Commissioning of the disciples
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. 18 Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching 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.”
Thoughts on the passage:
Where do we go from here? Last week, our congregation met to consider the recommendations given to us as a part of the Healthy Church Initiative process. To continue in the program, we were asked for the support of 70% of the congregation. Through our vote we learned the program had the support of 58%. For some people, this was disappointing. They had read the report and believed that this was the direction that we need to go as a congregation. For others, this was probably a relief, they had also read the report and had concerns about some of the recommendations. Still the question before everyone was the same, “Where do we go from here?”
The technical answer to that question is that our Councils will have a joint meeting on Thursday, June 22nd to talk about what the next steps are. We will be trying to both honor the desires of those who wanted to move forward with the recommendations and the concerns of those who voted no. To do that will require prayer and more conversation. We need to hear from those who have concerns so that we can honor them. We need to hear from those who were ready to embrace the recommendations so that we can honor them too. The time for conversation in our congregation is not over.
There is also a spiritual answer to this question. Throughout the process we have talked about the need for prayer and the need to be listening for what the Holy Spirit is saying. For me, this was not some perfunctory lip service, but a deep need to really hear what God is saying to our church today. The need to listen to God did not end with the vote, if anything, given the divided nature of the result it only increased. In times of great uncertainty there is nothing better to do than to stop, pray, and listen for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us.
One thing that I am sure of is that even though Pentecost was last week, the Holy Spirit has not stopped blowing in our congregation. I have felt the Spirit’s presence in so many ways. I have seen it in the fact that so many people turned out on Sunday to be part of the Church Conference. I have heard it in the profound passion that so many have for this church and its future. The Spirit is truly stirring in our congregation. We just need to stop long enough to hear what it is saying to us.
I have read a lot of business books, and one common theme is that in times of stress and adversity, great companies return to their core values and their central mission. This is not something that is unique to business, Pastor Rick Warren has written at great lengths about the value of a purpose driven life and a purpose driven church. Churches, just like businesses, succeed when they return to their core focus and identity.
Fortunately, we do not have to look far to find that identity, it is right in front of us in the scripture passage for today. In Matthew, the disciples are given what we now know as the Great Commission: “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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” The core mission of the church is to baptize and teach, or as we say in The United Methodist Church, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
How does this help us today? It is good to remember what it is that unites us and defines us at our core. As we go forward as a congregation, what we need to focus first and foremost on is our mission of making disciples and transforming the world. There are lots of important decisions we will make as a congregation, but none of them will turn us away from our central purpose. This is what brings us together and this is what gives us the strength to go forward.
The Holy Spirit is still blowing in our congregation. Jesus promises the disciples that even as he sends them forth, he will be with them, even to the end of the age. Christ is with us too. In times of uncertainty it can be hard to remember that. In times of disagreement it might not feel like it. Still, the promise remains for us. Christ is with us.
I have been talking a lot about the institution and organization of the church with regards to this passage. I think it is also true for each one of us. The mission of the church is to make disciples and transform the world, but the Great Commission is not just given to the church, it is given to each and every one of us. It is not just for me as a pastor. It is not just for the staff and leaders of the church. Everyone one of us is given the same challenge to go and to share Christ with a world that needs it.
It is so easy to feel powerless in the world. There are big and important things going on that we might want to have an effect on and yet cannot. Whether it is terrorism around the globe, or climate change, or the politics of Saint Paul and Washington, there is a lot we might have an opinion about but have very little power. We can rant and rave to our television, our spouse, or our friends, but none of that is really going to make a difference. The real way we can make a difference is by returning back to our own core values and our own personal mission and calling.
We are all given the same Great Commission and how we live it out will look different. Some will do it by how we raise our children. Others will do it by the way we conduct ourselves in our business. Still others are sharing the gospel when they help out serving those in need. All of us have this same central calling in life. What is needed now is to feel the winds of Pentecost stirring all around us and hear again that promise. Christ is with us, so let us go to work.
Questions to Ponder:
How do you feel called to serve God?
How do you handle uncertainty and adversity in your life?
What does making disciples and transforming the world look like to you?
Holy Spirit, blow through our church and through each of our lives. Transform us from who we are into who you want us to be. Help us to surrender ourselves to you that we might be made into the people you wish us to be. Give us the courage to be made new and empowered by your presence in our hearts and lives. Amen