Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Urgency of the Harvest

The saying of Jesus from Luke 10:2, a verse from the pericope for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20) is one of his most well-known sayings:  "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."  What sometimes goes unnoticed is the urgency of Jesus' words.  When the crops are ripe they must be brought in - that is certain, lest they spoil in the field.  Every farmer and backyard gardener knows this.  When we are on vacation and the tomatoes ripen on the vine and are not harvested, or when the corn stands tall in the field, but the farmer cannot get it out, we all know the results.

(The following questions are a sample from my brief guide to Law/Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  As we know, the Word can function to bring the Law (i.e. You need Jesus!), or to bring the Gospel (i.e. Here is Jesus!) or to issue the call to obedience (Follow Jesus!).  In this text there is little doubt that the bulk of the text is a call to obedience, with all the specifics that come to such a call.  Jesus instructs the seventy he has appointed to carry no purse, greet no one on the road, remain in hospitable houses, etc.  He is instructing those who will carry the proclamation forward how to do that well.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  Finding a word of Law or a word of Gospel in this text is difficult.  Is there a word which exposes our need for Christ?  Perhaps the fact that the harvest is plentiful is evidence of the world's need for Christ.  Is there a word of Gospel?  Perhaps at the end of the pericope where Jesus says that we should rejoice because our "names are written in heaven."  The preacher will do well to search out other texts for these functions.  For example, the first reading for the day is Isaiah 66:10-14.  Here we encounter God's promise that "as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you."  This is a word of gospel.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are the sent ones, the seventy addressed by the Word.  We are the ones who are sent out without purse, bag, or sandals.  We are the ones given such a sense of urgency that we will not be able to stand and chat along the way.  We are those who will be provided for by the hearers of God's word.  This text is mainly about the relationship between the sent ones and those who receive them, and so preachers and their congregants have much to learn from this passage.  Mutual responsibility and mutual vulnerability are our call.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by the text?  Law/Gospel couplets are designed to bring focus and imagination to a sermon so that there will be clear movement, from darkness to light, from weakness to wholeness, from death to life, for example.  Since this text does not provide such a movement, such couplets are not suggested by this text.

5.  Exegetical work:  Gerhard Kittel's monumental work, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) is often of great help in understanding a particular Greek term and its nuance in a text.  Today's text is a good example of that.  In this text are two terms, one rare and the other common, which give us insight into this passage.  The first one is translated "appointed" and it comes in 10:1:  "After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him..."  This word is used in the book of Daniel, in the Greek OT, where Daniel and his companions are appointed by the king to be wisemen in his court.  It is a word which can also be translated "ordained." (TDNT, II, 30). This suggests that one way a preacher might go about proclaiming this text is to do a teaching sermon on the relationship between the ordained and the people of God.  It could well be that a sermon that teaches the mutual vulnerability and mutual responsibility of the preacher and God's people could be very fruitful.

A second term which is also helpful in understanding this text is the word translated "send out" in verse 10:2:  "..therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."  This word is most commonly translated as "cast out" and it is most commonly found when Jesus casts out demons from people.  (TDNT, I, 527).  Used here it suggests an urgency that is not captured by the words "send out."  If one looks forward in the text and notes that those sent out are to go on their way without purse, bag, or sandals and to greet no one on the road, it does indeed seem like urgency is the posture needed.  The preacher might be well-advised to ponder what urgency is required of us when "the kingdom of God has come near."

Blessings on your proclamation!

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