Monday, February 20, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - Spiritual Growth for Short People: Bringing in the Harvest

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, February 19, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You can find a podcast of this sermon on the Cove Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


And so, here we are, at the very end of our series dealing with spiritual growth. And I want you to just think about what things were like when we started. I mean, if you remember, that first Sunday, man, it was grey and cold and snowy. And just think about how it was yesterday. The sun was shining. The temperature was around 70. And I might wash my car this afternoon. Good, night nurse, talk about change. But be-that-as-it-may, we’re tying it up today.

And over the last five weeks, we’ve focused on things that I believe make a difference in our spiritual growth. For example, during the first sermon, we looked how, when we recognize our limits, we're more realistic in what we expect and more focused in how we approach God and more patient in our faith and all that can lead to growth. And then, during the second sermon, we looked at how trusting the Lord helps us grow, because that’s really what faith is, you know, trust, and it begins with a decision on our part, and when we decide to trust God, we’re now free to explore different ways we might grow. And in week three, we talked about the importance of loving one another, something that makes us to turn from the values of the world and that moves us behind Jesus Christ and that leads us to change our attitudes and our actions. And then, during the fourth sermon, we considered how a desire to make an impact is so important to our spiritual growth, you know, because it forces us to listen to others and to look within ourselves and to come closer to God. And then last week, we talked about sharing the message and how we can overcome some of the fear that stops us from doing it by studying the Word and by considering the different ways we might approach others with the message and by making that all important decision to trust God over and over again, all of which will lead to growth. Now this is what we covered during the last five weeks.

And this morning, we’re going to finish it off by considering what I think is the sixth step to spiritual growth, and now I’m talking about being ready and willing to bring in the harvest, you know, to welcome and to involve folks who respond to the message we shared. And as it was with all the other stuff we’ve talked about, how we apply this is going to make a big difference to both our understanding of and our relationship with God. And I’ll tell you, this idea of bringing in the harvest, man, it has deep roots (no pun intended) in the teaching of Christ himself. Just listen to what he said to his disciples, and this is from the Gospel of Matthew: “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”

Now that’s what he said. In other words, even though God is active in the world and even though he’s working through folks who are out there doing the kind of thing he’s given them the ability to do and even though the blind are being given their sight and the lost are being found and those who have spent their entire lives on the outside are being draw in by the power of God, it’s still important to have harvesters in the field. And it’s still important to have men and women who are willing and prepared to give the newly sighted and the newly found direction and support. I guess, put another way, it’s still important to have brothers and sisters ready to help these new believers find their place within the Body of Christ. And you know, when you get right down to it, that’s what Christians are really called to do. You see, contrary to how a lot of believers sound, our job isn’t to say whatever it takes to convince people to buy what we’re selling. man, he didn’t call us to talk folks into the Kingdom of Heaven, because I’ll tell you, he’s already done all the work. Instead, our job is to help bring in the harvest, in other words, to help men and women find a place where they might grow in their faith and where they might use the talents and skills God’s given them. Now, that’s what we’re called to do; that’s what I think this harvesting is all about.

And I’ll tell you, what’s really exciting is that, when we do it well, not only will it help those coming in, I believe we’re also going to grow spiritually ourselves. And to do it well, for me that requires three things on our part, all of which can be for us, a source of growth. And let me tell you what they are.

You see, first, if we want to bring in the harvest, we really need empathy. In other words, we need to identify with the folks whom God has called. I’ll tell you, we need to understand them, if we’re serious about helping them find their place in the body of Christ. For example, I think it’s pretty important for us to understand something about their backgrounds and abilities, because, as I said before about me, I’m fairly good behind a lectern or pulpit but I’m a disaster waiting to happen with a hammer and a nail. But beyond what they can do, I think it’s also important to have some idea about what and how they think and feel. I mean, when a person says, “I believe in Jesus,” that doesn’t mean that all her opinions and values, all her loves and desires, all her fears and frustrations magically become holy and spiritual. For the wood to feel smooth, it may have to be sanded. But even more than that, I believe it’s crucial for us to be able to identify with what these folks are facing in their lives right now. I’m telling you, they may confront challenges or be struggling with issues that we haven’t nor will ever face. But to really understand who these folks are and how we might help them become what they were created to be, man, we’re going to need to be empathic. And I’ll tell you, when we are, when we’re able to identify with them as whole people, you see, when we’re willing to look at the world, as best we can, through their eyes, not only will we be ready to help them, man, we’re going to grow, and I’ll tell you why. All of sudden the scope of our skills and abilities, it’s going to expand, because we’re going to learn from them. And all of sudden our perspective is going to broaden, and the population of God’s Kingdom is going to look more like all the different folks we see at Christmas in the Robinson Township Mall than the female population of Stepford, Connecticut. And all of sudden our appreciation of and sympathy for all those folks who struggle throughout their lives and who face obstacles that are just plain unfair, I’m telling you, that’s going to deepen, and we’ll grow. And all that comes from the empathy we’re going to need in order to bring in the harvest, and that’s one source of growth.

And second, if we’re serious about getting in the crops that God made grow, I think we also need some imagination. In other words, it’s going to be important to be creative as we help folks understand how and why this story speaks to them. And that just makes sense. I mean, isn’t that the reason why most Christians get more out of reading a modern translation of the Bible than the good, old King James? You see, even though the truth of the gospel never changes, I mean, even though it’s always focused on the grace that flows from Jesus Christ and the eternal love of God the Father and the continuing inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the way we communicate it must change as time passes. And I’ll tell you, that’s really not all that new and exciting. Remember, every single hymn that someone calls an “old, favorite” was at one time new and uncomfortable. It was different, and there were folks who just plain didn’t like it for that reason. But beyond what we share, we may also need imagination in offering people the opportunity to serve. Last evening I ran across an article from 2012 listing 10 jobs that didn’t exist ten years before. And they included things like app developer, social media organizer, cloud computing services, and my favorite, chief listening officer. Now tell me there wasn’t some imagination behind those jobs. And you know, I think we need to be just as imaginative as we work to match changing skills with changing needs. And as we do that, we’re going to grow. We’re going to grow as we retell the old, old story in new and exciting ways. And we’re going to grow as we find ourselves using gifts and talents we either didn’t know we had or that we considered unimportant. To bring in the harvest, we’re going to need some imagination. And as our imagination grows, so will our relationship with God. And that a second source of growth.

And finally, third, bringing in the harvest takes an effort on our part. You know, I think I’m safe in saying, whether you’re talking about a field of soybeans or a bunch of new believers, nothing is going to happen if we’re not involved. Man, we’re going to need to be active, looking at them and looking at us and looking at what we all together can offer the world around us. And we’re going to need to be tough, because I’ll tell you, there’s going to be plenty of disappointments along the way when our empathy is ridiculed and our imagination criticized. But more than anything else, we’re going to need to be faithful, trusting that Paul knew was he was talking about when he said to the Corinthians, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” You see, although it’s important for us to be bringing in the sheaves, we must never forget who made those sheaves grow, and it wasn’t us. The bottom line is this: harvesting is hard work. But as with every kind of exercise, as we do it, our engagement and our resilience and our trust will strengthen. Our effort will help us grow. And that’s the third source of growth.

And so there it is, six steps to spiritual growth: recognizing our limits, trusting the Lord, loving one another, making an impact, sharing the message, and bringing in the harvest. And if, as individual brothers and sisters in Christ, if we work on all six, I believe we’ll grow spiritually. But if we decide to do them together, you know, as a congregation, as a community, as a body, then not only will we grow faster, we’ll also grow stronger. In fact, we’ll grow so much, that no one in his right mind will be able to say that Cove is a church of spiritually short people.

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