A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
April 28, 2019
If you recall last week, we were facing competing narratives of what happened at the tomb of Jesus. The women told the tale of the angel, the earthquake, the empty tomb, the message, meeting Jesus. The religious and political leaders paid the guards to tell the story of disciples stealing Jesus’ body so they could claim resurrection.
It is into this situation of conflicting stories that we have Matthew’s very short passage about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples.
The disciples go to Galilee, which is a nice enough place to visit. But they aren’t there just for the fishing. They are there because that’s where Jesus had told them he would meet them. They’d heard him say he’d meet them in Galilee on the night he was arrested. The women had heard the angel tell them to meet Jesus in Galilee. And Easter morning Jesus also told the women to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.
And they go.
The disciples are sometimes the foil for Jesus in the gospels. Sometimes they miss the point, say the wrong thing, and likely make Jesus hit his head against his desk.
But here. The disciples are everything we’re called to be. They show up as instructed.
Why do you think they went? Do you think they wanted to see for themselves what the women had said? Do you think they were fully confident it was Jesus they would see when they got there?
Matthew doesn’t tell us this, but I wonder if there was a conversation about it. “Are we really going to do this? The authorities may still be looking for us. Jesus told us he’d meet us there, but we saw him die. Yes, I heard what the women said. But dead is dead, right? And we didn’t steal his body, but what if the guards are right and someone did?”
Ultimately, the disciples trust the women’s story, trust what Jesus had told them before his arrest, and they go to Galilee.
When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
In some ways, this passage feels like John’s story of doubting Thomas. And I am a big fan of Thomas and his need for knowledge and personal experience. I hope your faith will always be a place you can voice your doubts so that you can come to new understanding.
The word used in Matthew’s gospel is not the same word used in John’s gospel to describe Thomas. Thomas has intellectual questions, but this word ‘doubt’ in Matthew means to waffle, to stand in two places. This is a word about being lukewarm, not about having questions.
And I think the world could use more people who are willing to see two different sides of a story. But I wonder how much work we can do for God’s realm when we’re busy trying to keep our balance by standing in two different places.
I try to understand and appreciate different viewpoints, and I recognize that there are people standing in different places than I am, and that’s okay for them to do.
I have to discern where is God calling me to stand, and trust that God may call other people to stand in different places.
Think about some ways people try to stand in two places. One illustration is when Christians speak language of love—God loves you—while telling people they will rot in hell if they don’t change their behavior.
Which is it? Does God love them? Or is God sending them to hell?
Some worshiped. Some waffled.
Jesus has been raised from the dead. Jesus is dead. We don’t know what’s going on.
Some worshiped. Some waffled.
And it is to these disciples, some of whom are worshiping and some of whom are waffling, that Jesus gives what is often called the Great Commission.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…..
Jesus tells both the worshiping and the waffling disciples that all authority of heaven and earth has been given to Jesus. It’s been given to Jesus, and not to the disciples. God’s authority hasn’t been given to political leaders, and it hasn’t been given to us.
And with his authority, Jesus sends them. It is translated as an imperative—GO!
If it weren’t an awkward phrasing in Engligh, the Greek would more closely translate to “having gone” or “those who go”. It’s not a past tense word, but it’s a word sort of out of time. It is not an imperative, not a command.
Do you hear it differently if I translate it as “As you are going on your way, make disciples of all nations…..”
I like the idea of encountering people on our journey, starting a conversation as we walk down the road, discovering we have things in common, and inviting them to come and join what we’re a part of.
If it’s the imperative translation we have in our pew bibles, I feel like Jesus is telling me to GO and fetch a stranger and bring them back. When I hear “GO”, I think it’s a race, and that I’ll win if I bring back the most new people to be baptized.
There was a story on the news recently that illustrates what meeting each other on the journey might look like.
Jesus says, As you are going on your way, and you see a woman eating alone in a bbq place, invite her to join you…
No matter how you translate the word ‘GO’, the truth is that there is an expectation that Jesus’ commission to us implies that we will leave our building. We aren’t here to fortify ourselves in here and remove us from out there. We also aren’t here to wait for people to find us and become who we are.
Jesus calls us here to worship, to do our own work about becoming disciples, and to hear his words, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”, and then to be reminded that as we go on our journey, to be looking for people we can invite to journey with us.
‘Making’ disciples is an interesting way to phrase it.
We don’t smoosh them together like play doh, forming them into something they aren’t. We don’t put them on an assembly line to create mass-produced disciples who are just like each other, or worse, just like us. Making disciples is more like inviting people to become more fully who God has created them to be.
How did you become a disciple? It happened for me over time, because of Sunday School teachers who showed me love in the way they corralled a group of 6 year olds, keeping the boys from cutting my hair with blunt scissors, and for the adult class teacher who let me sit in on the New Testament class when the high school class wasn’t interesting to me.
I became a disciple at youth group.
I became a disciple in college when church people took me out for lunch and loaned me maternity clothes, offering me welcome during a difficult year.
I became a disciple when people challenged my assumptions and poorly baked opinions, expecting me to think through the things I said out loud.
I became a disciple when people invited me to be a part of an imperfect community, one full of worshipers and wafflers.
Brian McLaren, pastor and writer, has said, “it’s not about the church meeting your needs; it’s about joining the mission of God’s people to meet the world’s needs”.
Do we know what the world needs? Are we listening to our neighbors? Are we even putting ourselves in proximity to our neighbors so we can hear what they need?
The session recently voted to become a Matthew 25 church, which is a national church initiative, calling us to act boldly and compassionately to serve people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor. As the session figures out how to go about living into this call, we hope you will both share your ideas and participate in the work.
We are hoping this will expand our current practices of mission. We’re pretty good at responding to needs for food, clothing, and other short term assistance.
If we’re to make disciples as we encounter people on the journey, we are called to be in relationship, to get to know the people we help with our food, clothing, and financial donations.
As post Easter disciples, like the original disciples, we are called to navigate a path that we didn’t expect to be on. Jesus told the disciples to meet him in Galilee after his death. And they did. Let’s not lose track of the powerful absurdity of their action. They traveled to Galilee to meet up with a dead man, and in their obedience were tasked with sharing the good news with the entire world.
Because of their faithfulness, and the faithfulness of countless generations between then and now, we are here today. God is calling us to meet the risen Christ today too, and we don’t have to travel to Galilee to do it. He’s right outside our doors. Are we willing to go on the journey?