Doug in Riverside
based on Matthew 28:16-20
My message this morning is going to be about verbs, about action words.
Notice how central verbs are in the Great Commission from Matthew, where the
risen Christ commissions his disciples for mission in the world: 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. Life in the post-Resurrection, post-Pentecost world--life in the
church--is a time for activity, not passivity.
After the Resurrection, when the disciples met the risen Christ on a mountain
in Galilee--just as Moses met God on a mountain in Sinai--they heard some verbs
addressed to them in the imperative mode. Now the first of those imperative
verbs is short, sweet, simple, and strong. GO! Makes me think of a multitude of
Little League games, when I have been the third base coach hollering at my
runners to Go! Go! Go! Run hard, I tell them in practice. And when you see that
the ball has gotten past the outfielder, think home run. Run like the wind! Go!
In a kinder, gentler sort of way, this impertaive verb Go makes me
think of one of the verses to one of my favorite hymns [Let Us Talents and
Tongues Employ, Fred Kaan, 1975]: Jesus calls us in, sends us out/ Bearing
fruit in a world of doubt/Gives us love to tell, bread to share/ God (Immanuel)
everywhere. Jesus calls us in--to sacred space, during sacred time, into the
community of his sacred presence--then sends us out--on a journey and on a
mission. Just as God sent Jesus into the world--to heal, to reconcile, to make
new--so Jesus sends disciples into the world bearing in our lives this same
ministry of reconciliation.
Go therefore, says Jesus, and make disciples. Now this second verb, this
second action word, works better in Greek than it does in English. In Greek,
its one word without a space in between: makedisciples, or perhaps
discipleize. In any event, the meaning is not hard to discern. Jesus sends us
into the world with a specific task: to make disciples. Jesus doesnt send us
into the world to be silent about what we have seen and heard and tasted. Jesus
doesnt send us into the world to be all puffed up about how much better we
are than those folks who dont go to church, or those folks who go to a
different church. Jesus sends us into the world to make disciples: to bring
others into the discipleship community and equip them for ministry.
Now what is a disciple? A disciple is a follower. A disciple is a student:
someone who is learning a skill from her or his teacher, and putting that skill
into practice. A disciple is someone who represents her or his teacher.
A disciple of Jesus is a follower of Jesus: someone who has been captivated
on some level by the ministry or message or memory or image of Jesus. A disciple
of Jesus is someone who is constantly learning from Jesus how to be fully human
in the world. A disciple of Jesus is someone who represents Jesus to the world.
A disciple of Jesus is someone who is constantly learning how to better love
God, self, neighbor, and nature.
Go therefore and make disciples, says Jesus, baptizing them and teaching
them. Is this a scriptural mandate to establish a traditional Sunday school,
with cradle roll, church school classes, and confirmation? Yes it is, in part.
Years ago in our tradition, it was common practice for parents to present their
children for baptism at an early age, to enroll their children in Sunday school,
and to expect that their children would be prepared for church membership in
So yes, making disciples means in part baptizing and teaching children. But
it also means baptizing and teaching adults. And there are two kinds of baptism
for adults: water baptism and spirit baptism. For most of us adults, our water
baptism took place when we were infants or children. Spirit baptism, which is
what Pentecost is all about, is another matter entirely. You know youve
received spirit baptism when you can feel deep down in your being that God is
real, that God is love, and that God loves you, with a passionate, demanding,
challenging, comforting love.
You dont have to be a holy roller shouting Hallelujah! to know
that youve been baptized in the Spirit. As Paul wrote in the letter to the
Galatians, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So if your life in
Christ has brought more of any of these spiritual qualities into you life, then
you know youve been baptized in the Spirit.
If Jesus calls us to baptize and teach, Jesus also calls us to learn. Now
those of you who are teachers by profession or vocation know that you have to
learn in order to teach, and you also know that you learn as you teach. When I
was in graduate school at Boston College back in the 1980s, I learned a lot
from my teachers. But I also learned a lot from my teaching, when I taught a
freshman course titled Introduction to Christian Ethics - Catholic and
Protestant. Not only through preparing to give a lecture or lead a
discussion, but also through participating in conversation with my students, I
learned much even as I taught.
Part of what we are called to do when we participate in worship is to learn
more from God and from one another about what God is calling us to do and to be.
Worship is many things, but it should always include us and involve us in
teaching and learning. I dont accept the pessimistic view of the book of
Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun. Theres always something
new to learn. Why, just this past week, I had to learn how to isolate and
eliminate a virus called Happy99 from my computer. Not a happy task, to be
sure, but one that has apparently been successful!
Go and make disciples, says Jesus, baptizing them and teaching them to
observe (obey) all that I have commanded you. What the church has learned
through the centuries is that there is in the teaching and example of Jesus an
unavoidable tension between gospel and law, between grace and responsibility. So
yes, those of us who teach, whether in worship, Bible study, individual
counseling, or through any teachable moment have to struggle with this
tension. At the very heart and soul of Jesus is the grace of God: our unearned
acceptance, our unmerited forgiveness. But this is not cheap grace. It has
consequences that are sometimes costly. And so we have to teach, not only the
grace of God given to us in Jesus death and resurrection, but also the moral
claims, the commandments, placed on us by Jesus teaching and example.
Go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them, says Jesus in the
Great Commission. And remember this: I am always with you. You are never alone.
How is Jesus the Christ always with us in the discipleship community? My
cyber colleague Nail-Bender in NC tells it this way, reflecting on a time when
he went with a mission group from a suburban church to the mean streets of our
She was such a small [child, she] looked so much younger than her nine
years. But her small size certainly did not seem to diminish her demeanor, for
to share space with her was to be in the presence of sunshine. She didn't just
enter a room, she splashed into it like the laughter of a gurgling brook or the
exclamation of a breaking wave just after the first rays of dawn, a statement of
delight and beauty and joy. Her smile was infectious and her glance would melt
the heart of even the most ardent cynic. Who could not be affected by one who
was so full of life? How could anyone be cynical around Cynthia?
I met her as we prepared to go into the city. You see, she was part of this
congregation who understood the call to reach beyond their walls, this peculiar
group of church folks who understood that one could not claim life apart from
those who struggled with the daily reality of death. So each and every month
they would gather together, this eclectic community of disciples, male and
female, black and white, some young and some not so young, and they would
journey to that place where life was not so beautiful. They would pack vans full
of food and clothing and they would travel to this urban landscape where success
was measured in very small increments, measured by a hot meal on a cold morning,
measured by just one day when one was not spit on, harassed, or cursed, measured
by the piece of concrete one claimed for the night.
While the adults rushed about, she stood quietly among them, a look of
purpose surrounding her small features, like some mini-missionary. She did not
seem to understand that most who were not part of this small strange community
would consider her of little consequence. She did not seem to understand that in
most circles she would have been viewed as a risk. Instead, she stood there with
a look which seemed to say, "I was created for this reason," which, of
course, she was. Her father, another saint really, introduced her to me. As she
placed her small hand into mine, she leaned toward me, drew her lips close to my
ear and whispered, "You know, I'll help show you what to do."
Soon we had arrived at our destination, a dirty street corner not far from
the world's most famous address, a street corner that was now home to a dozen or
so beaten and damaged wanderers. Several of them ambled slowly over to the van
and stood patiently at the open door, waiting for a scrap of clothing or a cup
of hot, steaming coffee. They stood in silence, like some unseeing, upright
corpses, responding only in monotones, hurt and lifeless
until Cynthia moved
into their midst. And suddenly, as if they had been resurrected, smiles
appeared, smiles and laughter and conversation. She moved from person to person,
offering a bit of food, and offering so much more -- a glimpse of joy in the
realm of despair, a moment of happiness in the midst of sorrow. She offered the
beauty of her spirit. She offered herself. She offered the Word, the Word who
was in her flesh, the Word who is hope, the Word who is God. The Holy Spirit
blew through this congregation of the forgotten, blew through and embraced them
by the presence of this little one. Mere words could never caress as these small
hands caressed. Mere words could never proclaim this most concrete sign of the
grace of the Word. Cynthia, teaching with her touch, and touching with her love.
And in that place of death, life prevailed.
In a few hours, our food depleted, our emotions drained, we drove slowly back
to suburbia, slowly back to the home of this rather peculiar community called
church. In the silence of the journey, I found myself thinking of Cynthia, this
young and beautiful child of God. Cynthia, this nine year old angel who
understood how to love, the young and beautiful child of God who struggled each
and everyday with the debilitating disease of Cystic Fibrosis, who always seemed
to find a way to bring hope to the other.
And the master, the suffering servant, moved through the crowd touching those
around him, giving them life and bringing them hope. Jesus moved through the
crowd in the person of a diminutive and miraculous nine year old girl - Cynthia,
Jesus calls us in, sends us out/ Bearing fruit in a world of doubt/Gives
us love to tell, bread to share/ God (Immanuel) everywhere.
Thanks and praise be to God! Amen.