June 15, 2014 Matthew 28: 16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore 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 remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Followers have taken Jesus’ instructions here very seriously over the centuries. His disciples certainly did. If they hadn’t, the Christian church would not exist today. Paul played a big part in that, and he wasn’t even with the eleven as they met with Jesus one last time on top of that un-named mountain.
Today, all kinds of images from my memory bank pop up when I think of Jesus’ instructions here: I think of the man who used to sit at one of the major intersections of the small town I was living in, with a sign and bullhorn declaring “We are all sinners, washed in the blood of the lamb. We must be born again of the spirit or we’re going to hell.” Fear tactic: probably not a good approach.
Using a softer touch, I remember the clean cut teenagers playing rock and roll at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. As we came closer we noticed a big banner “Singing for Christ.” They were enthusiastically handing out flyers to anyone who would take one.
I’ve answered my doorbell more than once, to be met by a neatly dressed, smiling young couple, bible in hand, ready to convert me.
Christianity has gotten a bad rap over the centuries due to their sometimes over zealous brand of proselytizing. Think of the crusades - or the thousands of missionaries traveling the globe, insisting that native populations abandon their beliefs and customs to adopt the missionary’s brand of Christianity.
I’m sure they all have good intentions, whether it was their desire to share with others the love and joy they have found in practicing their Christian faith - or their fear that a huge percentage of the world’s population is in danger of going to hell if they don’t accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And they feel compelled to do something about it. Good intentions.
But, is this what Jesus was asking of his disciples up on that mountain? Let’s take a look.
Matthew prefaces Jesus comments with an interesting observation: “they worshiped him; but some doubted.” The literal translation is “and they worshiped him and doubted.” That makes me feel better. They actually walked the earth with Jesus, and they still doubted. They didn’t have all the answers. They didn’t understand everything he had been trying to tell them. I’m sure they still had burning questions. They were no different than me.
Did you ever see that bumper sticker “God said it, I believe it, and that’s that.” I’d like to sit down and have a conversation with whoever came up with that slogan. It’s scary.
And despite their doubts, Jesus tells the eleven: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Somehow he trusted them to do that. He put his faith in them - those doubters.
Fred Craddock, one of my favorite preachers, has some insight into Jesus’ actual meaning here. He says, “Some people misread that word “make” as though Jesus is commanding his followers to coerce people into becoming disciples. That’s not what it means; it means simply ‘disciple everybody.’ It’s a verb. Disciple people.”
How do we do that? Well, how did Jesus do it? He prayed, taught, healed -body, mind, spirit, stood up for the dis-enfranchised, the shunned, the persecuted - connected people to God. He simply loved them, all of them, without reservation, and they became his disciples. We are to treat people like Jesus did.
The scripture passage that was the theme of our annual gathering of the Mass conference this weekend was from John 14:12: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I don, and in fact, will do greater works than these… Jesus was expecting a lot from those doubting disciples - a lot from us too.
At our annual meeting two weeks ago, there was concern over increasing our membership. Mainline churches today are not doing a very good job of discipling people into becoming members. What will it take to do that? I don’t see you going door to door - or standing on Centre and Church with a bullhorn. I just don’t see it.
I heard suggestions of spending more money, as though money is going to buy us members. That’s not going to happen. Might I suggest you make disciples by being one - by reaching out to our community and the world and sharing Jesus’ love with them. There are a jazillion ways to do that. Let me suggest just a few:
On June 18th, this Wednesday, the Alston-Brighton UCC needs help with their community dinner. You could volunteer. They will need help off and on throughout the summer when many of their student volunteers are not here. Let Reebee or I or Patrick know if you’d like to help out.
We will be joining with them to provide a Vacation Bible School the last week of August. It will be open to the children of both of our churches, as well as other children who live in the area. You could volunteer to help out during that week - meet some of the parents, spread a little good will, have fun with the kids. The theme is Creation Care.
You could drop food in the baskets outside these doors for the food pantry across the street. That’s easy.
You could invite family and friends to one of the many “Summer Fun at Eliot” activities we have scheduled throughout the summer.
You can look for opportunities to talk to others about what the Eliot Church means to you - the difference it has made in your life. Maybe, just maybe that person is looking for a community of people to make a difference in their lives. I learned this weekend that 72% of those living in MA don’t have a faith community. That’s 72% who could use somewhere to go on Sunday mornings!
Last Sunday, after worship, some alumni from Chapman College, who came to hear their former classmates sing during the service, came up to me all excited about the worship service. They had moved to the area to teach in Boston through Americore. They wanted to know what was going on at Eliot and how they could get involved.
Another couple, from out of state, have a five year old grandchild living down the street and wanted to know about our CE program. What did we have for children?
There are people out there yearning to know something about God, to find a purpose for their lives, a community of support - a community to do outreach to the greater community out there.
There are many ways to disciple people. And once they feel the love, because it all has to do with love - just ask Jesus - they just might walk in these doors, and, with time, they might want to be baptized, or confirmed, or become a member. They just might want to stand up here and make a covenant like our confirmands recently did.
I keep hearing that people aren’t into joining, or becoming members these days. I hear it in reference to marriage too. “We’re committed to each other. We don’t have to formalize it - put it into writing”. Or the churches that say we’re open to everyone. We don’t have to declare ourselves Open and Affirming, or hang a rainbow flag out front.
Just ask a gay couple who’ve been committed to each other for 20 years and were finally allowed to marry, what that meant to them - or the transgendered woman who I baptized, after years of being afraid to walk into a church, thinking God hated her. She had to be invited, and then convinced that it was a safe place to be.
Go therefore 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.
That’s a tall order. First, you better know what Jesus was teaching them. That’s why we come to church on Sundays, and participate in adult faith formation. That’s why we have CE for our children and youth.
How are we to live? What are we to do now that we’ve decided to join the ranks of the disciples? We told our confirmands when they decided to be confirmed, “This is not the end, it’s the beginning of your faith journey.” Jesus’ disciples still had lots to learn. We never stop learning. We never stop serving. It’s what it means to be a disciple.
And then Jesus adds these reassuring words: And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Thank you God for that - because it’s not easy.
Very shortly, one of our own, Danny Flanagan, will embark on a mission trip, like those early disciples, to a far corner of the globe, to Zambia. He’s going to disciple others. It’s a trip that promises to be a life altering, transformative experience. Through our prayers and financial assistance, all of us are participating in his journey, and we look forward to hearing all about it when he returns.
But today we are commissioning him with a laying on of hands and a special blessing, so that all our prayers and energy will travel with him. Let’s begin by singing the first two verses of “Take My Life, God, Let It Be” NCH #448