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Go!

Mission and Ministry Series
Old Mystic, September 27, 2009
Matthew 28:16-20

Summary

Jesus’ mandate to go and make disciples continues to be the appeal to God’s people to participate, get involved, and fulfill God’s purpose to build God’s Kingdom of love, peace, and justice. God continues to build the present and the future new world and new humanity by engaging people, missional people, who are willing to go and embrace more people.

Sermon

 

To say that God is a people’s person would be too much of a humanizing image of our Creator—there are perhaps more theologically sound statements that can be made about the Living God and his nature. At the same time, the history of salvation, as revealed in the scriptures, reflects God’s desire, intention, and actions to reach out to people and get them involved in a new creation, the creation of a new humanity. People are called, invited, and challenged to be transformed. That is what salvation is all about: a new world, with new life, with renewed hopes, where love is real, and peace and justice prevail. And we are being saved to be agents of salvation. A God who loves people, who reaches out to people, wants to accomplish his purpose with people and through people.


It would have been logical—in the most rational sense—that for such an enterprise as God’s mission for the whole creation, he would have chosen the most qualified, trained, and smart individuals like we would do when facing most of our human endeavors. Yet Jesus chose common folk like you and me. In fact, many of us would claim to have a little more education and refined manners than some of the rough fishermen who were part of the entourage. But they were chosen and they were special; they were willing to follow Jesus, they even claimed to be ready to die for him if necessary, and they stuck with him in spite of their doubts and weakness. They were special because they were God’s people. And anyone can be God’s people.

Reading William Paul Young’s The Shack, I was tickled by his portrait of God as a large African American woman who happened to be fond of anyone whose name was mentioned to her—both the good and the not so good. And she was always “particularly” fond of each and everyone. This is such a powerful image of how much God loves people. Full of love and patience God waits on us!

At the same time, as we look into the scene pictured in our reading, at the climax of Jesus’ life, work, and ministry, we are also challenged to join God in God’s mission in the world because God has chosen to do his work with people. This may seem obvious to many. On the other hand, we are seeing the church shrinking and in many ways loosing its sense of mission because we have made of it a closed circle or an association of the select and the elect who are just waiting for the “members” to show up. Jesus words are compelling, “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 task is probably clear: making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them. We may even claim that we are ready for the task—don’t we have a pastor, a building (with a baptistery and classrooms), and piles of Bibles, books, and other materials? But are they coming to us?

Jesus used an action word that has inspired generations and may need to be re-introduced: Go! And this emphasis of being sent it is not just a whim of anxious pastors who want to fill their buildings and enjoy the sweet taste of professional success as it is measured by church growth standards. In fact, Jesus did not say “go and bring ‘em.” He just said, Go! There is no question that a church will not build a concrete Christian community in a particular location unless people come. But they will come if God’s people go and meet people, bless people, love people, and embrace people wherever they go, in the name of God and reflecting in their lives the character of Jesus Christ.

But what does it mean to go for “regular” folks in the pews (or chairs) today? Let me just muster a few answers. First, to go is to be missional. This is a rather new qualifier for the church and it is roughly understood as a quality of congregations that do most of the work outside their buildings. They are less concerned about institutional and numerical growth that in what they can accomplish with God and for God when they go out. They go to the soup kitchen, to the rescue mission, to the community center, the hospital, and the nursing home. And wherever they go, they focus on people and their needs and they become vessels of the Christ that want to bless lives.

The action is out there! Obviously, we’d love to meet people’s needs in this place all the time, not only on Sundays—if we actually do! But, let’s face it, people are not knocking down our doors to get in and fill our building. The work is out there and anyone can do it because that is God’s design: God is sending people to go and do it. The disciples were able to do it because they had spent time with Jesus and when making connections with people they reflected the character of the Christ.

Second, to go and do mission means for us today that we must go to places both near and far away. Going far away has traditionally being left to missionaries. They go and work, teach, and serve among people in distant lands where there are many needs to be met. Not all of us  have been called to such a task. Yet we can respond to the imperative of going by remaining connected with our missionaries, in support of them, and eventually through our own involvement in the mission field. We will be going to places if we embrace those who are in the mission field because they are part of us. Missionaries are people, our people, who God sent to reach out to underserved peoples.

Third, Jesus’ words are inviting us to go to the usual places; the places where we go day in and day out; the ordinary places; the places where we meet people, work with them, have fun with them, and where all kinds of interactions take place—including church! We do not need to get set in a sort of missional mode to be God’s people blessing people; we can be missional just by being there. The very presence of a heart that prays for the sick, has compassion for the brokenhearted, that weeps with those who weep, laughs with those who laugh, and loves people, can and will make a difference.

To go is to be there for our family, our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and the stranger that needs a helping hand. To go is to walk our daily walk—not  ignoring our own needs and nurturing—but with a focus on people and asking the question: “what can I do for you?” Not everyone will welcome us, that is a sad fact. Yet, there is so much need in this world that we will always find someone to help.

Building a Christian community here requires bringing people together. The beauty of being God’s church rests on the fact that we are a community of people that love one another, enjoy spending time together, and have fun doing things together. We help one another, we support one another, and we want to bring more people into the body. I always like to emphasize when talking about how we can grow as a congregation that people bring people. It is not the programs, or the quality of the music, or the inspiration of the preaching. Those things undoubtedly help. Transformation happens when people become missional, and go, and do good to others. Bringing them in becomes then a natural thing.

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