Before reading the Gospel for today, I think it’s helpful to remember the back story, what just happened in Matthew’s Gospel,
Jesus has been crucified and his body placed in a new tomb. Guards were posted outside of it and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone. Then at dawn Sunday morning Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to see the tomb. Once there they experience a great earthquake and encounter a mighty angel who rolls back the stone while scaring the guards half to death. Then the angel instructs the women to go tell Jesus’ disciples what’s happened. In fear and joy they run to do so when suddenly there’s Jesus. He says, “Do not be afraid” and then instructs them to go tell his disciples they are to go to Galilee and where they will see him. Meanwhile, the guards revive, head back to Jerusalem where they tell the religious leaders what happened. The leaders decide to respond with fake news, making up a story about the disciples coming in the night and stealing Jesus’ body. Now, the Gospel of the Lord:
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In our Gospel today, Jesus gives his disciples their marching orders. Did you notice that he gives the orders to all of them, even the ones who doubted? He doesn’t separate the doubters from the believers to send them away, but includes everyone. I don’t know about you, but I find comfort in that. Not just because of my own doubts, but because faith is not certainty. Rather faith is trust that grows in depth and understanding throughout our lives. Doubt has been called the ants in the pants of faith, they keep it awake and moving. So everyone is given the orders, including you and me.
Next Jesus speaks with authority. Surely, authority given to him by God, but also authority that comes from his death on the cross. He has suffered and died, he’s been there and therefore is there in our suffering, our grief and sorrow, our dying and death. But if it was just that, faith would be in vain. Jesus’ authority also is revealed through his resurrection which means that hope, not despair; joy, not sorrow; love, not hate; life, not death, endures forever.
Then Jesus tells his followers, then and now, to make disciples of all nations. Note, he didn’t say to make disciples of people who look like us, who share our socio-economic background, our skin tone, our values, our political beliefs, our orientations to life, our tastes in music, our ways of worshiping. No, Jesus moves us beyond tribe and nation to include everyone. He’s intentional about this because otherwise, we wind up worshiping a lesser god that binds us up in fear and death instead of freeing us to love. All nations, all peoples.
What are we to do – to make disciples? How do we make disciples? We’re pretty good at making church members, but disciples? Good Lord, even Jesus struggled with that – one betrayed him, another denied him, all ran away, only the women remained at the cross. Make disciples?
That’s Jesus’ strategic plan for the Church – to make disciples. It begins with baptism, where his followers are given new birth into a living hope, just as Lilyanna was this morning. Then there’s teaching followed by obeying everything he has commanded, which pretty much gets down to living, growing and sharing in God’s love.
We have this people. Not because of our expertise or even the wonderful guidance by Pastor Elise Brown, but because Jesus promises, JESUS PROMISES, to be with us always, right up to the end of the age. Amen.
1 Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, New York: Harper and Row, 1973, 20.