Guest Pastor Michael Otterstatter delivers a sermon entitled “It’s Harvest Time” based on Matthew 9:35-10:8 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, October 6, 2019

The signs that I saw were unmistakable.  Along the approximately 350 miles of highway that I drove from Martin Luther College, in New Ulm, MN to Peace Lutheran Church here in Hartford, WI I saw the evidence over and over again.  The soybean fields have turned from green, to yellow, to brown.  The leaves of the soybean plants have dropped exposing pods filled with beans.  I also saw rows of corn that have turned from a deep green in summer to light brown, and are now revealing ears ready for harvest.  Perhaps some of the farmers here in Wisconsin are still waiting for just the right percentage of moisture in their corn, or for the soybeans to dry a little more.  But in this part of our country the signs are unmistakable.  It’s harvest time!

With the visual representation of a literal harvest covering the landscape around us today Jesus invites us to direct our attention to another harvest.  This harvest actually began in earnest on a Jewish harvest festival almost 2000 years ago.  We know it as the Festival of Pentecost.  At the time when the Jews were celebrating their wheat harvest Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on his disciples and began a worldwide harvest of souls.  That harvest continues to this day.

In our sermon together today let’s take some time to look more closely at our personal involvement in that harvest of souls.  To that end the Word of God to which we will now direct our attention is the Gospel Lesson for today from Matthew 9:35-10:8.  These verses from Matthew’s Gospel remind us of the worldwide harvest of souls that Jesus himself started long ago and that will continue until he returns on the Last Day.  From Jesus’ words to us we see that:

                      “IT’S HARVEST TIME!”

  1. Pray for workers as Jesus encouraged us
  2. Participate in the harvest as Jesus enables us

Before I accepted the call where I currently serve you at Martin Luther College I served as a parish pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Redwood Falls, MN.  Since it is a farming community (I need to point out that Redwood County is consistently in the top 5 counties in the state of Minnesota for production of corn and soybeans) many of my conversations with the members at St. John often revolved around farming.  At baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and potlucks the main topic of conversation was the current status of planting or harvesting—again, mostly soybeans or corn.  I was impressed by how closely the farmers in that congregation monitored their crops for signs that it was harvest time.  They were constantly checking their fields from end to end for everything from pests to projected yields.

In the verses of our Gospel Lesson for this morning Jesus told us the signs he saw that led him to say that it was harvest time.  We heard in our Gospel reading that “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  Everywhere Jesus looked people were oppressed and afflicted by sin—in body and soul.  And the people he saw were like wandering sheep going through life with no direction and no purpose.

So what is the current status of the harvest of souls that Jesus started so long ago?  As we look around do we see people still oppressed by sin and its consequences?  We most certainly do!  Turn on the local or national news.  Pick up a newspaper.  Everywhere we look we will see that people are suffering under the bondage of sin and afflicted by its effects.  And are people still wandering through life with no path, no purpose, and no one to lead them?  Again the answer is yes!  And how big is the potential harvest of souls?  Since Jesus noted that it was harvest time the size of the harvest has grown exponentially.  There are now literally billions of people who don’t know that Christ died for their sins and that he is the way, the truth, and the life.  Some experts say that there are more people alive today than have lived in the entire history of the world combined.  Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is harvest time!  The potential harvest of souls is more plentiful than ever before.

So what can we do?  Listen again to Jesus’ reaction to what he observed around him.  Our Gospel Lesson continuted.  “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Before doing anything else Jesus told his disciples to pray.  They were to ask God the Father, who had planned the harvest of souls and prepared the fields of human harvest, to also send out the harvesters.

Today, with the time for spiritual harvest upon us the first thing Jesus asks each of us to do is simple and will cost us nothing but a little of our time.  He tells us to pray for workers to be sent out into his harvest field.  Before you leave this morning I invite every one of you to take one of the prayer cards that I set out on the table in the entryway.  It asks for you to pray for a number of things.  Use it to remember your college of ministry in your personal prayers.  Ask for God’s blessings upon the work we do there of preparing future called workers.  Then also ask the Lord of the harvest to raise up another generation of pastors and teachers to enter the harvest field.

But then I also will ask you to pray specifically for young men and women that you know that might consider studying for full-time ministry.  Some may yet be in grade school or have been confirmed and are now in High School.  They may be your sons or grandsons, your daughters or nieces that could become teachers that enter the harvest field.  Or perhaps you know a young man that could one day enter the harvest on a full-time basis as a pastor.  Pray for them.  Pray that the Lord of the harvest would lead them to become workers in his harvest field.

And what is our motivation for asking the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field?  Seriously, why should we be concerned enough about the harvest of souls to continually pray for workers?  Matthew tells about Jesus’ view of the harvest, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  As Jesus surveyed the crowd, he had compassion on the people.  He saw them as shepherd-less sheep who were on their way to hell.  And he was determined to rescue as many of them as possible.  Jesus’ compassion for us is now our motivation to listen to his encouragement to pray for more workers to join in the harvest of souls.

Another motivation for us to pray for workers as Jesus encouraged us is that one of those workers touched our lives.  I would guess that most of us here were baptized by a pastor and confirmed by a pastor.  If we had the opportunity to attend a Lutheran Elementary School or an area Lutheran High School we had Christian teachers who fed our faith.  Or perhaps your thoughts turn to that faithful Sunday School teacher that the Lord of the harvest used to bring you into the barn of the saved.  Out of thankfulness for those harvesters who have gone before us we are motivated to ask the Lord of the harvest for more workers.

Speaking of praying for called workers.  Just a little over 100 years ago a young man named Edward decided to emigrate from a German settlement near the Black Sea to the United States.  He came from a town called Borodino in a region called Bessarabia.  Only 16 years of age he came to the United States and settled near Akaska, SD.  With the help of family and friends he was able to purchase a team of horses and start farming a small tract of land.  At that same time, in 1918, a cry went out from the Lutheran congregations of the Synodical Conference (LCMS / WELS / ELS) for pastors.  The people realized they needed more pastors and they took that need to the Lord of the Church in prayer and asked him to provide.  At the encouraging of his pastor in Akaska, SD, Edward J. Otterstatter, my grandfather, sold his horses and his land and began studying to be a pastor.  Eight years later he was ordained and installed and began his ministry in 1926.  He served the Missouri Synod and then the Wisconsin synod for over 40 years.  He served for many years.  He was assigned to Merrill, WI and then served in Tomahawk, WI.  He also served in Bismark, Flasher, and Tappen, ND.  And then at the end of his ministry he served a congregation in Monticello, MN.  Edward’s son Marvin became a pastor in the WELS, and then Marvin’s son Greg followed him into the ministry as well.  His daughter Ruth became a WELS teacher, as did my father, and my Uncle Walter.  Although Grandpa Otterstatter died when I was only six I followed in his footsteps.  Now a third generation has also entered the ministry.  My nephew is a pastor out in the Seattle area.  Wow!  God’s people offered a prayer for called workers and God has answered those prayers for over a hundred years!  When God’s people ask for workers to join in the harvest of souls the Lord of the Church provides.  He invites our prayers today.  Brothers and sisters, it’s harvest time.  Let’s prayers for workers as Jesus encouraged us!

As the disciples finished asking the Lord of the harvest for workers they quickly became part of the answer to their prayers.  That’s often the way God answers our prayers.  We pray for our daily bread and he enables us to earn it.  We pray for protection and he gives us men and women to serve in the armed forces or police.  We pray for healing and he uses doctors and nurses to make us well.  In a similar way when he tells us to pray for workers, he looks to us to be part of the answer to our own prayer.  Matthew tells us, “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.  Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.’”  The disciples were God’s answer to their prayer for him to send out workers into his harvest field.  They were to participate in the harvest as Jesus enabled them.

The same thing is true of each of us.  We are to prayer for workers and then he enables us to be part of the answer to the prayer.  Think about where your pastors and teachers came from?  Someone prayed for them, identified them as candidates for ministry, encouraged them to study for ministry and then supported them as the prepared for ministry.  And that’s still one way that we can participate in the harvest of souls.  Jesus invites us to encourage young men to study to become pastors and for young men and women to become teachers.  He also calls on us to support the work of training them.  Through our offerings to the synod, typically given through our local congregation, and perhaps through special offerings given directly to our synod schools like the Equipping Christian Witnesses campaign.  In that way each of us can participate in the harvest as Jesus enables us.

But we have even more for our part in the harvest.  Jesus has commissioned us to go and make disciples of all nations.  And yet our initial reaction to this Gospel Lesson might be something like this.  “But Jesus hasn’t called me the same way he called the disciples.  I don’t have a personal commission from Christ to share his Word with others.  Jesus never gave me the kind of power and authority that he gave to the twelve disciples.”  That may be true enough but it’s really just an excuse that our sinful nature loves to use for not joining in the harvest.  Jesus said in Luke 10:16, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”  When we speak Jesus’ words we speak them with his authority.  We pray for opportunities to invite a friend, or a relative, or an associate, or a neighbor to come and hear the good news about Jesus.

Another popular and plausible excuse that some people give for not participating in the harvest is that the work of outreach is the pastor’s job.  And we begin to think that church is about us being served instead of us joining the harvest.  But Jesus gives us a message to share.  Although the wording may be a little different our Gospel Lesson summarizes the message we have to share.  “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near…Freely you have received, freely give.”

Think about that last statement for a moment.  “Freely you have received, freely give.”  What treasures we have freely received!  Our sins have been freely and fully forgiven.  We have a relationship with God.  He has freely blessed us with spiritual and physical blessings.  We can only stand in awe of the love he has lavished on us.  The Bible uses the picture of God’s grace overflowing to us.  We have been given the gifts of the Holy Spirit—love, joy peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and others.  We have been comforted by God in our sorrows and lead by him in our uncertainties.  Yes, we have freely received.  Let what you have been given flow from you.  Your coworkers need it.  Your neighbors need it.  Give them what you have been given.

God’s grace cannot be exhausted.  His love doesn’t run dry.  The more we give away the more Christ gives us.  We have the cool water of salvation to offer travels in the desert of sin.  Let’s share it freely with others.

It’s harvest time!  Yes, the signs that it’s harvest time can be seen all around us.  If you were to take a drive around this part of Wisconsin, you would see that the fields around us are ripe for harvest.  Both the fields of corn and soybeans as well as the fields of souls are ready for harvest.  Hearing once again that it’s harvest time let’s pray for workers as Jesus encouraged us and let’s participate in the harvest as Jesus enables us.  Amen.