June 18, 2023 Sermon: What Kind of Harvest

Dorothy Churn LaPenta
First and Franklin Street Presbyterian Church
June 18, 2023
Exodus 19: 2-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8

There’s a lot going on- as if you didn’t know.  Yes, it is June 18 and from the liturgical calendar, it is the third Sunday after Pentecost. 

But God so loved the world, a world we are not to close our eye to, a world we are not to ignore.  

PRIDE MONTH, FATHER’S DAY, JUNETEENTH, not days on the liturgical calendar, but important days….. and also occasions fraught with the gamut of emotions, visceral and complex:

  • celebration, 
  • affirmation, 
  • reconciliation, 
  • frustration, 
  • exasperation, a
  • aggravation. 

We’ve come so far in this country with LGBTQ + rights, and First and Franklin has been at the grass roots of that? So, how can there be 650 anti LGBTQ bills introduced for legislation across our country? 

How could it have taken so long to make a national holiday from an emancipation event that occurred in 1865? 

And Father’s Day is so special for those who experienced mentors, role models, selfless and unconditional love.   But there are those who never found that in their fathers. 

There’s a lot going on.  

So… here we are in the middle of it all. 

And we come to this place whether physically or virtually to worship, to present our authentic selves in all our glory and messiness to God in the hopes that the Spirit will respond to our worship by giving us a message for our hearts and our lives for this particular day and time. 

In our texts this morning, both Moses and Jesus are also looking at a world where a lot is happening….. and God wants a say in it all. And for that to happen, there’s a call for helpers, for workers. 

Jesus says to the disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send our laborers into GOD’s harvest.”

What did that mean to the disciples? What Jesus talking in code?  “Harvest” is mentioned many times throughout the scriptures, both Old and New Testament. 

Metaphorically, it’s connotation is often judgment and salvation. 

So, were the disciples to go out, and gather people, like crops, picking them up and bringing them to God, the more the merrier.  

No, Jesus gets more specific than that.  Show the people that God is with them, cure the sick, raise the dead, cast out the demons, cleanse the lepers. 

Harvesting would be busy.

Because it is! 

For the disciples, this image of “harvest” was much larger than just the gathering  because you can’t have a harvest without all the work leading up to the harvest.

It’s important that we consider in hearing these texts is that no human activity is as prevalent in the scriptures as farming.  

The disciples would not have heard the word “harvest” without connecting it to all the work leading up to it. 

  • Preparing land by marking off planting areas with heavy boundary stones

Vineyards and orchards that had to be hedged and walled.

Hillsides being terraced in preparation for planting.

  • Sowing the seeds and knowing which seeds to plant at which time of year, 

Wheat, grapes, olives, barley, figs, dates, melons, spices, growing at different times of the year.

  •  And once the planting was done, worrying, and accepting that which wasn’t in their control, sunshine, rain, changes in the soil, always carrying around the anxiety of a possible drought.
  • When it came time to harvest, it wasn’t just a matter of picking, bagging, selling, and sending.  Harvest was tedious.  Grain, for example, had to be laid out on a special threshing floor for winnowing and sifting. Sometimes this process would take the entire summer season. 

The biblical writers took every aspect of these tasks so familiar to the people, so imbedded in their daily living, and used them figuratively and metaphorically in writing about 

  • salvation history, 
  • in their narratives about Israel’s journey, 
  • in the account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, 
  • as well as in the formation and the mission of the early church.  

If the people could relate to “harvest “ maybe they could better understand these stories of faith.

Almost every aspect of actual agricultural work assumed a figurative and metaphorical meaning in the minds of ancient speakers and writers. 

So, what about the minds of modern speakers and writers.    

The Hebrew Scripture scholar, Ellen Davis, in her book, “Scripture, Culture and Agriculture ,” writes that she’s an urbanite who was never curious, let alone knowledgeable about details related to farming . But then, through her studies, she found herself acquiring the biblical writers’ interest in farming, their humble recognition that caring for the land is a life or death matter and how the scribes related that to God’s work often also being a life or death matter. 

In her writings, she has brought the agrarian mindset of the biblical writers into conversation with works of contemporary agrarian writers.  

She believes that that an agrarian mindset gives us a vantage point of vision. It’s a way of thinking that gives us principal for how to live our lives as people of faith.  

The poet and writer, Wendell Berry wrote the introduction to Dr. Davis’ book., He has said, “If you eat, you have a vested interest in harvest. Eating is an agricultural act.” 

From her indigenous lineage, Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book, “Braiding Sweetgrass” writes of the practice of an honorable harvest which is not based on metrics, how much can you grow and how much land can you use.

The honorable harvest is based on land ethics.  

Leading up to the harvest, there’s been a relationship to the land, there’s been honest labor. Harvest is an act of reverence because even with the diligence, there are aspects not in human control. 

The Honorable Harvest is very relational. Harvest is supposed to minimize harm. 

So, what is it that we hear when Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  Do we think of outdated practices and past solutions that really have little to do with all the resources and modern farming technology we have in our day. 

Maybe this morning’s text is a stretch for us, but God’s been known to make us stretch. 

You see…….

Like the disciples, we can’t just think of harvest as this isolated act of going out and gathering without any regard to the work required to have a harvest. 

Jesus doesn’t just send the disciples on their way. 

He gives them…. and us a lens through which to do our work. 

That lens is compassion! 

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” 

HARASSED!   HELPLESS!  Have you noticed any of that today?  

Jesus is emotionally stirred and gives instruction to go harvest GOD’s harvest

Maybe the biblical writers were on to something about harvest being associated with judgment and salvation. 

But it’s not judgment of the harassed and the helpless. 

It’s judgment of the systems and the powers that are overtly and covertly causing the harassment and helplessness, and freeing the people from these systems. 

Six hundred and fifty current bills up for legislation come to my mind right now. 

What kind of harvest is God’s harvest? 

 Perhaps, our labor is so that we might glean 

  • harvests of peace, 
  • harvests of liberation, 
  • equality, 
  • righteousness, 

bearing the fruits of these harvests that can be given to the people who are harassed and helpless, actively countering efforts of oppression. 

Friends, the work leading to God’s harvests is tedious…..relational, ethical, honorable, righteous. 

First and Franklin has a history and continues in their ministry today to embark on this tedious work.  

Under the pastoral leadership of Harry Holfelder, this congregation went against the current of society to support AIDS victims with the first support group in this community.  In 1980 First and Franklin became a More Light Church, risking their status at the national church level.  The work was tedious.  

All done to cultivate a harvest of acceptance, grace, unconditional love. 

You do, indeed, have laurels. 

Don’t rest on them. One of your own was interviewed recently by Baltimore Heritages’ “Five Minute Histories” recalling First and Franklins role in supporting the gay and lesbian community during the AIDS epidemic.  This elder said, “We felt like we could rest on our progressive laurels, but looking around…..we need to get busy again.”  

So did the disciples as Jesus looked upon the harassed and the helpless.  Jesus named the disciples, gave them authority, and prepared them for the work.  There was no sign-on bonus or benefits’ package.  Jesus gave reality.  

The harvest could be difficult. 

The Rev. Samuel Wells writes, “We offer wave upon wave of effort, hope and energy and often find ourselves met with indifference, passive aggression, shrugging shoulders that say, “whatever” and even hostility.

In wisdom about the reality of being human, Jesus cautions the disciples, “If you’re not welcomed, if you not listened to, if you’re repeatedly shunned, shake off the dust and move on.” 

There will be occasions when you feel there hasn’t hasn’t been a job well done, when little progress has been made. 

Don’t lose perspective or go on way too long that before you know it,  you’re inhaling the dust, you’re drowning, your embittered, engaging only in self-righteous rants.  

In this work, there will be times that you need shake off the dust and move on. 

Take a break.  Have a Sabbath. Workers in the field have to do it. 

With God, all is never lost! 

We don’t know what seeds may have been sown in that dust, only to take root long after we are gone. 

We do know, however, what God can do with dust.  “God formed Adam from the dust of the earth God breathed life into his nostrils.”  God breathes life into dust. 

Like the ancient agrarian farmers who knew the value of their work and their capability to do it, they also knew that there was a power beyond themselves also at work.  

Wendell Berry’s poem “Whatever is Foreseen In Joy,” reminds us of the balance of labor and Sabbath, reminds us that it is community effort, reminds us that, God is with us, also at work throughout.  

The poem reads:

Whatever is foreseen in joy must be lived out from day to day,

Vision is held open even in the dark, 

By our ten thousand days of work. 

Harvest will fill the barn and for that the hand must ache, the face must sweat. And yet no leaf or grain is filled by work of ours alone. 

The field is tilled and then left to grace that we may reap,

For great work is also done while we’re asleep. 

In all the tedious work, even with the times of frustration and aggravation, God instructs clearly: 

  • don’t lose the joy, 
  • don’t lose the hope, 
  • don’t lose the faith 

that keeps us on the determined path of God’s harvest!

There’s a lot going on!  There always has been. 

The apostle Paul knew that when he wrote to the early church of Galatia, 

  • words that we can embody in the life of the church today,
  •  words that by the power of the Holy Spirit can indelibly live in each of our hearts. 

“Let us not grow weary in doing what is right for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.”  

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen! 


Berry, Wendell. “Whatever is Forseen In Joy” https:common good.cc/reader/whatever-is-forseen-in-joy-by-wendell-berry In the Common Good Collective.
Boring, Eugene.  The Gospel of Matthew in New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon Press Nashville: 1995, pp. 241-253.
Davis, Ellen. Getting Involved With God. Cowley Publicatons, Cambridge, Massachusetts: 2001.
KImerer. Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetrgrass. Milkweed Edition, Minneapolis, Minnesota: 2013, pp. 175-201
Long, Thomas. Westminster Bible Companion: Matthew. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY: 1997, pp. 112-119.
Wells, Samuel. “Shaking The Dust.” Faith and Leadership, Leadership Education at Duke University, July 29, 2013. 

ABOUT DOROTHY: Dorothy is a retired minister member of Baltimore Presbytery. She graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2002 after a 23-year career in nursing. She served as a seminary intern at First and Franklin in 2001-2002. She served for thirteen years as pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Mitchellville, MD. She is currently the parish associate at Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church in Crofton, MD. She is also a trustee in Baltimore Presbytery. She lives in Odenton, MD with her husband, Mike, who is a palliative care physician. They have three daughters, two sons-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren (if she does say so herself). When she’s not playing with grandchildren, she enjoys reading, music, walking, friends, and staying engaged in ministry.