:37
Jesus looked at the crowds He saw a ‘plentiful’ harvest. He saw men and women who, through a touch of God’s grace, could be saved! He didn’t see the problems, only the potential!  He saw a harvest that was ripe for the picking!

What do you see when you look at people around you when you are out shopping, walking down the High Street, walking around lake Meadows or on the tube travelling to work? Do you see people who are lost? Do you see people who deserve their fate? Do you see people beyond redemption?  Or do you see men and women as they could be if the Lord touched their life?  Jesus always saw people, not as they were, but as they could be – after a touch of His grace!

3) Jesus saw the problem, 9:37
Which was simply this: there were few labourers working in the Father’s field! Strangely enough, that same problem still exists today! Reaping the soul harvest is hard work and few, it seems, are willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved in the work. Yes, we may have a pioneer minister joining us but that’s for a new, difficult to reach, generation in our community. After all, in the Chelmsford diocese the average age of a church member is 63. It doesn’t bode well for our future.

One of the great sadness’s for me, and one of the greatest dangers of the modern church, is that we don’t see evangelism as our most important work. Is it any wonder that 43 out of 44 dioceses in the CofE are in  decline.

But that’s not to say that we don’t have a significant role to play. Billy Graham, who, I think, knows a bit about evangelism, disagrees with that.  This is what he has to say: The evangelistic harvest is always urgent.  The destiny of men and of nations is always being decided.  Every generation is strategic.  We are not responsible for the past generation, and we cannot bear the responsibility for the next one, but we do have our generation.  God will hold us responsible as to how well we fulfil our responsibilities to this age and take advantage of our opportunities.

The potential of the harvest is all around us, but sometimes we’re not connecting. For instance, how many people, who are not yet Christians, can you call friends? How much of your time, and mine, is spent with people outside of the social network of the church? Who have you shared your testimony with recently?  Sadly, many Christians can count them on one hand. In fact, several conversations at our church weekend told me that many in our team churches have no friends outside of church.

Even if we’re not farmers, we know that the harvest doesn’t just gather itself. You’ve got to get out there, get down where it is and do the dirty work of harvesting it. Wouldn’t it be nice if leeks and onions and potatoes and plucked themselves and were found in your kitchens washed and rooted and ready to cook?  Of course they are – you pick them up from the supermarket. To reap a harvest, you have to go to where the harvest is. The same is true in bringing people to Jesus. We won’t see a harvest until we go and get our hands dirty. If we don’t, then the harvest Jesus talks about will never be reaped!

4) Jesus knew that prayer was essential, 9:38
As Jesus spoke about the harvest and the needs associated with it, He told His disciples what they had to do first: Pray! Prayer is the place we must always start. It is our first priority, of course it should be.  But why should we pray? Because seeing the harvest brought into the barn is God’s work!  He must till the soil of the heart. He must water the seed of the Word that is planted and He must cast the sunshine of grace upon the lost heart, or there will never be a harvest! Only He can do it and we must pray for it. Don’t forget Prayer & Praise on the first Monday of every month!

Jesus told them to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out workers  into the harvest field. As we pray for the lost and begin to pray for them as we should, I believe the Lord will develop a compassion for them within our own heart. If we pray as we should, the Lord will work within us so that a desire is born in us to go into the field and work for the harvest. And, instead of expecting someone else to go, we may respond like Isaiah (6:1-9!).

5) Jesus chose ordinary people to do His work, 10:1-4
Jesus’ compassion didn’t cause him to focus on his feeling or rely only on prayer.  He acted – he did something about it. And he acted on it by calling others to a ministry of multiplying the very things he was doing all across the region. But were these disciples evangelists?  No, they were fishermen, tax collectors, one was a political operative (Simon the Zealot), they had other careers. Not one of them was a rabbi/priest or a religious professional of any kind. They were ordinary people who God used to do extraordinary things!

6) Jesus knew where to send them, 10:5-8
I believe there is something significant about who, what and where Jesus instructed the disciples to go. They were, firstly, to go to the people they knew – it’s the obvious place to start isn’t it. And, in that sense, we all have a harvest field to reap.  After they’d done that, it seems to me, they were to go to those were alienated, quite deliberately, by the Pharisees and the Jews: the Lepers, Demonic, Sick – the outcasts of society – those whom the religious leaders considered cursed and outside the touch of God’s saving grace.

I can’t help but think that they are a representation of all those ostracised in our society today: Refugees; Blacks; Criminals; the Homeless; Drug Addicts; Alcoholics; One Parent Families; Victim’s of Aids; Travellers. All those who don’t fit into our acceptable social strata.

How do you see the harvest? Do you, like Jesus, look out with compassion on sheep without a shepherd? Do you see the potential for lives to be touched by God’s grace wherever you look?  Do you see the need to pray? What is in your heart will determine how God moves amongst us. We all have a role to play.