Matthew 28:16-20 (CEB)
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.
Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 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, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
A word of God, for the people of God…Thanks be to God.
June 10-11, 2017
Let me summarize where we are at in the church year.
We celebrated Easter on April 16th and then followed the appearances of the risen Christ for the Great 50 Days of Easter. At the 40-day mark, we joined the disciples in witnessing the Ascension of Jesus and then 10 days later, last Sunday, we celebrated the Day of Pentecost and the coming of the promised Holy Spirit.
The Sunday after Pentecost is always a celebration of the Trinity, which affirms one God in three persons…our God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; or God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Now, there are whole semester courses in seminary to try to understand the Trinity. But, the Cliff Notes are that the Trinity is our human attempt to explain God, as God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The word ‘Trinity’ does not appear anywhere in the Bible, but certainly the concept of the Trinity is present throughout Scripture.
And Trinity Sunday is an opportunity to celebrate God rather than try to explain God.
(Read (Matthew 28:16-20)
Our passage of Scripture known as the Great Commission is how the author of Matthew’s gospel ends his writing…A charge from Jesus to “go, make disciples of all nations.”
In addition to this Great Commission, Scripture also gives us what is known as the Great Requirement and the Great Commandment.
The Great Requirement is that wonderful verse from the Prophet Micah that says, “God has told you what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
The Great Commandment is when Jesus responded to a question asking which commandment in the law is the greatest. Jesus replied saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” In addition, Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Great Requirement, the Great Commandment and the Great Commission all have a truth about them that is inconvenient…inconvenient because the truth is, requirements, commandments and commissionings are often hard to live out. And most things that are hard take time to learn, to understand, to implement and certainly to live out in our busy lives.
If we’re honest, most of us feel a twinge of guilt when we hear these passages of Scripture.
Many times it is hard to know where to start and how to begin doing something like making disciples. And for us as United Methodists, the mission statement for our denomination is to, “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
So, not only ‘make disciples,’ but make disciples who will transform the world…a pretty tall order that most of us do not feel called, prepared or equipped to do.
This Great Commission with its charge to, “Therefore, go, and make disciples…” has been the start or inspiration for thousands of church mission statements. The guilt comes in not really understanding what those words mean and because we hear them so often, we think we should know what they mean and we feel uncomfortable admitting that we don’t really know what they mean.
One writer has said, “Somehow we’ve managed to take something that should be energizing and turned it into the biblical equivalent of flossing.”
So, let’s think for a moment of how we can hear Jesus’ last words in the Gospel of Matthew less as an inconvenient and impossible commission and more as an invitation. It comes down to believing that God’s love is for us and for the whole world and then sharing that belief in our words, our actions, and in the ways we live.
Perhaps interjecting an idea of how NOT to make disciples would be helpful. A cartoon several years ago in the New Yorker magazine shows a man sitting alone on a bench seat on a commuter train, wearing a t-shirt that says, “Ask Me About My Religion.”
The cartoon reads, “Another way to keep an empty seat beside you on the train.”
Depending on your experience, it does seem possible that one thing that has cost Jesus new disciples through the years is people intent on making disciples through recruitment tactics.
Making and building true and authentic disciples requires a true and authentic daily witness and remembering we are not alone….the last thing Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel was, “I will be with you every day.”
But, from the first disciples of Jesus to the followers of Jesus today, Scripture reminds us that “some doubted.” Still, Christ comes, blesses, and commissions them and the doubters are sent out, making doubt not an obstacle to faith and discipleship, but as part of our faith and discipleship. The good news is that the risen Christ was not bothered by the doubts of his first followers and is not bothered by our doubts either.
The honest truth is that we probably all live somewhere between faith and doubt. It is so easy to doubt when we listen or read the daily news; when we or loved ones get sick; when loved ones die or when grief and sorrow seem heavy in our lives. It is easy to fall into a routine of doubt and lose sight of our blessings and the presence of God in our midst. It is easy to not hear the last verse of our gospel passage when Jesus assures us that we are not alone.
We can be thankful that Christ does not wait until we are full of faith and our doubts are gone before he comes to us and uses us in his ongoing work in the world.
And like so many other things in life, living out the Great Commission is done with small steps and encouragement.
There is a story I think about when I’m pondering big things that require small steps and encouragement.
The story goes that one night a young girl’s parents decided that their daughter was old enough to go to the barn and feed the horses on her own. But she was unsure and scared.
So the parents took their daughter out to the front porch of the house and lit a lantern, held it up, and asked her how far she could see by the lantern’s light. She said that she could see halfway down the path to the barn.
“Good!” her father responded. “Now carry this lantern halfway down the path.” The young girl did as she was told and when she reached her destination, her father called out to her, “Now how far can you see by the lantern’s light?” His daughter responded that she could see all the way to the gate.
“Great!” her mother responded. “Now walk to the gate.” Once again the girl did as she was told and when she reached the gate, her mother asked, “Now how far can you see?” She responded that she could see the barn. “Wonderful!” replied her mother. “Now walk to the barn and open the door.”
The girl did just as her parents told her and finally she shouted back that she was at the barn and could see the horses. “Excellent!” both parents called out. “Now feed the horses.” And they stepped back into the house.
God is like the parents who tell us to ‘Go’ and then give us light for now and for the next step. God’s light does not illuminate the whole journey, just one step at a time. The girl trusted her parents to get her safely to the barn; and we, too, must trust God to get us safely to the next destination, decision, turning point, opportunity, or experience along our path.
You see, God does not give us tactics, strategic plans or a memorized presentation on how to make disciples.
But, somewhere in our community is a young girl or boy who has never been to summer camp and doesn’t know that our church has plans for a day camp called Camp in the Community that will change the direction of his or her life. The stories of Jesus that will be told and the activities that will be shared will enliven their imaginations and introduce them to God’s love perhaps for the first time.
Somewhere in our church is a person who feels isolated and heavy laden with guilt or grief and has not heard that our faith community has a Stephen Ministry that can provide someone to walk the journey with them.
Somewhere in our neighborhood is a teacher thankful for a summer break, but worried about how she will guide the children she has given her life to serving for another year without enough supplies and resources to do her job.
Somewhere near and far from us there are people God has prepared us to reach as we live and witness to God’s love. Some will doubt, but all will have the opportunity to have their lives changed and transformed. That is how disciples are made and how the world is transformed.
God does not guarantee that everything we do and the way in which we live as witnesses to God’s love will bring people to know God through Christ. Instead, Jesus leaves the disciples and us with powerful words that he would be with us every day…always.
While that promise might not seem all that comforting at times, it is a truth that is more than enough because it includes the empowerment of the God of creation, it included Jesus who redeems us, and the Holy Spirit who sustains us.
Perhaps the best way to live out the Great Commission is to be the ones that offer that assurance and reassurance of God’s nearness. Be the ones that remind others of the love of God from which nothing can separate us. Be the ones that bear witness to the strength and fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Be the ones that tell those with a hurting heart that they are beloved sons and daughters of God.
Jesus gave his “authority” to those gathered on the mountain that day…those who believed and those who doubted. We receive that same authority today. Jesus gives this Great Commission to all.
On this Trinity Sunday, we remember that faithful living of the Good News of God’s love demands the courage to acknowledge that faith is not easy. So, when we feel discouraged, may we be reminded through this faith community and each other that Christ has not only commissioned us for the work of making disciples, but has promised to be with us every day.
And that is a truth that can be trusted and lived…and is never inconvenient!
May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.