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:
There is an ancient Christian tradition of walking a labyrinth. Christian labyrinths are like mazes except there are no choices. It is simply a path that leads from the outside to the inside through a series of turns. The purpose is to use the simple, slow, repetitive process of walking as a way to focus the heart and the mind on prayer and time with God. Once you reach the heart of the labyrinth you pause, and center yourself before retracing your steps back out.
I think the labyrinth is a great image to use for the flow of a worship service. We enter into worship through praise and confession. These acts help move us from the busyness and clutter of the world and set that aside so that we can enter a special time with God. The heart of worship is prayer and scripture, when we communicate with God and listen to the Holy Spirit speak to us through prayer, scriptures, and hopefully the sermon. The heart of worship is like the center of the labyrinth, it is a deep and mystical place to be, but it is a place that at some point we have to leave and return to the world.
We leave a labyrinth by retracing our steps back out and using the same focusing power of prayer to send us into the world. We leave worship in a similar way. After the sermon we have the response to the Word. It can come in the form of declaring our faith like reciting the creeds. It can take the form of our offerings, which are a way that we respond to what God has done in our lives. It can come in the form of leaving the space of worship and going out into the world, changed by what we have experienced here.
It is my hope that worship is always a call to action. Maybe it is a way that we recharge our spiritual batteries to get through the week. Maybe it is a way that we are challenged to think about what we do and how our lives should be different because of our faith. No matter what, I hope that our time of worship changes us for the better and inspires us to put our faith into action. If worship is not doing that then I feel like I have failed you. Worship should send us out into the world changed for the better by God’s presence and God’s call in our lives.
Over a decade ago the United Methodist Church developed the slogan of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” While it is meant as a reminder that we are meant to be a welcoming and inviting congregation, I think it is good to remember that doors swing both ways. One of the things we need to do is to open the doors of the church and go out into the world.
There is perhaps no better framing of this purpose for the church than the Great Commission that we read here in Matthew today. The Great Commission is the final instructions that Jesus gives to the disciples. It contains two key concepts. First, the disciples (and us as the church) are meant to go and make disciples of all nations and help people to be faithful followers of God. Second, and sometimes forgotten is that as we go, so will Christ. We are not commissioned to do this work alone, we do it with the help of Jesus. As Christians, as followers of Christ, we inherit this commission and the action that is entailed in it. Our faith is not passive and personal, merely a source of salvation. Rather, it is connectional and transformational. Our faith is demonstrated by our lives.
There is an old Christian saying often attributed to Saint Francis, “Preach the Gospel, use words if necessary.” In other words, we do not make disciples by telling people that God loves them. We make disciples by showing people that God loves them. Our faith is not demonstrated merely by what we say, it is experienced in what we do. It is not putting a Christian bumper sticker on our car that makes us a Christian driver, it is how we conduct ourselves behind the wheel that makes us a Christian driver. Our actions are a response to our faith and our worship.
How does worship inspire you to action? How is your life different because of the time you spend in worship each week? It is my hope that our faith makes a profound difference in our lives, but I think it can be easy to forget. Most of us have been Christians for so long we do not think about how we might be different if we were not Christian. Most of us have been going to church for so long we have forgotten the difference it makes in our lives.
Worship is a call to action, a call to a changed life. The Great Commission is the best framing of that call to action I have found, a call for us to go out into the world and transform it by our actions. So, let us remember this commissioning we have received. Let us go forth from worship each week knowing that Christ is with us as we go into the world. Let us use worship as a springboard into the week and the difference we hope to make as we share God’s love with the world. Amen
Questions to Ponder:
When was a time you left a worship service and felt inspired to go and do something because of it?
What part of the service gives you the most energy for the week?
Who do you think God is commissioning you to reach with the message of love and grace?
Ever-present God, help us to remember that whether we are in the church or in our homes or in our schools or our places of work, we are in your presence. Bless us and watch over us as we seek to put our faith into action this week. Help us to remember your command to reach out to a world in need with your love and grace. Help us to be instruments of your peace in the world. Amen