Co-mission: On Being One in Mission
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
June 15, 2014
Matthew 28: 16-20 (CEB)
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. 18Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 19Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
There’s a common storyline found in books and movies these days. Usually, it is in the sci-fi genre or dystopian novels, and it goes something like this: some force, whether human or alien, takes over a large bulk of humankind. This takeover may or may not be hostile, but it does not involve death. Instead, this force controls the minds of humanity and regulates those under its spell according to it’s will. So, in essence, the affected humans become like robots controlled at the whim and mercy of some horrific power. And they end up doing terrible things without even being aware of it because this outside force has taken over their minds. Does this sound familiar to you? What’s interesting, though, is that although these people are very different, they all end up acting in the same horrible ways because of the one evil mind controlling them.
Now, with that sci-fi scenario in mind, I want you to imagine just the opposite. This is the way life really is. Look around you this morning. Everyone here looks different from everyone else, don’t they? Everyone here has different thoughts running through their minds at any given point. Some of us will decide to go home for lunch today, and others of us will choose a restaurant, but not the same restaurant as another person might choose. When the new day begins tomorrow, we will all head off to different places to do different work that accomplishes different tasks. The simple truth of humanity is that no two people are exactly the same in every way. And personally, I celebrate that as part of the beauty and diversity of God’s creation; our uniqueness is part of what makes God’s creation “good”!
Still, in the midst of our vast uniqueness, we do share some things in common, particularly those of us who are called “Christian.” We have some common beliefs about who God is and how God works in the world. We believe that Christ’s death and resurrection makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins and to live eternally with God by the power of the Holy Spirit. And along with those common beliefs, we are also united by a common mission, “to make disciples of all nations.” But the thing is, sharing this common mission is not like being mind-controlled by God. Though Paul tells us that we are to let the “same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” that does not mean that we lose our unique, God-given qualities. Just think back to last week and the message that though we have many different gifts, we are all part of the same body, working toward the same goal.
Just look at the eleven disciples who gathered with Jesus after his resurrection! As Jesus makes his final statement to those disciples, it is a varied group gathered with him on some unknown mountainside in Galilee, isn’t it? Think about it for a minute. Among that small group were some fisherman, a tax collector, some younger and some older, some doubtful, and some timid. Yet, in Christ, they are all one in mission. And that mission is given to them despite their hang-ups and despite their differences. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”
Of course, we are all unique, but we all have some hang-ups, some weaknesses, too, don’t we. Matthew tells us that as the disciples were gathered on that mountain, they worshipped Jesus, but some of them doubted. Have you ever experienced doubt? Or maybe your weakness is a sort of apathy about your faith. Or perhaps there is a problem in that you are afraid for people to know that you are Christian and so you try to hide it. All of these are problems which in some way separate us from God in Christ Jesus. But look at what happens. Despite their hang-ups, these doubter disciples are sent out anyway! And in spite of what hinders us, we are called to the same mission, too! Here in the closing verses of Matthew’s gospel, doubt appears again, but it is not presented as an obstacle to discipleship. Instead, doubt is seen as an element of discipleship, from the very beginning. And though we may have some things which could hinder our discipleship, these challenges do not prevent our call to mission and to disciple-making. Instead, we must know that to Jesus, these are stepping stones to a greater discipleship! After all, there’s always room for improvement, right?!?
But here’s the thing, even though we are commissioned, we are still humans, and humans make mistakes, don’t we? Which means if this mission is going to work, it’s going to have to come from something greater than us anyway, doesn’t it? And look what Jesus says as he gives the disciples their mission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore…” Now, we know that authority can be a pretty tricky issue. We are all too familiar with the dangers of power in this world; like in those sci-fi novels where powerful agents brainwash thousands of people to follow their destructive will. Authority in the hands of the wrong person very quickly leads to corruption and cruelty. Even Christians with authority have at times abused their power down through history. But when Jesus claims that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to him, he removes any human claim to absolute authority. In essence, Jesus subtly takes away the destructive human authority and puts in its place God’s own authority. And God’s authority is one of love, is it not? This is the same sort of self-giving, forgiving love that makes it possible for Jesus to look past our weaknesses and failures and send us out into the mission field anyway. It is also the kind of gracious, forgiving, loving power which really can change the world. We just might be frail human beings, but when Christ calls us to make disciples of all nations, he does so under the very authority of the God of the universe himself. And it is by that same power, and that God-power alone, that we become so much greater than we were, and are thus enabled to do exactly what Jesus has called us to do!
As you all are aware, this past week, I traveled to Lake Junaluska for our Holston Annual Conference. Now, this is something I have been doing off and on and in differing capacities for my whole life. And for any of you who have been to Annual Conference multiple times, you begin to see that each year is unique in some way. Whether it’s because of some particular decision that was made or legislation that was passed, or whether because of something more mundane like any overly hot, cold, or rainy year, each year nearly every person at Annual Conference will have one thing stick out in their mind that marked that annual meeting. Well, this year, it was the electricity problems. The power was off in the main hotel for extended periods at least two times during the course of the conference. It blinked on an off several times during the course of the four days we were there. And, in perhaps the most noteworthy event, it went out right in the middle of the Missions Celebration worship service on Tuesday night. The problem was that transformers kept blowing up because of bad weather. But what’s important about that is that, despite the electricity problems, conference continued anyway. People slept with their windows open and showered in cold water. Worship continued “unplugged,” the old fashioned way; with plenty of loud speaking and a cappella singing. In the midst of the Tuesday evening worship service, one person posted on social media, “The lights might have gone out, but the power is still on!”
This is just the sort of power and authority Jesus is talking about. Authority which works in us and through us despite all our differences. Power which makes it possible for this crazy, faulty group called humanity, to go out and continue a mission which was begun by Jesus Christ himself. God’s authority is what makes it possible for people everywhere, from all walks of life, and in all sorts of good and bad circumstances, to come to a saving knowledge of Christ, and to worship God alone as Lord of their lives. And it is then that same power and authority which sends us out to continue in the work of making disciples of all nations.
And here’s one more thing. The mark of this authority given to us by Jesus himself is baptism. It is baptism which marks our move from a life controlled by worldly power to a life controlled by God’s authority. It is in baptism that we die to the old and rise to the new. In our baptisms we are claimed by God and called sons and daughters. And it is in our baptisms that the very power and authority of God himself pours over us as we are sent into the world as Jesus’ disciple-makers. But baptism is even more than that, too. Because here’s the thing; we share one baptism, the very same baptism as Jesus. I don’t receive a baptism so that I can preach, and you don’t have a special baptism so that you can teach Vacation Bible School, or another person a different baptism so that they can feed the homeless. We share one baptism just as there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, and just as we are all called to one common mission, our co-mission.
So here’s the long and short of it: we are in this together. Though we are many, still we are one. Even though we look different, even though we work in different places, even though we hold different values. It doesn’t matter if our theologies and ideologies are a little different. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We share a common baptism. We are many disciples, but we are one people. And by the power of Christ Jesus our Lord, the God of the universe, we are commissioned to “go…and make disciples of all nations.”
And here’s the thing. In order for “all nations” to become disciples of Jesus Christ, it takes all people.
You are here today because some disciple somewhere along the way took their commission from Jesus seriously, without any hesitation. What about you? Are you in?