NEW ORLEANS (BP)–With an impassioned plea for personal evangelism, a New Orleans pastor challenged Southern Baptists in the convention sermon at their annual meeting to heed Jesus’ call for laborers by sharing their faith and by praying that all other believers would become evangelists.
“If we’re gonna occupy until he comes, we need every member of every church of every size of every race of every city and every state to hear the cry of Jesus,” said Fred Luter at the Louisiana Superdome June 12. “Listen to the cry of the master. He’s calling for laborers.”
Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, is the first African American to deliver the convention sermon. If the numerous ovations that interrupted his sermon, including a standing ovation at the end, are any indication, Southern Baptists welcomed this historic event. Luter acknowledged the significance of the event at the beginning of his sermon.
“Today, I realize that I am standing on the shoulders of other African American pastors and denominational workers who are trailblazers in this convention and have been trailblazers long before I ever was a Southern Baptist,” Luter said, admitting to being excited, humbled and nervous about the opportunity.
In his introduction of Luter, SBC President James Merritt also acknowledged the significance of the event but emphasized that race was not the reason Luter was selected.
“The reason why Dr. Luter is preaching tonight has absolutely nothing to do with the color of his skin,” Merritt said. “The reason why Dr. Luter is preaching is because without question he is one of the premier inspirational preachers in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Preaching from Matthew 9:35-38, Luter titled his sermon, “The Master’s Call for Laborers,” often repeating the annual meeting theme, “Until He Comes … Go!”
“Until he comes, go, witness, share your faith, evangelize,” Luter said. “The Master tonight, Southern Baptists, is calling workers in this convention to go until he comes. But the question of tonight is, Are we doing just that?”
Luter challenged Southern Baptists to consider the pain they cause God when they do not do what they were created to do.
“God created the sun to shine in the day and it shines in the day,” Luter said. “God created the moon to shine at night and the moon shines at night. I find it very interesting, my friends, that all those things do what God created them to do.
“Think of the pain, my brothers and my sisters, think of the hurt. Southern Baptists, think of the agony, my friends who are here tonight, God feels when his very special creation don’t do what God created us to do,” he continued.
From the Scripture passage, Luter focused on the concern, compassion, cry and command of Jesus.
“Jesus truly cared for people,” Luter said. “People were not just a number to Jesus Christ,” he continued. “People were not just a statistic to Jesus Christ.”
Luter reminded the audience of the Bible stories of Zaccheus, blind Bartemeus, the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery, and referred to his own testimony and those of other Christians in the arena.
“If we’re gonna occupy until he comes, if we’re gonna heed the Master’s call for laborers,” Luter said, “we must care about people, we must care about their hurts, … we must care about their struggles, … we must care about their addictions, … we must care about their pain, … we must care about their eternal destiny.”
The Scripture passage also indicates that Jesus saw the weariness and lostness of the masses and had compassion for them, Luter noted.
“That’s the reason, Southern Baptists, the Lord is calling for laborers tonight, because the same thing is happening in America today,” Luter said. “Lost folk have no direction or bad direction. They’re wandering. They’re tripping. They’re moving but going nowhere. They’re talking but not really making sense. They’re lost and don’t realize it. They’re dying and don’t realize it. They’re weary and worn and don’t realize it. They’ve been destroyed by sin and don’t realize it.”
With a list that went from A to Z, Luter emphasized that God and human beings see sin differently.
From “Man sees sin as an accident, God sees sin as an abomination” to “Man sees sin as zealous, God sees sin as zero,” Luter reiterated his point, encouraged by the applause and shouts of affirmation from the audience. “That’s why you must occupy until he comes. That’s why we must go until he goes. That’s why we must have compassion like Christ. That’s why we must hurt for a dying world, because they have void that only Jesus Christ can feel,” Luter said.
Luter drew the cry of Jesus from the most familiar part of the passage: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.”
“The fact of the matter, my friends, is people need the Lord,” he said. “People need to know the difference that Christ can make in their lives. And they won’t know, Southern Baptists, unless we tell them.”
He noted that the call is for every Christian to be involved in evangelism.
“Soul-winning is not an option. Soul-winning is not a choice. … Soul-winning is for every child of God. It’s for every born-again believer,” Luter said. Training is not the issue, he insisted.
“Many of you have been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ,” Luter said, “and the Bible says, ‘Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.’ If you’ve been washed you oughta say so. If you’ve been delivered you oughta say so. If you’ve been forgiven you oughta say so. If you’ve been set free, you oughta say so. You don’t need to go to a FAITH clinic to say so. You don’t need CWT to say so. You don’t have to read a book to say so.
“You tell people that ‘Once I was lost but now I’m found. I was blind but now I see.'”
Luter affirmed that all believers have testimonies of what God has done in their lives and that they should share those stories in word and deed. Getting every believer to evangelize requires prayer, Luter said, referring to the command of Jesus in the passage to “pray to the Lord of the harvest.”
While not condemning recruitment of laborers, Luter pointed out that Jesus’ command is to pray.
“I can think of no better way to get workers in this Southern Baptist Convention,” he said. “I can think of no better way to get laborers in our churches. I can think of no better way to get laborers in the vineyard and to get people to go into the vineyard, but to ask the Lord of the harvest, because God, my brothers and my sisters, has a good track record about answering the prayers of his children.”
Luter said although Southern Baptists have enough choir members, deacons, trustees, preachers, musicians and church members, they need more laborers for the harvest.
“What about you, my brother? What about you, my sister?” he asked. “What about you? Can the Lord count on you to go until he comes? Can the Lord count on you to go until he comes?
“Southern Baptists, can you say, ‘Count on me, count on me, count on me, O blessed, blessed Savior, count on me’? So come on, brothers, until he comes let’s go. Come on, sisters, until he comes let’s go. Let’s heed the Master’s call. Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go. For the harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few.”
After a prolonged standing ovation and calls for more, Luter returned to the podium one more time and said: “Go into the highways. Go into the byways. Preach it when they want to hear. Preach it when they don’t want to hear it. Preach it when they say no. Preach it when they say yes. Don’t stop but go, go, go, go. The Master says go.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: FRED LUTER PRESENTS CONVENTION SERMON.