Good Harvest, Good Church
Sermon Title: A Good Harvest Produces a Good Church
Good News Statement: Jesus provides us with seed, but we have to do the work
Preached: Sunday, September 12, 2021 at Dogwood Prairie and Seed Chapel UMC
Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.
Scripture (CEB): 2 Corinthians 9:5-15 – Today’s scripture reading comes from one of Paul’s many epistles, 2 Corinthians chapter 9 verses 5 thru 15. Although, we are reading several verses, we are going to give a lot of attention to verses 7-9 and 12-15. Listen to what the LORD is saying:
5 This is why I thought it was necessary to encourage the brothers to go to you ahead of time and arrange in advance the generous gift you have already promised. I want it to be a real gift from you. I don’t want you to feel like you are being forced to give anything. 6 What I mean is this: the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop.
7 Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver. 8 God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. 9 As it is written, He scattered everywhere; he gave to the needy; his righteousness remains forever.
10 The one who supplies seed for planting and bread for eating will supply and multiply your seed and will increase your crop, which is righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us. 12 Your ministry of this service to God’s people isn’t only fully meeting their needs but it is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God. 13 They will give honor to God for your obedience to your confession of Christ’s gospel. They will do this because this service provides evidence of your obedience, and because of your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone. 14 They will also pray for you, and they will care deeply for you because of the outstanding grace that God has given to you. 15 Thank God for his gift that words can’t describe
As we find ourselves just a couple of weeks away from both the seasons of Fall and Harvest, I thought we could start this morning with some farm humor that both encourages us to think about “good works” and a bountiful harvest:
When conversing with a farm-hand, the farmer was asked, “Frank, why are you cut out of this picture?” The farmer responded, “Kids these days know their gadgets but nothing about where food comes from. I hired a kid to work on the farm and that photo which you have in front of you is what I got when he heard the word ‘crop’.”
Another joke goes like this: During one service on a Sunday morning, the Pastor stood behind the pulpit and said, “And Lord, we thank You for blessing Farmer Finkel with an abundant bean harvest…and the reason why we need new pews.”
Because of Farmer Finkel’s harvest, yes the church needed new pews and the church had its very first musical ensemble, many people were fed. Because the kid misunderstood Farmer Frank and cropped a photo rather than taking care of the physical crop, we gain an understanding of how important it is to describe the work that is needed to complete any task. Nonetheless, both Farmer Finkel and Farmer Frank are fulfilling the proverb in which Paul is giving to the people in Corinth: they are to be a “cheerful giver” and they are to do “good work” with hopes of producing a bountiful harvest.
Thinking about Paul’s request to the people of Corinth, I found myself asking the question, “What does it take for a church to produce a good harvest?” or rather, “How does a good harvest produce a good church?” Many of you may have an answer, but I want to challenge and encourage you to think outside of the box: to think as Paul would think. Jesus provides us with seed but we have to do the work.
Let us pray… Dear Planter and Sower of good works, allow our minds and hearts to be open to new ways of sharing your bountiful harvest. Help us to do the work: to do the planting, the nurturing, and the harvesting so that our bountiful harvest will bring others to your Word. I pray that my words fall to the ground as your words settle in the hearts of all those before me. In your name we pray, Amen.
Let me provide you with some background to what Paul is dealing with in Corinth at this time. Prior to calling us to be a cheerful giver since God provides us with everything that we need, Paul is reminding the people of Corinth about the plans for collecting financial offerings for Jerusalem. As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 16:1, the fund-raising effort collected by the people exemplified an effort that called for “the collection of money for God’s people.” In Paul’s letter, he provided specific directions on how to gather funds that would alleviate very real financial need among the poor believers in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:13-15), it will create some degree of financial equality of followers of Jesus, it will serve the goal of uniting the Gentile believers with Jewish followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, and it will provide donors opportunity to offer worship to God and produce thanksgiving—not for themselves but for the God who has graciously enabled their generosity (2 Cor. 9:5-15). Paul is concerned with the financial giving of those in Corinth: he wants them to be a cheerful giver of money. But I am concerned with how our harvest in this church is producing what others need: I want us to be a cheerful giver of the Word.
To be a cheerful giver of the Word, we must think outside the box and continually ask ourselves, “How does a good harvest produce a good church?” or “How does a good church produce a good harvest?” In order to answer either of these questions, let’s take a deeper look into the words of Paul.
Paul states in verse 7, “Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver.” First, Paul does not exclude anyone from the act of giving: “everyone should give.” It doesn’t matter, to use the words of Paul, if one is a Jew or Greek, slave or free, or male or female (Gals. 3:28): everyone should give.
Second, Paul is stating that what we give, as an individual or as a church, should reflect what is on our heart. What we give should not be the result of someone else pressuring us to give. What we give should not be cloaked with hesitation: should I give this or that or now is not the time or I need more time to think about it, what will so-and-so think of me when I give this or that. What we give and how we give should be the result of what is needed to fill our soul and church with the love of Christ. We must give in a way that is God driven and not a human motivated. And when we give because God is telling us to give, we learn how to be a cheerful giver: we give from the heart.
Following the call that everyone is a giver under the command of God, Paul reminds us that God provides. God provides us with more than enough. Paul shares in verse 8, “God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work.” I remember when it came time to buy school supplies for college. I would either go to Staples or Office Max to buy my school supplies. I created a list of what I needed based upon the courses that I was registered for and were thinking about taking in the future. Now, this may surprise you considering of what you know about me, but every class was designated a certain color, notebooks and folders especially: foreign language was green, religion was red, sociology was blue, and random classes were black. I bought what I needed on the list, but then I went back through the store and bought duplicates of what I needed. To my surprise, at the end of the school year, I still had things with price tags on them. If I just stuck to the list, I would have had enough; but now I had left overs.
God provides us with enough. He provides us with what is needed to reach the people. He provides us with the grace and understanding to serve those who need our assistance. He even provides, through our gifts and talents, the will to help grow our church. Through God, we have everything that we need in order to produce a good harvest that reaches beyond the walls of this church. However it will take work to accomplish what God needs us to do. Moreover, it will take good works to produce a good church. But are we using our good works to produce a bountiful harvest that feeds and supports others?
Paul continues by quoting from the Psalms. Paul says, “As it is written, He scattered everywhere; he gave to the needy; his righteousness remains forever.” This is almost verbatim from Psalm 112: 9 which says, “They give freely to those in need. Their righteousness stands forever. Their strength increases gloriously.” By quoting from the Psalms, Paul is proving his knowledge of the past. With this knowledge, Paul is encouraging us to use what we know to bring righteousness and strength to the present: to the needy, to the starving, to those who need to experience God’s love and grace. God is calling us to fulfill what the Psalmist seeks: to be a source of abundant hope and a harvest that exceeds beyond our imagination. We are called to scatter God’s seed everywhere.
This particular section reminded me of a rather famous parable in the New Testament. As a matter of fact, it appears, sometimes more than once, in each of the four Gospels. The Parable of Feeding the Five Thousand in Matthew 14 offers a hidden message that is often overlooked. We know that Jesus took, at least in Matthew, five loaves of bread and two fish, blessed them and broke the loaves apart, gave them to his disciples, and fed about five-thousand “men plus women and children” (Matt. 14:21). We know that what Jesus did was a miracle. I pray that the frozen pizza and homemade cookies in the parsonage will multiply that easily!
However, we often overlook verse 20. Matthew states, “Everyone ate until they were full, and they filled twelve baskets with the leftovers.” Some scholars have noted that these baskets may have been about twelve inches in diameter and were hand-woven together by some of the people in the crowd. Nevertheless, the size of the basket does not matter. What matters is that there were leftovers.
Paul, in verses 7-9, is telling us that God will provide what we need through our good works—through sharing of the Word, through the reading of Scripture, through the acts of taking care of those in need. Not only will God provide what we need, but he provides us with a bountiful harvest that produces leftovers. The question becomes, “How are we going to use those leftovers?” Jesus provides us with seed but how are we to use what the seed produces?
God puts leftovers in our lives for a reason. But he leaves us with the work to share those leftovers and to truly become a cheerful giver. We can’t give away what we don’t have; but we can give away what we do have. Whatever we harvest, we should strive to use the leftovers to feed the next 5,000 people who gather at our doors: not only feed them, but be in ministry and service with them.
The words ministry and service both come from the Greek word “diakonia” (diakonia) which can also be translated as support or relief. By choosing to use both ministry and service, Paul is calling the people of Corinth to not only be in ministry with others—to share the good news—but to be in service with one another for the sake of following the good news. By telling the people in Corinth to be both in service and ministry, it is almost as if Paul is telling us that to be in service is to be in ministry and to be in ministry is to be in service. But what does that look like. It looks like this, as Galatians notes, we are to “serve each other through love” and we are to do so by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves as we support each other with the love of Christ. When we are in ministry and service with others, we become better equipped to meet their needs.
Paul writes in verses 12-13,” Your ministry of this service to God’s people isn’t only fully meeting their needs but it is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God. They will give honor to God for your obedience to your confession of Christ’s gospel. They will do this because this service provides evidence of your obedience, and because of your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone.” Again, what we do, affects those around us. Essentially, what we do affects our harvest as a church. Paul is encouraging us to multiply our service and ministry. I would even take this further and say that Paul wants us to multiply our service and ministry in such a way that produces a harvest that generates leftovers—that fills more than twelve hand-woven baskets. And when we take the time to administer those leftovers, and fulfill the needs of ourselves, of this church, and of the community, are works of planting and nourishing the seed will be noticed. Our good works will be noticed because others will see our generosity in acts of sharing with everyone else. Because we have chosen to be obedient to the Word of God, our harvest will plant seeds in others for next year’s harvest.
How do you know that our seeds will have been planted? The people will pray for you, according to Paul. Not only will they pray, but they will care deeply for you because of the outstanding grace that you and God have given them (2 Corinthians 9:14). Even though it may take time to reap such a harvest, the work has been done; the seed of Christ has been planted. People will begin absorbing the good news because you have taken the time to fulfill their need. But again, how are we fulfilling the need of the people? What can we do to make sure people know that God needs them in order to produce a good harvest? What can we do to let people know that we are here to help spread the seed of Christ’s love and mercy?
Do we start new ministries? Do you offer small groups outside of Sunday gatherings? Do we change the time of our service? Do we offer other services during the week? Should we gather at the park? Should we host events and/or other individuals? How can we continue to spread the seed of Christ in a way that produces a good harvest?
Paul ends this idea of harvest by challenging us to give thanks to God for all that he has done from the planting, the nurturing, and the harvest. Paul says, “Thank God for his gift that words can’t describe” (2 Corinthians 9:15). Through the work that we do, through the sharing of the good news, through the spreading of God’s love, and through paying attention to the needs of many, we are to give thanks for what God has provided us through his harvest. God’s harvest is a reflection of the amount of work that we put in to scattering the seed. The harvest is reflected by the number of baskets we are able to fill or in this case, the number of pews that are occupied.
“The one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop” (2 Corinthians 9:6). What will it take to produce a good harvest that produces a good church—a church that offers ministry and service to others, that meets people where they are, and invites others to know the love and grace of Christ? How many seeds are you willing to sow as individuals and as a church?
Farmer Frank and Farmer Finkel, and now quite possibly Farmer Paul, have provided us with a picture of what it takes to produce a good harvest: we are called to minister and serve those in need, share our leftovers with others, and scatter the seed so others will follow. In order to do this, we must be willing to work. We must be willing to do the good works of Christ so that Christ’s “righteousness will remain forever” (Psalm 112:9). We must be willing to be in the fields. But now, the question becomes, “Do you want to be a church that sows a small crop or do you want to be a church that sows and reaps a generous harvest?” Jesus provides us with the seeds but we are called to do the work. Are you prepared to do the work?
What needs to happen for our church to produce a good and bountiful harvest? As we go about our week, I pray that you continue to do the good works of Christ so that what you plant grows into something bountiful for God’s Kingdom here on earth. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, go in peace as you scatter the seed and serve the Lord. Amen, Amen, Amen.