BIBLE READINGS: 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 Matthew 28: 16-20
Sometimes you’ve got to wonder what Jesus is thinking. In the New Testament there are a number of times where you just have to wonder what’s going. It seems there are instances where Jesus just doesn’t seem to make the most realistic plans or the best decisions. Today’s gospel lesson from Matthew 28 is just one of those occasions where you’ve got to wonder about Jesus. Now we call this text which ends the gospel according to Matthew, “the great commission.” And we pay lip service to how wonderful the vision for mission is in this text, but really what’s going on here?
When you look at it in detail it is not all that great of a commission. In fact from a realistic perspective it is a recipe for disaster. Who came up with this thing anyway? Certainly not anyone who has done much market research and so knows what will and won’t sell to the general consumer. The “Great Commission” Jesus gives his disciples seems more like a commission for failure.
So what’s wrong with the great commission? First problem is that Jesus has assembled a mediocre sales force.
11 disciples journeyed into Galilee onto the mountain which Jesus had directed
them. And upon seeing Jesus they worshipped and some doubted. Matthew 28:16-17
You see the problem? First of all, there’s only eleven of them. Jesus has already lost 8.3% of his personnel before he has even started. With an attrition rate like that he will be lucky to have anyone left within a year! Second, they are worshipping Jesus but at the same time what else are some of them doing? Doubting. How can this mission hope to succeed when some are doubting right from the start? Here they’ve got the risen Christ right in their midst and yet they are already have doubts.
No coach would send their players out on the field with doubts. They would be telling their team they WILL win. And yet Jesus seems quite content with doubters. He doesn’t say, “Hey if you want to be part of a successful mission team you can’t have doubts.” No, he is entrusting his mission to worshipful doubters.
That seems crazy! These “disciples” have never proven themselves to be anything cowards who one moment swear undying allegiance and then the next moment run out of difficult situations leaving Jesus to fend for himself. If Jesus were smart, he’d dump them. He’d start all over again by assembling a crack team of the best and brightest. He’s wasting his time with this group of the least and mediocre.
Next problem: His basic marketing strategy for mission is just not doable. Go everywhere? Make disciples of everyone? That’s a needless drain of resources; a waste of energy. A much better marketing strategy is the one presented elsewhere in the Bible, offered by King Cyrus of Persia.
Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem. Whoever is among you of all God’s people, may the Lord their God be with them. Let them go up. 2 Chronicles 36:23
Can you see the difference? King Cyrus is much sharper than Jesus. He knows what will work. Cyrus operates with a “if you build it, they will come” approach to God’s mission. Build a single house to the Lord and have people come to you. Instead, what’s Jesus idea? Who goes to whom? Jesus says to his mission workers, you do to them. What kind of strategy is that? The day of door-to-door sales is over. People don’t want to be interrupted. We hate the telemarketer’s calls; we grumble over pop-ups on our computer screens. People want privacy. And yet what does Jesus tell his mission workers to do? You go out to them; don’t stay in a nice office and a lovely building waiting for people to come to you. Bring the mission to others. Well most congregations think that’s a dumb idea and so they go with Cyrus’ “if you build it they will come to you” understanding of mission rather than Jesus' “going out to bring the gospel to others” mode of mission.
And that brings up the next problem with Jesus’ plan. There is no targeting for mission. To whom is Jesus sending his disciples? Anybody; everybody; no boundaries; no target audience or formulas for market share. Congregations don't want to do that. Congregations want new members who look, think, and act just like the present members. But Jesus is saying that when it comes to your mission out to all the world
ñ gender doesn’t matter;
ñ ethnicity isn’t a factor;
ñ age is not an issue;
ñ economic status is superfluous;
ñ religious background isn’t a concern;
What kind of church would we end up with if we took Jesus seriously?
But that isn’t even the major problem with this commission. The major problem is what Jesus envisions as the outcome for mission. Now here it is rather important to pay attention to the original Greek of this text, for in the Great Commission there really is only one command, and that command is “disciplize.” (Thanks to Richard Carlson for “disciplizing”)
The word disciple in the original text is not a noun. Rather it is a verb. And that’s the problem.
“All authority in heaven and upon earth has been given to me. Hence disciplize all nations by baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; teaching them to keep all as much as I commanded you. And look! I am with you all the days onto the culmination of the age.
“Make disciples” is much easier than “disciplize”. Why? Because there is a realistic end product in mind. You get a new member, you baptize them, you teach them, and then you are finished. Mission accomplished. The church made a disciple, now it can move on. But Jesus’ understanding of disciplizing is a lifelong process. It doesn’t end with Baptism and confirmation. It involves teaching people continuously to understand what being in a relationship with Christ involves. It means that the church’s mission is not a matter of making people into members of an organization but it is the always, ongoing task of equipping people for discipleship as participants in a living organism which is the body of Christ. Much easier to make members; once they are in and paying their dues you’re done. But disciplizing? That’s a 7 days a week call to obedient and faithful discipleship. That assumes commitment; that calls for life-long learning. Do we really expect that much in and for our disciplizing mission?
And what makes matters worse is that not only is this a vision of our discipleship being a 7 days a week call on our time and commitment - Jesus is saying that he is with us 7 days a week. On the one hand, we may say that it is nice that Jesus is with us all the days, but when it gets right down to it, do we really want Jesus with us all the days? Isn’t it easier to reserve Sunday morning for time with Jesus?
Can’t we be on
our own and in charge of our own actions and decisions on Monday morning,
Wednesday afternoon, and Friday night? If Jesus is always with us, Jesus is
going to have some expectations that we might really keep all that he has
commanded. That we might actually
• love my neighbor as ourselves
• love and pray for our enemies
• forgive not just 7 times but 70x7
• be the light of the world
• not to be anxious about tomorrow
• be merciful as our God in heaven is merciful
• serve rather than be served.
To take this text seriously is not a “business as usual” mode of operation either for our individual lives or our church life as the community of Christ. This vision for mission is not realistic. The church knows it and consequently the church hasn’t operated this way for hundreds of years.
To take on this commission means disciplizing is a lifelong encounter with the living Christ who is always drawing us out of ourselves and into the world as light of the world.
To take on this commission means having a minister who is not an employee that you have hired to do work for the congregation but to have a leader who through Word and Sacrament participates in equipping the discipleship of all.
To take on this commission means moving away from an “if we build it they will come” mindset for mission and embracing the fact that WE are the light of the world that is sent into a very dark and hurting world.
To take on this commission is to assume the position of follower who not only brings Jesus beyond the walls of the congregation but also obediently goes where Jesus says “go” and lives where Jesus says “live.”
I wonder if our church is really ready for Jesus’ great commission. Of course, I wonder if the 11 disciples were really ready for Jesus’ mission when they trudged up to that mountain in Galilee. They probably weren’t; that’s probably why some are doubting even in the midst of worship. And we may doubt about the successfulness of this commission for us. But then again, when did Jesus ever let our human doubts stop him?