June 2, 1996 message
"GO quickly and tell his disciples that he is GOing ahead of you to Galilee," the angel told the women who came to the empty tomb. "Go and tell my brothers to GO to Galilee," Jesus repeated to them along their way. And when the disciples did what he asked, by GOing to Galilee, what did he say? "GO!" Seems to be alot of GO-ing going on, wouldn't you say?
The same could be said of our lives. There always seems to be alot of GO-ing going on. As I was preparing this sermon, I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by all the items on my "to do" list, all the places I needED to "GO." I wondered about all those "GO"s in this great commission of Jesus to share good news. Was all this "GO-ing going on" really good news to me? Or was it just one more thing to be done, one more place to "GO?"
I don't think my schedule is any more hectic than anyone else's. The rat race of modern life seems to be getting worse. More and more, people are saying "no" to all the "GO-ing going on." Is it my imagination, or it is harder to recruit volunteers to "GO" and "do" what needs to be done? At Shepherd's Spring this summer, we have lined up what looks to be an excellent full-time staff. The problem is that although we have more campers registered than ever before, we have fewer volunteer counselors to work with them. Persons are finding it harder to say yes when we ask them to "GO."
Is "GO" a positive word for you, or a negative? When you hear the great commission of our Lord to "GO," is this good news for you? That's what I want us to think about this morning. Is all this "GO-ing going on" good news? To answer that, let's explore this last part of Matthew's gospel a bit deeper.
It's interesting that in Matthew's gospel, after Jesus rose from the dead, he didn't appear to his disciples in Jerusalem. Instead came this strange command to "GO" to Galilee. Something needed to happen there, words needed to be spoken - to the 11 disciples who traveled there, but also to the disciples for whom Matthew later wrote his gospel. When we come to the end of such an account, isn't it natural to ask the question, "how shall we then live?" That is, given the story, what then is our purpose? Why tell about what Jesus taught and did if there is no reason behind it. Isn't that what we're searching for when we sing, "tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear"?
Matthew is giving us nuggets of purpose, if only we would listen. His last three verses have stood out because they are so concise and direct. This so-called "Great Commission" has empowered God's people through the ages to move beyond the comfortable and step out into the unknown. It gives a purpose, a reason beyond the story for continuing it. Yes, these words are a direct command. However, in this "GO," we need to hear our purpose, and not just another task to add to our already crowded schedules. This purpose or "mission" statement is for prioritizing our rat race lives. If we use it in this way, all this "GO-ing going on" can be good news.
Matthew's gospel sounds more "Jewish" than the other three, since it seems to have more Old Testament quotes per page than the other three combined. And yet, this very "Jewish" gospel ends in Galilee, not Jerusalem. There is a reason for this. In an earlier quote, Matthew had pulled from Isaiah a reference to the "Galilee of the Gentiles" from which "a great light" would shine for "the people who sat in darkness." Now, Galilee was not the center of Hebrew life and thought. If anything, in the Jewish imagination it was commonly associated with non-Jewish folks, or Gentiles. Jesus began his ministry there, called out disciples there, then moved toward Jerusalem - the heart and soul of Hebrew faith.
But the story doesn't end in Jerusalem. As Matthew makes clear, it begins again in Galilee, and this time it's headed outward to the four corners of the earth. Matthew has us stand on an unidentified mountain In Gallilee and there Jesus points us beyond ourselves. Our purpose, he tells us, is not to turn back to Jerusalem, but to "GO" forward. Now, before we examine the corollaries to this statement of mission, let me note a detail on the side.
Matthew says that when the disciples made it to this mountain, "they worshiped him." In addition, however, Matthew says that "they (or at least "some" of them) doubted." On the one hand "they worshiped," on the other hand "they doubted." Sounds real to me. This is territory upon which we all stand. Now, their doubt is not so much in relation to Jesus. They believed he was there with them. Obviously, he had risen from the dead. He was alive. They didn't disbelieve that. Rather, their doubt involved hesitation, indecision, uncertainty over what they should do next. Too much had happened too fast for them to take it all in. There had been an awful lot of "GO-ing going on." Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
These are real people, just like us, who fluctuate between worship and indecision. To such hesitant, often uncertain people, who are far from perfect, Jesus gives his commission. We, like they, amid our own "GO-ing going on," need to apply this commission to our own daily struggle. What sort or "GO-ing" are we "going" to be about? Can we decide?
To answer that question comes our Great Commission (not just theirs). Of course, like a "Mission Impossible," we can choose not to accept it. Once we open the envelope, however, we'd better listen up. So, now, hear these words as if you've never heard them before. Hear them as purposeful words to help make sense of all the "GO-ing going on," rather than as one more task on your "to do" list. Hear them as a key to placing what you do, as a disciple, in perspective.
"GO," said Jesus. "Make disciples." The word "make" does not involve force, as if we can "make" anyone do anything. No one can make another person a disciple in that sense. But, through nurture and challenge, we can provide creative ground for a person to become a disciple, fully involved in the process. It doesn't happen overnight. In reality, it takes a lifetime. But that's what we're to be about if we're to follow Jesus.
"Make disciples of all nations," he said. That's not to be misunderstood as collectively converting a nation in one fell swoop. Lining up your soldiers and marching them through a river while a priest gives a blessing, like the Roman Emperor Constantine did in 312 AD, doesn't make them disciples. It just makes them wet soldiers. The real point is that the gospel is not limited to just us. For those first disciples, it meant that the good news was for all the world, not just for the children of Israel. Today, it means that we need to reach out beyond our Germanic Brethren background. To put it differently, we need to reach beyond just the folks with whom we're comfortable.
Jesus futher commisioned us to "Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." I could go to town on those words, couldn't I? Let me instead inform you that in three weeks, we'll do just that with some of our youth. Baptism is a vital part of making disciples, a conscious decision to believe in and follow Jesus. It is not an ending, but the beginning, of a lifelong journey. Come prepared to support these persons with your prayers and your presence. Come, ready to reaffirm your own baptismal vows.
"Teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you," Jesus went on to say. Remember that the word "obey" means both "listening" and "doing." We are not creating mindless robots, but disciples who lean their ears toward God's voice in such a way that the body follows. Teaching is a vital calling in the life of the church. It's included here in the great commission. It must be important, then. Are we hearing the call? Are you?
Yes, that's the key. Are we listening? Are our busy schedules prioritized by these essentials? How do all our "GO-ings going on" fit in? In what we are about daily, how are we "making disciples?" Or, to put it in terms of our final hymn, how are you letting your light burn bright? If some of our "GO-ing going on" is not at all contributing to our larger vocation of making disciples, what then should we do? Well, I'll have to leave you with that question. Only you can answer it.
But before I do, let me add the clinchers. You see, Jesus framed his great commission between two statements not to be forgotten. The first is that "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to (him)." He didn't say this so that he could then ram his command down our throat. His words are more than a request, they have authority, authenticity, they are connected to the author - the Creator. However, he doesn't force his will upon us. Rather, we share in his authority, his authenticity. That means we are not powerless against all the "GO-ing going on." We can shape our living, and prioritize "in" the most important things. If we are willing.
The second clincher is a promise. "I am with you always," he said. We are not alone amid all this "GO-ing going on." He's with us every step of the way, through thick and thin. When prioritizing "in" the essentials brings up against those who consider the purpose behind what we do foolish, he is there. He does not ask us to do what he has not already done. He is there. "I am with you always," he promised. Remember that amid all the "GO-ing going on."
©1996Peter L. Haynes
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