35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
10:1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.Matthew 9:35-10:8
Now that summer has officially begun and we are just a few days away from the fourth of July, the garden behind church needs to be tended every day. With the summer heat, the fruit and vegetable bearing plants in the church garden need water each day to stay alive. With the seemingly drought resistant and fast-growing weeds, the plants in the garden need someone to pull weeds or they will be choked out. And, now that the garden has begun to produce fruits and vegetables, someone needs to be ready to pick whatever is ripe each day or it will begin to rot or be lost to birds and insects. The garden behind church takes work to be a blessing that gives fresh fruits and vegetables. Without a worker in the garden, the blessings of fruits and vegetables would be lost due to drying up, weeds overtaking their space, rotting on the vine or being eaten by birds and insects. The garden behind church is a blessing because workers care for the plants in it. And when others work to care for you, your life is a blessing.
When people stop caring about others, others get hurt. People depend on others to take care of them like plants in a garden depend on workers to take care of them. We depend on our parents, family, friends, doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters, police, local city councils, mayors, governors, state and national representatives, judges, etc. to care for a variety of our needs. We all depend on others for a variety of our needs, but sometimes we are not taken care of by someone who cares for us. When we have a need, there are times when someone pretends to care about us telling us what we need to do to take care of that need, but what they tell us is wrong. I’ll give you an example. I remember going to the ocean as a kid and digging a hole on the beach near the water. After digging the hole, I tried to fill it up with water, but the water kept sinking into the sand leaving the hole empty. Soon, after watching me, my parents told me not to be disappointed and that the water would keep soaking into the sand, so I moved on spending my time building a sandcastle and collecting seashells. In this case, my parents were loving and cared for me by explaining how pouring water into a hole on the beach works and freeing me up to have fun building a castle. Now, imagine if my parents had instead told me that I needed to keep pouring water in the hole and eventually it would fill up. Imagine if they used the tide going out to encourage me saying that I had moved a lot of water, and when the tide came in, they would have told me to work faster. Imagine if that pattern repeated day after day. It might seem like my parents were encouraging me and I might feel good about working hard, but in the end, it would all be a hurtful lie. We all need people who care about us, or others who do not care about meeting our needs will hurt us.
Jesus identified the need for caring workers in our reading from Matthew 9 and 10. After traveling through many places, healing and teaching, Jesus stopped to tell his disciples, 37 … “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Jesus had seen firsthand how many people did not understand what God had promised to do through the Savior. He saw how many people were not taught by the religious leaders the truth about the Savior who would save them from their sins, death and hell. He saw how many people had been taught the lie that they were responsible for living a good life so that God would welcome them into heaven. He saw how many believed the lie that they could keep all of God’s laws, when the truth was as Paul wrote in Romans 3, 20 “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” God’s law only showed how lost the people were, while Jesus came to save. This is why Jesus told his disciples to pray that God would send out workers into his harvest field. Jesus wanted the disciples to see how lost the people were and the solution was for believers to go to them with the message of Jesus.
God’s desire for workers to go to his people remains the same. Even 1,400 years before Jesus, Moses had the same prayer for someone to take his place as a worker to shepherd God’s people. In Numbers 27, 15-17 Moses said to the Lord, 16 “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community 17 to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” Moses shepherded God’s people Israel for forty years in the desert. He saw firsthand that they were stubborn and would be lost without a shepherd. He saw them choose the wrong person to meet their need over and over, and each time there was hurt and death. Moses could have given up on Israel, but his love did not consider who they were. Instead, Moses’ love considered what the people needed. And knowing what they needed, he prayed for God to give them a worker to shepherd them like sheep, and God guided Moses to appoint Joshua as his replacement. God’s love lived in Moses’ heart, and God’s love produced actions. God’s love is not just a feeling, but it is alive and active searching for those in need. And, the need we all share was met for us through Jesus.
One of the needs that Jesus met for you was to love you even when you do not care for others. Jesus saw the people around him were being deceived and encouraged to reject him as the Savior. You and I are surrounded by the same situation, and so often we do not pray for God to send more workers. You and I are guilty of letting our own agendas speak louder than our faith in Jesus and guilty of letting our fear, anxiety and worry stop us from sharing the message we know so well. Yet, for all our guilt and shame, this truth remains from Romans 5, 8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” You and I are sinners, but God did not save you because of who you are. Instead, God saved you because of who he is. God loves you with a fierce, powerful, unbeatable and genuine love. His love does not change because of what you have done or will do. His love remains the same, and the sacrifice of Jesus’ perfect life on the cross for your sins remains unchanged, so that you are free from your sins and guilt. Paul recorded what God has done for you like this in 2 Corinthians 5, 17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Your life is safe with Jesus. You have a new life in Christ, one that wants what God wants, and so you are called like the disciples to pray for workers. And, you are not called to pray for workers without faith like a blind hypocrite, but to pray for workers confident God will equip some to be pastors and missionaries, and also with the eyes of faith clearly seeing yourself as an answer to your prayer.
You are prepared as a believer to share Jesus. Jesus was ready to share his message with people because he saw their situation firsthand as we read in Matthew 9, 36 “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” You are living among people who are harassed and helpless. You are living among people who are led by people pretending to be shepherds, people who have needs, but others who do not care about them have learned their needs promising them solutions that do not work, leaving them hurt, dying and on a path to hell. The people around you who do not know Jesus are like sheep who are corralled into a barn in the heart of winter. And when the barn is full of sheep, the sheep get hot and are told they need to be sheared so that they can be cool and comfortable (yes, in this illustration the sheep can talk). So, the sheep step up willingly to be sheared, but as soon as the shearer has the wool, once the sheep has been used for the purpose that served the cruel master, they are put outside in the middle of winter to freeze and die. The people around you need a shepherd who knows sheep are sheared after winter in the spring to give them relief from their warm insulating wool during the summer. The people around you need you because you know their need and how to care for them.
When Jesus speaks of the plentiful harvest, he is talking about people who are harassed and helpless. Do not expect your friend, neighbor, coworker, family member, Facebook acquaintance or classmate to behave like a member of the kingdom of heaven. Do not expect them to understand what sins are or how much joy hearing the name Jesus gives you. You cannot expect those around you who are harassed and helpless to speak the language or understand who the King of the kingdom of heaven is just like you cannot expect to go out into a field and pick a loaf of bread off of a stalk of wheat. The harvest takes your time. The harvest needs to be gone out to and, 7 “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” The kingdom of heaven has been opened to all people through Jesus. It was God’s great love or compassion that opened heaven to you and all people through Jesus. The Greek word we translate as compassion comes from the Greek word, σπλαγχνίζομαι. The root word was used by Greeks to refer to your inner parts like your heart. Jesus’ love for you is a deep, inner, heartfelt and full appreciation of your situation as a sinner who needed to be saved. Jesus’ love is a love of action that brought him to earth to show people he is the living God, the God willing to give his life on the cross and the God who rules a heavenly kingdom. And, Jesus said, 8 … “Freely you have received; freely give.” God has done all of this for you at no charge to you and with no catch. And so, you have been called to freely give by sharing Jesus with others from a heart full of thankfulness, humility and love.
The garden behind church is a blessing because workers care for the plants in it. The great Shepherd Jesus came to save you and God has put other shepherds in your life to share with you what he has done for you. And he has given you the message of the kingdom of heaven to share with others, the message of Jesus’ love, forgiveness, sacrifice, resurrection and eternal life in heaven. If you were to put a comma in the theme for today between the words “shepherds” and “go,” then I am addressing you as shepherds, as compassionate shepherds filled with thankfulness, humility and love who see so many harassed and helpless people in your life. So, compassionate shepherds, go to the sheep! Amen.