Sunday, June 8, 2014

Harvest Time

The Day of Pentecost                                                 June 8, , Year of Our + Lord 2014

St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches                   Fairview and Sidney, Montana

Harvest Time – Acts 2:1-21


     It’s time for the harvest festival!  Well, not here, not yet.  But in the land of Israel, Pentecost marks the end of the wheat harvest.  Given the climate there, wheat and barley are planted in the fall and harvested between March and May, for the most part.  So it is harvest time, actually the end of harvest, time to celebrate God’s rich bounty by bringing a first-fruits offering to Him, who has given us everything. 

     It’s harvest festival time in Israel, and it’s also harvest festival time here, on this Pentecost Sunday, albeit a different kind of harvest.


     Pentecost means fiftieth, as in the fiftieth day since the Passover, which was the designated day for the Feast of Weeks, appointed for Israel by God.  A Sabbath of weeks, 7 weeks after Passover, and then the next day Israel was to celebrate a feast.  Seven times seven is 49, and on the next day, the 50th, a feast, celebrating the end of the wheat harvest, a bookend for the grain harvest season.  The other bookend was the day after Passover, for in Leviticus 23, the LORD instructs that on the day after Passover the Israelites were to make an offering of the first sheaves of the barley harvest, barley being an earlier crop, in the Mediterranean at least.  So Passover also marked the beginning of the grain harvest season, and Pentecost, the fiftieth day, was another name given by the Jews to the Feast of Weeks, celebrating the end of wheat harvest.  The harvests of grains, which provide bread for living, are bookended by Passover and Pentecost. 


     What’s more, almost as if He had been planning ahead when He spelled out the festival season to Moses, 15 centuries earlier, God makes excellent use of the harvest theme in His New Testament.  As our God who gives our daily bread accomplishes His greater harvest plan, the harvest of souls, He also bookends this harvest with Passover and Pentecost. 


   On the front end, we have the Passover, which Jesus fulfills and transforms, fulfilling the ancient “freedom for Israel from slavery to Egypt” miracle with the even greater miracle of winning the freedom of every sinner from slavery to sin, death and the devil.  This is the sine qua non harvest, apart from which there is no hope for sinners.  For the wages of sin is death.  So, if you sin, death, that grim reaper, is coming, and if you can die, then you also know sin is real for you. 

     But Christ Jesus has taken your sin and its wages upon Himself, the Good Seed who fell into the ground, dying for sin, in order to defeat both sin and death, for you.  On the night when He was betrayed, Jesus takes the Passover meal and transforms it into the Lord’s Supper, giving heavenly bread and heavenly drink as His last will and testament to us sinners, that we might have forgiveness in His Body and Blood, broken and shed on the Cross the next afternoon.  Our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed, once for all, and so we rejoice to wave the barley sheaf of faith and thanksgiving on Resurrection morning, when Jesus reveals Himself alive, the Good Seed which is now ready to bear abundant fruit, 10, 30, even 100 fold. 


     There is nothing lacking in Jesus’ harvest of souls, and yet the harvest goes on.  For 40 days Moses stayed on Mt. Sinai, receiving the Torah, the laws and instructions of God.  In a similar way, Jesus stays 40 days after the Resurrection, teaching the Eleven Apostles, opening their minds to understand the Scriptures, so they could see Him written on every page of the Old Testament, and also so they could fill the New Testament with Him, the Christ of God, fully revealed, the center of all Scripture.  During forty days Jesus also  appeared, in various places, to the faithful, creating witnesses of the Resurrection, who would, with the Apostles, form the infant Church.  Then came Ascension Day, when our Lord Jesus took our humanity into heaven.  And not just into heaven, but rather, the Man Jesus, our brother by faith, sat down at the right hand of majesty, so the Man Christ Jesus rules over all things.  He guarantees our place in glory.  For Christ is the Head of the Church, and where the Head goes, the Body will follow, in its proper time. 


     Jesus ascended into heaven, and told the Apostles to wait, to wait for the gift of power from on high, the coming of the Holy Spirit.  And for ten days, they waited.  Do you suppose they were nervous?  You know how farmers get, just before the harvest.  The grain is rounding out nicely, approaching the perfect ripeness, just a few more days.  But what if there’s a hailstorm, or a wildfire?  What if unexpected rains come and flatten the ripening grain?  Will we make it to the reaping? 


     We have no word as to whether the Apostles were nervous after the Ascension.  But we do know that on just the right day, on Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, the wheat harvest festival, on that most appropriate day, the Spirit came.  The Holy Spirit came, in tongues of fire and unlearned tongues, languages, that is, never learned, but given by the Spirit to the Apostles for preaching the mighty deeds of God to Jews from every nation on earth.  This was the beginning of the Mission of Christ’s Church, the kick-off day of the harvest of souls that continues down to this day. 


     So we see the bookends, Passover and the Feast of Weeks, Easter and Pentecost, the Cross, and Holy Baptism.  Holy Baptism?  Yes, for if we read on in Acts chapter 2, the harvest of Christ is delivered to 3,000 souls on Pentecost, as they were baptized into the Name of Jesus, into the Name that Jesus revealed, baptized into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 


     The harvest continues.  The promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.  Yes, God continues to call sinners to Himself, using both book ends, Good Friday and Pentecost, in their proper focus.  Because we need both. 


     The Christian festival of Pentecost is the Birthday of the Church, the font of Mission, that joyous and spectacular day when God began growing His Church in earnest.  It is joyful and exciting and the never ending subject of our study for understanding how we are to go about being Church.  And yet, Pentecost without Good Friday and Easter would be meaningless, an empty pep rally with no lasting benefit.  For the Holy Spirit can only take up dwelling in a new creature, a new man or woman redeemed and made holy before God.  And the only thing with the power to make sinners holy is the Holy One, Jesus Christ, who has passed through death and hell in order to win holiness and righteousness for us.  And, if you read on in Acts 2, you will see that the Cross was fully proclaimed by Peter on Pentecost, the mightiest deed of God, the greater Passover in the death and resurrection of the first born Son of God.  The gifts given by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost or any other day are all directly tied to the victory won by our Suffering Savior.   


     The Christian Passover, the festival of Good Friday and Easter, is the climax of God’s salvation acts.  The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus is the righteousness of God, poured out for mankind.  The work of salvation is complete in Jesus, crucified and resurrected.  Without the Cross and Empty Tomb, there is no harvest festival, for without the Risen Christ, we are still in our sins, with no hope of being gathered into the Father’s glorious granary.  And yet, without Pentecost, the Cross and Empty Tomb are historical events to which we have no access.  You have no way to go back 2,000 years to see Jesus dead and raised, and so know and trust in Him.  It is like putting up a sign that says: Free Beer.  Free Beer, whether from barley or from wheat, sounds like good news.  But without knowing of the time and place to fill your glass, the good news is not really for you.


     The Good News of the Cross and Resurrection is much better than free beer; it is free forgiveness, and eternal life with God.  But the question is, where can you and I get filled up with this Good News?  Pentecost is God the Holy Spirit bringing Good Friday and Easter to you.  Free beer, here?  No, even better, free forgiveness and eternal life, here, in the preaching of Christ crucified, in Holy Baptism, in the Supper where the faithful are fed with forgiveness and so are joined to God. 


     On that first Pentecost, 2,000 years ago, God caused the Good News of Christ, crucified and resurrected for sinners, to be proclaimed into many languages, so that everyone could hear, and, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through that preaching, also believe, and so receive salvation, by the forgiveness of sins.  God has continued this work, right down to this very day.  He has even given me, the sinner, the great privilege of proclaiming Jesus in English to the precious people of the MonDak. 


     Now, to my great discomfort, I have two calls.  I still have, and value highly, your call to preach here, at St. John and Trinity, and throughout our communities.  And I have also been called to go to Spain, and preach there, in Spanish, to a people and culture that have become very secular and far from God.  Considering the two was causing me distress.  And so God sent a preacher, Arlo Pullman, via e-mail, to rescue me from despair and false belief.  Pastor Pullman, of St. John, Laurel, wrote the following: 


Very often when confronted with a choice or the need to make a decision we approach it with the intent of doing the right thing.  This implies that the other choice would likely be a wrong thing.  We want to do God's will and are tempted to think that of the options before us one is God's will and the other not.  Peace and rest become difficult under the threat of the wrath of God.


You and Shelee are at a fork in the road.  The signs do not say, "Heaven" and "Hell".  You do not have to wonder if some mischievous person switched them.  In fact there are no signs, no indicators, of which path you ought to take.  You have something better than a road sign.  You have promises from the one who started you down the road in the first place.  He gave you a promise when he sent you to baptize and teach.  He also said, "I am with you always, to the fork in the road," no, wait, "to the end of the age."  You can almost hear him saying to you in a ruthian voice, "Where you go, I will go."  


Another promise that is for you he revealed to Apostle Paul: "All things work for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose."  No matter which of the forks you choose, God will work that choice for good. I remind you of this not to make the choice more clear or easier.  I remind you of this for the sake of peace and rest so that when you have tired of standing at the fork in the road and begin moving down one path or the other, you can do so with a clear conscience and with complete confidence that your choice is pleasing to God and that he will bless you and the work that you do in his name.  Both paths lead to the same place: service to Jesus now, life with him into all eternity.


     What a blessing from God for me to hear.  And the comfort that Pastor Pullman offered to me I pray you also will receive.  There is a great deal for Shelee and I to consider as we stand at this fork, and I know, a good bit of worry for you.  I have greatly appreciated your words, words of prayer, and kind sentiments, and good council.  The decision is difficult. 


     But regardless of which way the Spirit leads us to go, remember this: The word of Christ has not been proclaimed within these walls for the last 8 decades because of my efforts, nor because of your efforts, but rather, God has willed it.  God has graciously gathered you and me, a bunch of other pastors, and thousands of faithful members, pastors and people together, to proclaim His mighty deeds of salvation, to wash and feed and correct and comfort, and also that we encourage each other, as the people of God in this place.  If Shelee and I go to Spain, we will all still have the same work to do together, albeit at a distance geographically.  If we stay here, we will all still have the same work to do together.  That work is getting the Good News of Christ into the ears and hearts of sinners, like you and me.  Both paths, for you and for me, lead to the same place, service to Jesus now, and life with Him into all eternity. 


     Rest in the peace and joy of the Spirit, sent by the Father, in the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

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