Disciple is a Verb

A sermon preached for Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho

May 9 2020

Matthew 28:8-20

Today we skip over to Matthew’s gospel for the way he tells the resurrection appearances. In Matthew’s story, we are facing competing narratives of what happened at the tomb of Jesus. The women told the disciples their story of the angel, the earthquake, the empty tomb, the message, meeting Jesus. The religious and political leaders paid the guards to tell a different story, the story of disciples stealing Jesus’ body so they could claim resurrection.

It could be ripped from the headlines today. There are active misinformation campaigns all over social media. Speaking of, please, don’t give credence to internet hoaxes like “plandemic”. Misinformation campaigns are dangerous, seeking to separate us from each other, and from a grounding in data driven science. They are not harmless or interesting. And when misinformation comes from religious or political leaders, as it did after the death of Jesus, it is even more dangerous.

Maybe there is some consolation that internet trolls and cable news didn’t invent fake news. It’s right there in scripture. sigh.

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 beautiful 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. And unlike in some other gospels, there is no indication that they doubt the reports of the women. Here, the women tell their story and are believed.

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, set aside their doubts, 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, which we heard a few weeks ago. 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 unbelief, but this word ‘doubt’ in Matthew means to waffle, to stand in two places. This is a word about being lukewarm, about straddling the difference without being clear what you believe.

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! Make disciples!

If it weren’t an awkward phrasing in English, 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. And in the phrase, “make disciples”, in Greek is actually a verb in the Greek, people aren’t things to be turned into disciples.

Do you hear it differently if I translate it as “As you are going on your way, disciple all the world…..”

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! Make disciples!”, I think it’s a race, and that I’ll win if I bring back the most new people to be baptized.

Instead, we’re being called into relationship. As you have been discipled, even with your waffling, go disciple others, inviting them into the journey too.

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 Dale Bruner, 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?

In these pandemic days, I’m not all that sure we know what we need, let alone what the world needs. Maybe right now discipling the world looks like offering what we need ourselves.

More kindness.

More grace.

More forbearance and patience.

More poetry, and singing, and art.

More attention to justice. As video came to light this week of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, gunned down as he was jogging, by two white men. These men were only charged with his murder when the public saw the video of the execution. Even in the midst of a pandemic, we have to lift up systemic racism when we see it, and call out other forms of injustice—to people, to our form of government, to the earth. There are people who will take advantage of our attention being on the virus, and not on other matters of concern. The church must give attention to justice.

More food pantries and other support for the hungry. We received a grant this week that will help us extend that help further in the community, so the session will be working on how to do that.

If we’re to disciple the world, as we encounter them on the journey, it’s a reminder that our area of concern is always wider than we may think it is. Jesus never tells the disciples they can stop discipling once they have talked to the people they like, or the ones in their neighborhood, or the ones who look like them, or vote like them.

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.

Go to all the world feels a little different now than it did, pre-coronavirus, but the call is still there. We may be doing it online, or wearing masks and from six feet away, but I’m grateful for your willingness to answer the call in new ways.

Whether you’re worshiping or waffling, I hope you hear God calling you to participate in this grand experiment of reaching out in love to the world. I’m grateful to be on this journey with you.

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