June 15, 2014
Matthew 28: 16-20
I had a thought earlier this week,
that perhaps the best way to proclaim this gospel text
would be to say to you,
“Jesus says ‘Go!’”
…and head out the door!
But I had some second thoughts.
So here we are…
This passage from the gospel of Matthew is known as “The Great Commission.”
A person who is commissioned is given a new role or rank.
Military officers are commissioned.
In the church, we commission mission teams or deacons.
We send them out into the world with our blessing.
We say, ”Go!” –and they do!
Well here Jesus commissions the 11 disciples.
They are given new roles.
They had been students; now they’re teachers.
They were baptized; now their job is to baptize others.
I don’t know what the disciples were thinking about at the moment,
but I imagine they were a bit frightened at the prospect of losing their teacher,
of being on their own,
of being sent out into the world.
I imagine they were feeling a little bit like some high school or college seniors feel
when they are at graduation,
and it suddenly hits them, that things are going to be very different from now on.
I don’t know about you,
but I wasn’t always sure I wanted to graduate.
By the time graduation time came around,
I was pretty comfortable the way things were.
I had mastered the art of being a student by then.
I knew the routine – how to figure out the schedule, where to sit, how to study for a test.
I had figured out how to balance homework and band and chorus and my job at McDonald’s.
I had my friends…and by the time graduation came around, I had identified the people I wanted to stay away from.
That kind of learning takes time – and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to start over again!
So I admit, I came to graduation with some ambivalence.
And at graduation I learned that as much as my teachers said they loved my class,
in no uncertain terms,
they also said our task now was to “Go! Get out of here! Move on!”
And we did.
Smiling on the outside, yes!
Tossing our caps high into the air with joy, yes!
And yet…if truth be told, not completely, utterly, joy- filled.
We adults know that this scenario happens over and over again in our lives.
We ‘commence’ to a new chapter many times in life.
We take a new job.
We get married.
We become a father.
These are good things, joyful things!
And yet…no change happens without at least a little uncertainty as well.
Anytime we as baptized children of God
are commissioned to begin a new role, a new calling in life,
it brings anxiety.
As the disciples gather around Jesus,
Matthew says they worship him,
but he says some have their anxiety, their doubts too.
I would guess most of them have their doubts!
“Jesus, what if they don’t want to be baptized?”
“Jesus, what do we do if they ask us something we don’t know?”
“Jesus, how are we going to get to the whole world?”
“Jesus, I’m not really sure I want to go to…Norway.”
“Jesus, what if they’re hungry? What if they’re thirsty?”
“Jesus, what if we say the wrong thing?”
“Jesus, what if we can’t remember what you taught us?”
“Jesus, can’t we just keep it the way it is? Can’t you just stay here? Can’t we just stay here?”
Jesus hears their questions and alas!, he doesn’t say,
“You’re right…I’m staying right here…
The twelve of us, we’ll just stay together,
in our own little community.
It’ll be great!
I’ll teach and you’ll listen and
we’ll take care of each other,
and pray with each other,
we will be here for each other – just us.”
Imagine if Jesus had given into their fears.
They could have stayed together, living as a little community of disciples.
…And then one by one they would have died off.
It’s not so hard to imagine that happening.
One of the changes in the United States over the past number of years
is that the church is in decline.
It’s a complicated issue,
but according to researcher Thom Rainer,
the most common factor in churches that are declining is that they focus inward.[i]
He writes, “The ministries are only for the members.
The budgetary funds are used almost exclusively to meet the needs of the members.
The times of worship and worship styles are geared primarily for the members.”
An inward focus leads to a community that feels safe and caring and loving…
it feels good — for those who are part of it.
But after time,
if the community doesn’t get a sense that they have been commissioned by God
to go out into the world,
(and it doesn’t have to be Norway – Braddock Street will do!)
if we don’t develop a passion for the world around us,
one by one, members of the community will pass on,
and eventually the community will be gone
and something else will take its place.
Listen to Jesus’ commissioning one more time:
“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.”
One of the scariest words there is, is this word, “Go!”
And I think Jesus knows it…because he closes their commissioning with a promise.
If their commissioning is the “great commission.”
This promise is the “great promise”:
“Remember that I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
If the disciples had not taken his words to heart,
no one but them would have heard about Jesus.
No one but them would know that God so loved the world that he sent his son.
No one but them would know of his healing, his teaching.
No one but them would know about how he welcomed those who were mistreated;
how he cared for the lonely;
how he stood up for the poor and the widowed.
No one but them would know about Jesus,
and as the last disciple died, so this movement we now call Christianity
would have died with them.
The great commission tells us to “Go!”
The great promise tell us “God goes with us….always!