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"How White the Harvest!"

Apr.10/16 Jn.4:27-38


Any Do-It-Yourselfer knows the importance of choosing the right tool for the job. Here's a funny commercial that illustrates the point...

Those large combines cost well over $100,000 - but you wouldn't get one just to mow your lawn! Marvelous pieces of equipment. But I wouldn't recommend one to a woman in Nigeria eager to harvest her pineapples, nor to a fellow growing cassava in Congo who's not close to a dealership for parts and service, or who can't afford to buy fuel. The equipment definitely has its place: but for a specific task, in the right context.

Our church has a congregational meeting today to consider a recommendation from our Future Accommodation Committee. I chose the theme for today's sermon partly in the hopes of keeping the right FOCUS: it's all too easy for churches to lose focus - it can become all about maintaining the building rather than ministry to people who need Jesus. We need the right tool for the job: perhaps it's a combine harvester, OR perhaps it's just a small mower. The building, the equipment, is just a TOOL that needs to be chosen to suit the task at hand.

Church consultants Ray Bowman and Eddy Hall describe "Three Things Church Buildings Can Never Do" (When Not To Build: Baker, 2005). It's a false expectation to suppose a building will stimulate growth. Ray designed a "dream sanctuary" for a church, then several years later, charted the church's growth history. Before the building program, the church had been growing at a steady 3%/yr; after, it had grown at 3%/year...No difference! "No church building, however perfectly designed, can make a church grow.The most a building can do is allow a church to grow."

Second, it's false to expect a building to improve members' giving to ministry. Building programs may motivate people to give, but building buildings is not the work of the church: "the work of the church is to meet people's needs." One rapidly growing church in Oklahoma earmarked 5% of all its income for local outreach (like LWCF does). But after a multimillion-dollar building program, when building costs exceeded estimates, the church began looking for places to cut expenses. You guessed it - they abandoned earmarking 5% for local outreach and redirected most of those funds to the building program. This negatively affected an inner-city ministry, a ministry to pregnant teens, and several other projects.

Third, it's false to suppose that building will motivate people to minister. The authors recall the mistake of a church in a small Kansas town that really did need a new facility, but when they built it, failed to establish an outreach plan and train people to be ready to reach out once the building was complete.

Buildings cannot meet nonbuilding needs. It's impossible for buildings themselves to stimulate growth, inspire healthy stewardship, or motivate outreach: those are all MINISTRY needs not building needs, and BUILDINGS CANNOT MINISTER.

A building is a tool for ministry. An appropriate building (rented or owned) can provide space well suited to the ministries it serves. But one thing a building can never do is minister: only people can do that.

In John 4, we find Jesus calling the disciples to be harvesters, aware of and responding to the needs of people. The job requires equipping and tools. Sometimes that may call for a combine, other times an excavator or simple lawn mower - if you see the analogy.


Harvesting in the sense of winning converts to God's Kingdom occurs at various places throughout the Bible. Proverbs 11:30 says, "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise." Is your life bearing "fruit" in terms of impactful witness on those around you?

An angel in a vision tells Daniel (12:3), "Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever." Do we make it our endeavour to lead others to righteousness? Do we want to "shine...like the stars"?

Winning souls for Jesus was top of the Apostle Paul's agenda. He explained to the church at Corinth, 1Cor 9:19,22 "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible...To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." Paul tried to figure out how to serve those he met in order to win and save them.

One of the most mournful verses in the Bible comes from the prophet Jeremiah at a time when the Israelites were not rescued from exile: 8:20 "The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved." Though this refers to a time of year - kings with their armies generally moved about when seasonal weather patterns suited better - there is a "harvest" of souls coming from which people will want to be saved.

Joel 3:13 talks about God's judgment of the nations at the last on the Day of the Lord: "Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow-- so great is their wickedness!" This is echoed in the last book of the Bible, Revelation 14:15 "Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, "Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.""

There is a day of judgment coming. Better that people become reconciled to God and have their sins forgiven through the blood of Christ and believing in Him NOW - be 'harvested' through evangelism - than find themselves harvested along with all the wicked to be condemned.

Jesus Himself used the analogy of "harvesting" in His teaching to His disciples. Luke 10:2 "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." Also in His explanation of the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13(39-43): "The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.He who has ears, let him hear."


Jesus provides us with an up-close example of harvesting in John 4. We'll pick it up after Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, who hears Jesus acknowledge her multiple failed relationships, offer her "living water" to satisfy her deeper thirsts, and clarify that He who's speaking with her is in fact the Messiah. He'd been doing all this while the disciples had gone to buy lunch; He'd simply sat down beside a well and struck up a conversation with this woman who'd come to draw water - a very ordinary, mundane part of the daily ritual.

Jn 4:27 "Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman." NLT "shocked", NRSV "astonished" - this was just not done back in that day! Women were viewed as lower class than men, and rabbis especially would not stoop to such association. There was a rabbinical precept which said, "Let no one talk with a woman in the street, no, not with his own wife."

Perhaps the drive for equality has made a little progress since then. Yet, a friend on Facebook recently noted the disparity between the compensation paid to the US Women's Soccer Team for winning ($2 million) and that paid to the men's team for LOSING ($9 million)!!

Sarah Bessey, a blogger/writer from western Canada in an article for ChristianWeek titled "For a Girl" reports some actual quotes from people at actual events she's attended over the past few years:

"You know, for a girl, you can really preach."

"We asked you to join this conference because we needed the whole diversity thing, but we never expected so many people to actually like your session so much!"

"I didn't think I was going to like your bit of this - I haven't ever heard of you before - but it was actually pretty good for a girl."

"I never thought I'd dig what you had to say but for a girl you were fine by me."

"You know what? For a girl, you're pretty good! I even took notes!"

Apparently we still have a ways to go in appreciating women's contribution to the church's life.

Jesus' disciples "were shocked to find Him talking to a woman..." But Jesus smashed through that cultural barrier; he recognized the value and dignity of the Samaritan woman as a person, with legitimate worth, potential, and needs - needs and brokenness to which He could minister.

Jesus gave ATTENTION TO THE OVERLOOKED. What harvest awaits the church in lower or ignored socioeconomic strata today; what people tend to get overlooked or ignored? Who's hurting out there that might appreciate us giving them the time of day, caring enough to find out their backstory, and come alongside to lend support? What means - whether facility, or networking, or training - will outfit us to do that?


Verses 28-30 recount the effect of one woman, a virtual "nobody", sharing her personal testimony after encountering Jesus. "Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" They came out of the town and made their way toward him." NLT "So the people came streaming from the village to see him."

"Come, see" she said: inviting others on a journey of exploration together. "Could this be the Christ?" It's a question, not a statement. In the original Greek it's actually more hesitating, "This couldn't be the Messiah, could it?" Yet something about the way she said it - the way she admitted Jesus has somehow mysteriously known about her whole exceedingly immoral lifestyle (now working on her 6th cohabitant!) - nabbed their attention and made them curious. They wanted to find out more, for themselves.

Harvesting doesn't require you to have all the answers. People don't want you to start spouting a volume of systematic theology at them! It's enough to share your own experience of Jesus. What's the most pronounced or definite thing God has done in your life? Who might you share that with - that might find a bit of commonality or overlap with your own journey?

Each of us has a story to share, a testimony of how God's grace has affected our lives. Often that's linked to our most personal struggles. Others will appreciate us sharing that, because that can mean hope for them in their struggles.


Verses 31-34 show how vital and important evangelism is on Jesus' agenda. "Meanwhile his disciples urged him, "Rabbi, eat something." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about." Then his disciples said to each other, "Could someone have brought him food?" "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work."

Usually food ranks up there pretty high on our list of priorities. Phil Callaway on his Laugh Again broadcast was humorously relating a phone call from his young one-year-old granddaughter who shared the three most important words one can hear: "Time for supper!" (No, actually, it was - "I love you.")

At this point, Jesus hasn't eaten for a number of hours, yet He makes it clear there are things more important than eating on His agenda. "I have food to eat you know nothing about...My food...is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work." Later in John 17:4 He prays to the Father, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." Then on the cross, 19:30 He declared as He died for us, "It is finished."

Saving people was what Jesus was all about - whether by talking to them, healing their sickness, exhorting them, or paying the penalty for their sins by exchanging His life for theirs. That was His focus, His mission, what He came for, what the Father charged Him to do. He calls us to follow Him in that.

How much do we really CARE about people's destiny? Is it more important to you than your next meal?


In vv35-36, Jesus brings in the "harvest" analogy: "Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together."

In Palestine at that time, crops were usually sown in November, then harvested in mid-April (the time between Passover and Pentecost). So it's unlikely the 'four months' thing was a proverb - more likely this event took place in December, so it's just that physical harvest was still 4 months away. But Jesus' point is - "Open your eyes!" "Wake up!" (NLT) "Look around!" (NRSV) The fields are already ripe for harvest, literally "white" as ripened grain turned colour - and perhaps the approaching Samaritans' clothing bobbed along above the vibrant green cereal crops. "Even now" - already - "the reaper draws his wages, even now [already] he harvests the crop for eternal life." Literally, FRUIT for eternal life.

Are the fields in our day "white" for harvest? Some might say this is a silly time to be considering building or buying another church structure - so many churches are closing their doors, average attendance is down, the younger generation doesn't even feel guilty any more about not attending. We're in a post-Christian era. But, are the fields really just green - or white for harvest? What signs are we seeing of deep spiritual thirst in current culture? Is there a silent, unspoken cry of desperation, expressed in young people cutting themselves in secret? In suicides on native reservations? In increased drug use and thievery so we have to start locking our vehicles and homes?

Have you detected an increasing artificiality in modern entertainment - prevalence of fantasy and sci-fi, the banality of so-called "reality TV", a preoccupation with fantastic superheroes and video games that encourage so many to escape from the ennui and anomie of everyday normal life? [def. Ennui: "a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement." def. Anomie: "social instability resulting from a breakdown of standards and values; also: personal unrest, alienation, and anxiety that comes from a lack of purpose or ideals."] People are searching for meaning, purpose, hope, significance - and what Hollywood dishes up is ever further from, increasingly detached from, their personal routines.


Harvesting is the culmination of a process that began with sowing. In vv37-38 Jesus alludes to this, and the partnerships involved in God's great project of evangelism: "Thus the saying 'One sows and another reaps' is true.I sent you to reap what you have not worked for.Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour." Who are the "sowers" and "reapers" here?

In v36 the 'sower' may refer to Jesus, who has been sharing with the woman while the disciples were away at the market. Now they get to be there when the Samaritans as a group come. Why are they coming? Because of what the woman said - so she is a "sower", too. The Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist may also be included in what Jesus refers to as 'others' who 'have done the hard work'.

When we interact with other people, let's remember God has already been at work in their lives, "sowing" by various means. In evangelism, we get to simply come along as they ripen, realize their need of God, articulate that, and are "harvested" by making a faith-commitment (Rom 10:9f). God is sowing into the lives of pagans and those of other religions, bringing them to a point of spiritual inquisitiveness.

Nature itself points to its Creator: Psalm 19:1-4 "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." Paul wrote that God has made what may be known about Himself plain to people, Rom 1:20 "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-- his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that [people] are without excuse."

There's also the internal witness of conscience. God has "rigged" or "booby-trapped" the human soul with an inner moral compass, an innate sense of justice and fairness, what's right and wrong - at least an ability to detect when I myself am getting the short end of the stick! Ecclesiastes 3:11 God has "set eternity in the hearts of [people]". Paul observed that even Gentiles, who did not have the benefit of the law of Moses, Romans 2:15 "show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." So when we're talking with people about spiritual matters, we can help them identify these factors that they may already be somewhat aware of, and show them how Jesus' death and resurrection supplies a resolution to this quandary: how can I, an imperfect human, become reconciled to the perfect all-powerful Maker of the universe? Introduce them personally to the loving Lord who gave up everything to make their forgiveness possible bring them close forever. Such midwifery is a huge privilege!

So, then, as our Lord says - "Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest." Let's pray.