Last week after the service
I was asked about a message that I presented several years ago and that it would be nice to hear it again as it really stuck
a chord. So I dug through my files and found it.
Sometimes it’s good to re-emphasize a message as it has a deep relevance to who we are or what we should be doing. And with this message it really stresses what we should be about, not only on Sundays,
I remember that when I first
started coming here to Philippi there was a phrase in the bulletin that touched my heart and has stayed with me since. “Enter to Worship – Depart to Serve.” How deep and meaningful this phrase is and it really cuts to the heart of our mission as Christians. We come here to worship God and outside the doors we should have a servant’s
heart. When someone comes up to us to ask something we should have the mindset
of ‘how may I serve you’, instead of just asking, ‘what do you want?’
We need to think of how we may serve our Lord at all times.
It kind of reminds me of
an old comic skit of Bill Cosby. When I was a teenager I remember listening to
a record (LP) of Bill Cosby’s skit called “Noah”. It starts
off with Noah in his workshop sawing some wood and he hears a ‘Ding” and a voice calling ‘Noah’. Then he asks if someone is calling then goes right back to work. Again he hears a bell go ‘Ding’ and he asks ‘Who is it?’ The answer is “It’s the Lord Noah.” Then
there is a dramatic pause and Bill says “Right” in a long drawn out style sarcastically meaning ‘Oh yea,
this is really God talking.”
That’s a little bit
like how many Christians are today. We either ignore God’s calling or we
do not wait for a reply. Either that or we don’t really believe its God
calling. We might have the same idea that Scrooge the main character in Dickens’s
‘Christmas Carol’ had. “It’s just a piece of undigested
gruel.” It’s probably indigestion but not God calling.
But God does call us to serve
him in many ways. But there one area of service that is woefully neglected and
that brings me to today’s message. It’s called ‘The Parable
of the Orange Trees’. Some of you might be wondering just where this parable
is found. Is it hidden somewhere between the parable of the Prodigal Son and
the parable of the Lost Coin. Perhaps it’s nestled between the parables
of the Lost Sheep and the Rich Fool. I don’t think so. Well maybe we can find it in a different translation. Maybe
it’s in the New Kings James Version or perhaps in the contemporary version ‘The Message’. Well, you can look all you want but you cannot find this parable in the Bible.
Probably the first thing
you need to know is just what a parable is. A parable is a story that is designed
to teach us something. The early Jewish people did a lot of their teaching through
parables just like Jesus did. Another modern day parable that is a lot longer
than the ‘Parable of the Orange Trees’ is a book called ‘Joshua’ written by Joseph Girzone. If you get the chance this is a great story. ‘The Parable
of the Orange Trees’ is written by John White and I would like to read it to you. Now just sit back, relax and listen
closely. You can close your eyes if you like but please try to refrain from snoring
as that might hurt my feelings.
The Parable of the Orange Tree
I dreamed I drove on a Florida
road, still and straight and empty. On either side were groves of orange trees, so that as I turned to look at them from time
to time, line after line of trees stretched back endlessly from the road – their boughs heavy with round yellow fruit.
This was harvest time. My wonder grew as the miles slipped by. How could the harvest be gathered?
Suddenly I realized that
for all the hours I had driven (and this was how I knew I must be dreaming) I had seen no other person. The groves were empty
of people. No other car had passed me. No houses were to be seen beside the highway. I was alone in a forest of orange trees.
But at last I saw some orange
pickers. Far from the highway, almost on the horizon, lost in the vast wilderness of unpicked fruit, I could discern a tiny
group of them working steadily. And many miles later I saw another group. I could not be sure, but I suspected that the earth
beneath me was shaking with silent laughter at the hopelessness of their task. Yet the pickers went on picking
The sun had long passed
its zenith, and the shadows were lengthening when, without any warning, I turned a corner of the road to see a notice “Leaving
NEGLECTED COUNTY – Entering HOME COUNTY.” The contrast was so startling that I scarcely had time to take in the
notice. I had to slow down, for all at once the traffic was heavy. People by the thousands swarmed the road and crowded the
Even more startling was
the transformation in the orange groves. Orange groves were still there, and orange trees in abundance, but now, far from
being silent and empty, they were filled with the laughter and singing of multitudes of people. Indeed it was the people we
noticed rather than the trees. People – and houses.
I parked the car at the
roadside and mingled with the crowd. Smart gowns, neat shoes, showy hats, expensive suits and starched shirts made me a little
conscious of my work clothes. Everyone seemed so fresh, and poised, and cheerful.
“Is it a holiday?”
I asked a well-dressed woman with whom I fell in step.
She looked a little startled
for a moment, and then her face relaxed with a smile of gracious condescension.
“You’re a stranger,
aren’t you?” she said, and before I could reply, “This is Orange Day.”
She must have seen a puzzled
look on my face, for she went on, “It is so good to turn aside from one’s labors and pick oranges one day of the
“But don’t you
pick oranges every day?” I asked her.
“One may pick oranges
at any time,” she said. “We should always be ready to pick oranges, but Orange Day is the day that we devote especially
to orange picking.”
I left her and made my way
further into the trees. Most of the people were carrying a book. Bound beautifully in leather, and edged and lettered in gold,
I was able to discern on the edge of one of them the words, “Orange Picker’s Manual.”
By and by I noticed around
one of the orange trees seats had been arranged, rising upward in tiers from the ground. The seats were almost full –
but, as I approached the group, a smiling well-dressed gentleman shook my hand and conducted me to a seat.
There, around the foot of
the orange tree, I could see a number of people. One of them was addressing all the people on the seats and, just as I got
to my seat, everyone rose to his feet and began to sing. The man next to me shared with me his song book. It was called “Songs
of the Orange Groves.”
They sang for some time,
and the song leader waved his arms with a strange and frenzied abandon, exhorting the people in the intervals between the
songs to sing more loudly.
I grew steadily more puzzled.
“When do we start
to pick oranges?” I asked the man who had loaned me his book.
“It’s not long
now,” he told me. “We like to get everyone warmed up first. Besides, we want to make the oranges feel at home.”
I thought he was joking – but his face was serious.
After a while a rather fat
man took over from the song leader and, after reading two sentences from his well-thumbed copy of the Orange Picker’s
Manual, began to make a speech. I wasn’t clear whether he was addressing the people or the oranges.
I glanced beyond me and
saw a number of groups of people similar to our own group gathering around an occasional tree and being addressed by other
fat men. Some of the trees had no one around them.
“Which trees do we
pick from?” I asked the man beside me. He did not seem to understand, so I pointed to the trees round about.
“This is our tree,”
he said, pointing to the one we were gathered around.
“But there are too
many of us to pick from just one tree,” I protested. “Why, there are more people than oranges?”
“But we don’t
pick oranges,” the man explained. “We haven’t been called. That’s the Head Orange Picker’s job.
We’re here to support him. Besides we haven’t been to college. You need to know how an orange thinks before you
can pick it successfully – orange psychology, you know. Most of these folk here,” he went on, pointing to the
congregation, “have never been to Manual School.”
I whispered. “What’s that?”
they go to study the Orange Picker’s Manual,” my informant went on. “It’s very hard to understand.
You need years of study before it makes sense.”
“I see,” I murmured.
“I had no idea that picking oranges was so difficult.”
The fat man at the front
was still making his speech. His face was red, and he appeared to be indignant about something. So far as I could see there
was rivalry with some of the other “orange-picking” groups. But a moment later a glow came on his face.
“But we are not forsaken,”
he said. “We have much to be thankful for. Last week we saw THREE ORANGES BROUGHT INTO OUR BASKETS, and we are now completely
debt-free from the money we owed on the new cushion covers that grace the seats you now sit on.”
“Isn’t it wonderful?”
the man next to me murmured. I made no reply. I felt that something must be profoundly wrong somewhere. All this seemed to
be a very roundabout way of picking oranges.
The fat man was reaching
a climax in his speech. The atmosphere seemed tense. Then with a very dramatic gesture he reached two of the oranges, plucked
them from the branch, and placed them in the basket at his feet. The applause was deafening
"Do we start on the picking
now?” I asked my informant.
“What in the world
do you think we’re doing?” he hissed. “What do you suppose this tremendous effort has been made for? There’s
more orange-picking talent in this group than in the rest of Home County. Thousands of dollars have been spent on the tree
you’re looking at.”
I apologized quickly. “I
wasn’t being critical,” I said. “And I’m sure the fat man must be a very good orange picker –
but surely the rest of us could try. After all, there are so many oranges that need picking. We’ve all got a pair of
hands, and we could read the Manual.”
been in the business as long as I have, you’ll realize that it’s not as simple as that,” he replied. “There
isn’t time, for one thing. We have our work to do, our families to care for, and our homes to look after. We…”
But I wasn’t listening.
Light was beginning to break on me. Whatever these people were, they were not orange pickers. Orange picking was just a form
of entertainment for their weekends.
I tried one or two more
of the groups around the trees. Not all of them had such high academic standards for orange pickers. Some held classes on
orange picking. I tried to tell them of the trees I had seen in Neglected County but they seemed to have little interest.
picked the oranges here yet,” was their usual reply.
The sun was almost setting
in my dream and, growing tired of the noise and activity all around me, I got in the car and began to drive back again along
the road I had come. Soon all around me again were the vast and empty orange groves.
But there were changes.
Some things had happened in my absence. Everywhere the ground was littered with fallen fruit. And as I watched it seemed that
before my eyes the trees began to rain oranges. Many of them lay rotting on the ground.
I felt there was something
so strange about it all, and my bewilderment grew as I thought of all the people in HOME COUNTY.
Then, booming through the
trees there came a voice which said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
Ask the Lord of the Harvest, therefore, to send out workers…”
And I awakened – for
it was only a dream!
In Matthew 9:36-38
we read this, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep
without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful
but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out
workers into the field.’”
Now this parable we just
read is a bit longer that the one we read of in the Bible but I can almost hear Jesus teaching one like this on a hillside
near Jerusalem. Instead of orange trees perhaps it the Parable of the Fig Trees
instead. If you read the verse 35 of Matthew chapter 9 you see that Jesus was
traveling all over the countryside preaching, healing, and teaching. We read
in verse 36 that Jesus had compassion on the crowds of people that he saw. Why? Because he could see that they were in need.
He could see they had no leadership or direction in their lives. He told
the disciples that the harvest was plentiful – that they needed to hear the good news about salvation. He saw that they needed to repent and turn from the ways in which they were mired and give their lives
But like in the Parable of
the Orange Trees the fruit is heavy on the trees and is ready for picking but there are so few who are willing to go into
the fields for the harvest. Those who are already working in the field have barely
scratched the surface – they barely make a difference in the number of fruit that needs to be harvested. Jesus saw that there are many, many people who need the good news of salvation, to have a direction in
their lives and be shown that sin can be forgiven. But unfortunately many people
are unwilling or afraid to become laborers where God wants us. Instead we feel
like the people of ‘Home County’ and ‘work hard’ around ‘our tree’ and rejoice mightily
when one or two ‘pieces of fruit’ are placed into ‘our basket’.
We don’t have enough laborers in the field to do what needs to be done.
There are so
many people today, living all around us, who desperately need to hear the word of the living God. They desperately need someone to share the message of Jesus with them.
I see people on a daily basis who are hurting, lost, alone, despondent, and despairing.
Sometimes just a kind word can make a world of difference in someone’s life.
Most of the time I ask if they have a church family they can rely on and go to for help. Many respond that they don't go to church and can't remember the last time they went. I usually spend a
good portion of my time assuring them there is hope and invite them to attend church, whether it’s my home church or
a church they have attended or might be near to them. Some have accepted that
offer and have gotten on to their feet and are currently serving God in some form or another.
Sometimes it takes a bit of work to help them but the thrill of seeing them leave my office knowing that someone cared
enough to take a few extra minutes to help them in their time of need can not be expressed in mere words. And the cool thing is that I know the seed of the Gospel has been planted.
Not all Christians
are witnesses for Christ. It’s not that they don’t want to be witnesses
but they feel they cannot effectively be a good witness. Then there come the
excuses’. I not a trained evangelist; I haven’t been to Bible College
– Manual School; I don’t have the time. They expect that witnessing
is someone else’s job. They might say that working to bring others into
the family of God isn’t what they were called to do. They feel they are
called to serve on the cleaning committee or the building committee. The witnessing
and harvesting job is supposed to be the ‘Head Orange Pickers’ job, not ours.
He has the training and education. Well all these are nothing but excuses. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus give a command to his disciples. Its call the Great Commission. “Therefore go and
make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching
them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always
to the very end of the age.”
Jesus gave this
command to His disciples but He not only gave it to them but He is giving it to us as well.
We are to go and make disciples of all people. All ages, races, colors,
rich, poor, whatever. We are to go and make disciples of all people. That includes those who might be down on their luck and lying in a gutter and in desperate need of a bath,
those who might be affluent and live in nice houses, those who are hungry, sick, etc.
Jesus came to minister to a dying world – can we do less? We enter our sanctuary to Worship and we are to depart
ready and willing to serve.
We don’t have to go
into some faraway land, learn a new language, and sleep in a mud hut amid biting insects and eating food we can’t identify. We live in the mission field. The mission
field is all around us every day. It starts at home and extends to our family,
friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, and on and on exponentially. Everyone
you meet is a potential ‘orange’ that needs cultivation or is potentially ready to be harvested but you won’t
know unless you take time to talk with them. Strike up a conversation. It’s not hard. We are on a mission that was given by
Christ Jesus himself.
We are to go and tell everyone
about the good news of the Gospel of Jesus but like in the ‘Parable of the Orange Trees’, we gather around out
tree and sing our songs and listen to our ‘Head Orange Picker’. It
is easy to fall into the habits of welcoming only those that walk in through our doors and sometimes we might even ask if
they know Jesus. But most of the time we just take it for granted if they join
our ‘Tree’. And if they do join our ‘Tree’ we applaud
loudly that we harvested another to our basket. We feel comfortable around our
tree and we expect that someone more qualified should go out into the field. Tell
me, how qualified were plain fishermen or a tax collector. They took the message
of Jesus and turned the world upside down.
One of my old college professors,
Phil Stamm, related a story about a lady who was visiting a friend in the hospital and the friend asked her about Jesus and
what He was all about. Without batting an eye, she picked up the phone and called
her pastor and asked him to come over and tell this man about Jesus and salvation. She
believed that this was a job for the ‘Head Orange Picker’ – Ta Ta Da.
It was out of her comfort zone. But the pastors said that he had full confidence in her to be able to answer all the
man’s questions and tell him about salvation. So she timidly began to talk
to her friend, answering his questions and laying out the plan of salvation. Though
her witness, her friend accepted Christ as his savior.
What did the
pastor do? Did he drop everything and ‘come to her rescue’? Why did he push her into an uncomfortable area of witnessing? He did what he was called to do. In Ephesians 4:11-13 we read,
“And He gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,
to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in
the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
The pastor was doing his
job of training his people. He was training her, pushing her into uncomfortable
territory, to assist her growth. He was teaching her that any one can be a witness. It’s the job of every Christian to be witnesses.
But so many of us some to church on Sunday ready and excited to ‘Enter to Worship’ but then forget or just
outright ignore the other part of ‘Depart to Serve’.
I’ve been to a lot
of churches where you can see ‘Sunday Christians’. These are people
who attend church and serve God only on Sunday morning and the rest of the week they are too busy at their jobs, with their
families and/or their leisure activities to serve God Monday – Saturday. Or
perhaps they don’t feel they have the ‘gift’ or training to talk to others about Jesus and that someone
more ‘qualified’ or more ‘mature in their faith’ show do that.
It’s out of their comfort zone.
We must remember that when
we walk out the door of the church we are in the mission field. We are on a mission
– a mission from God. We are to ‘Go into…” and bring
the Gospel of Jesus to everyone we meet. It’s not a nine to five job or
just to be done on Sundays. We are soldiers for Christ and like a good soldier
we are on duty twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Just like in ‘Neglected
County” in the Parable of the Orange Trees, the oranges are falling off the tree and rotting on the ground for lack
of hearing about Jesus. People are literally dying both physically and spiritually
for the lack of hearing about the salvation that is found only in Jesus. I grew
up in Florida and I spent a lot of time in orange groves, usually running through them with my brothers chasing me to beat
me up, and I can tell you first hand that rotting citrus fruit, oranges, has a distinct odor.
It’s one that’s difficult to forget. Right now the stench
of rotting fruit is heave in the world around us for lack of workers in the field.
Now not everyone is a harvester. But there are many different kinds of workers in the field. You have those who cultivate the field – get it ready for planting; those that sow the seeds of the
Gospel; those that water the seeds and those that prune. Then there are those
who are present to harvest the fruit. Whether God has you cultivating the field,
planting or watering the seeds, pruning the tree or present at the harvest, when we walk out the doors of our church, we need,
we must, be ready to ‘Depart to Serve’.
When you leave here today,
you are entering into the mission field. The mission field that God wants us
to enter. Jesus will be with us. He
told us so in Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” He will never leave you hanging. Be a bold witness for Christ. Invite everyone you meet to church next Sunday.
Don’t just be a Sunday Christian. Live every day for Him.
Please pray with
me: Father, we come to you giving you the praise and glory that is yours and yours alone.
Thank you for this day that you have given to us so we can gather together as a body of believers to lift up our praise
to you and give you worship. Thank you for the salvation that you have given
to us through your Son Jesus. Help us to remember that when we leave here today
we are entering into your mission field. Father, there are people who are dying
who might never hear of your love and mercy if we do not take action. Help us
to be in action for you. Help us to be bold, untiring workers in the field that
you have shown to us. Be with us as we depart to serve. We pray these things in the name of your Son Jesus, amen.