11/08/20 “This Has Not Changed”

Matthew 28:16-20

I wrote this sermon before the election day. I wrote it without knowing who had won or lost, or even whether we would know by today who will be occupying the most powerful office in the world. I decided to do this because I believe, as I’m sure many of you do, that the results of this election, more than any in recent history, will determine what kind of nation we will be, long into the future. I believe that it will have serious ramifications—whether positive or negative—for the world as a whole, and for the future we’ll leave to our children and our grandchildren. I feel so strongly about what this election means for us and future generations, that I decided to write the sermon beforehand as a kind of insurance policy—insurance against preaching out of a deep sense of relief if my candidate won, a sense of discouragement if my candidate lost, or a sense of anxiety if we still didn’t have any definite results.

The theologian Karl Barth advised preachers to write their sermons with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. My job is to preach the truth of Scripture as I understand it with as much integrity as I can bring to the task and, to the best of my ability with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to do that in a way that helps us connect Scripture to our daily lives—the things we do, the words we speak, and the decisions and choices we make. Today, as I preach this sermon, we know the results. But, regardless of how we feel about the outcome, I am here to proclaim to you that the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, has not changed. I proclaim to you that the way of Christ, which is this world’s best and only hope for transformation, has not changed. And, I proclaim to you that Jesus’ call to us to be his disciples and to carry on his mission in the world has not changed.

With that knowledge, we prepare to move forward. We move forward, not as liberals or conservatives, not as Democrats or Republicans, not even as Americans. We move forward as followers of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  We move forward as his representatives in the world, to make disciples of all nations, to baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and to teach them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us. We move forward—commissioned, just as the first disciples were commissioned on a mountainside in the hours just after the resurrection.

The fact that the disciples even went to the mountain where the meeting in our passage took place was an act of faith. At this point in Matthew’s gospel, only Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had seen and spoken to the risen Lord. First, an angel had appeared to them at the tomb and announced that Christ was risen and going to Galilee, where the disciples would see him. The angel told the women to share this good news with the other disciples. As they rushed to deliver the message, Jesus himself appeared to them and added some more: the disciples were to go to Galilee. But the disciples themselves hadn’t seen Jesus. They didn’t have any proof that Jesus was alive. All they had to go on was the word of the two women. As far as they were concerned, it could have been fake news.

But they go to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. Matthew doesn’t tell us how Jesus communicated their exact destination. But, the mountainside setting may seem very familiar, especially since we recently spent several weeks with Moses in his mountaintop meetings with God. This setting is no accident. Matthew’s community was a Torah-observing community, and Matthew frequently portrays Jesus as the new Moses. Moses offered God’s law to the people; Jesus is the fulfillment of that law. God taught Moses on a mountain; Jesus taught his followers on the mountain. Moses led the Hebrew people to freedom from slavery in Egypt; Jesus leads us all to freedom from slavery to sin and death.

However the disciples came to be in the right spot, they came with both hope and doubt. We can imagine the questions they harbored in their hearts. After all that had happened, could Jesus really be alive? Could a man who’d been crucified really be the Son of God? What were they supposed to do now, when it seemed as though their entire world had fallen apart, and all they had were the promises Jesus had made before he died and the crazy-sounding words of a couple of grief-stricken women?

As Matthew tells the story, Jesus wastes no time in addressing their doubts. He assures them that he does indeed have the authority to send them out on God’s mission—all authority in heaven and on earth is his. He has the authority to entrust to his disciples the continuation of his mission—the mission of God.

This mission is to reconcile all the world to God, including all its peoples and all of creation. On the mountain in Galilee, Jesus commissioned his disciples to do that work, and that commission is ours today. Jesus not only invites us into that mission but has made us partners in it. Think about that word “commission.”  It comes from two Latin words that mean “to be sent out with, for a purpose.” Jesus sends us into the world, with his indwelling Spirit, to accomplish his mission of bringing all things and all people into a right relationship with God.

What an enormous—and enormously important—responsibility has been entrusted to us! But, Jesus doesn’t just hand it to us and send us off saying, “Good luck with that.” Jesus gives us instructions. He tells us what our tasks are.

First, we’re to “go and make disciples of all nations.” In our translation, the word “go” sounds like a command. But there’s another way to translate Matthew’s Greek. We can also read it this way: “as you are going, make disciples.” In other words, “make disciples as you are leading your every-day life.”

This kind of “going” is not a discrete activity divorced from all that we do every day. Instead, in everything we do and in every word we speak, we are to be making disciples. That doesn’t mean we’re necessarily making converts; that’s the Holy Spirit’s work. The word “disciple” means “learner” or “student.” Making disciples is about helping people become students of Jesus—to learn about Jesus. The way we lead our lives should be visible lessons in what it means to be a follower of Jesus—lessons that will cause others to want to know him, too.

What’s the best way to be disciple-making teachers? Think about how you’ve taught the children around you. Most of your teaching probably wasn’t formal instruction, even if you are a professional teacher. They learned first by watching you—watching you bake a cake or hold a hammer, form words with a pen or sit quietly in prayer. Then, they started wanting to do those things, too. They added the sugar. They held the hammer with your hand over theirs. They mimicked the marks you made on paper, and they said “Amen” as you looked up from your prayer. As they grew, you invited them to participate more and more as they were able. They became students without even realizing it, because you were making them into disciples as you were going.

Likewise, we live in a way that allows people to observe what it looks like to be a disciple. As their interest grows, we invite them to participate with us—to be a tutor, to hand out food, to come to a worship service or a Bible study. We encourage them as they grow into students of life with and in Jesus.

But our disciple-making isn’t limited to those who’ve never met Jesus. Our lives should also be living lessons to those who share our faith journeys, helping them to grow in their knowledge and love of God, just they help us to do the same.

Our second task is to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This language in Matthew was new. Before this, baptism referred to the baptism of John—a baptism of repentance. Now it’s a baptism of inclusion. It’s a baptism that marks a transition from being outside the Christian community to being a part of it.

Of course, baptism is a sign of the relationship between the believer and the Triune God, but it also marks the relationship between the believer and the entire Christian community—the Church. Just as the fundamental nature of the Trinity is loving community, so is it the nature of the Church. Baptism is the sign of inclusion in holy relationship, with all the responsibilities and the benefits of being fully loved.

Finally, we are to teach obedience to all that Jesus commanded. What did Jesus command his followers to do? To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. To love our neighbors as ourselves. To love the community of disciples as Jesus has loved us. To give food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, to care for the sick, and to visit the imprisoned. How do we teach obedience to these commandments? We teach by obeying them ourselves so that others can see what a life of obedience to Christ looks like.

We worship and we study. We engage in acts of mercy to alleviate the suffering of individuals in our midst. But, in our world today, as it was in Jesus’ day, suffering is often caused, or at least perpetuated, by unjust, unfeeling, and sometimes downright cruel systems and polices. Jesus was never afraid to confront the authorities with the truth. And, Jesus has invested us with the authority to speak in his name on behalf of the kingdom he brought near. Our obedience must also take the form of speaking boldly and truthfully to policy makers, corporate leaders, and elected officials who have the power to change the world (or a big part of it). We must teach them to obey what Jesus has commanded us, so that this world will reflect God’s desires for all people and all of creation.

We may feel that, as a result of the election, our job as disciple-makers, baptizers, and teachers has been made harder or easier. But, the success of our mission has never depended on earthly power—whether personal or political. It has always been fueled by the power of Jesus.  Political power may assist us or slow us down, but it can’t guarantee success nor can it ultimately prevail against the power of our Lord.  It’s his power and authority over all of heaven and earth that stands behind us and goes before us. And, it’s his promise to be with us always, to the end of the age, that infuses us with the strength and hope we need to carry out the work he has commissioned us to do.

However the political winds change around us, God’s mission to reconcile the world to God’s self has not changed. The good news of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life in Christ Jesus has not changed. The task we have before us has not changed. Go therefore and, as you are going, 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 Jesus has commanded us. As you are going, remember: Jesus is with always, to the end of the age. And that, my friends, will never change. Amen.

~~ Pastor Carol Williams-Young