Yesterday morning’s lectionary text, Matthew 28:16-20 was one of the most well-known scripture passages around. It’s commonly known as The Great Commission. In verse 18 it says, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
There’s a lot summed up right there. Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t have Jesus ascending into heaven or promising that the Holy Spirit is coming to help them. Matthew has the disciples showing up to a mountain where Jesus told them to go and both the ones who began to worship Jesus and the ones who doubted all being commissioned to go ye and tell the world. He didn’t just commission the Super Christians that had done everything right (do those even exist anyway?). Jesus commissioned these eleven – a motley crew – to go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Trinity, and teaching them to obey the commands of Christ. Surely some of these were gung ho and ready to go. Surely some of them were a little scared and wondering what was going to happen next. Surely at least one of them thought – wow, that was a cool three years, is this about the time I go back to my day job?
Last Sunday I had the opportunity to participate in my brother Josh’s ordination service. During the ordination service at a certain point you go up to the altar and there the Bishop, your District Superintendent and two people who have touched your life in some way or who have helped you on your journey to ministry, all lay hands upon you. I was honored to lay some hands on the little bro. Listening to the words the Bishop said to him reminded me of my own ordination. One of the parts that stands out is where the Bishop says something about authority. I actually carry the cards she read from in my Bible as a reminder of what I was ordained to. Here’s what they say:
Narcie McClendon Jeter, take authority as an Elder to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
There’s more to the whole service course, but there’s something important about that authority part. Not that we want the ordinands walking around with big heads and saying what’s up, look at me, I’ve got it all figured out now and I’m taking my authority and running with it. Not even. But there’s something about this ordination, the laying on of hands and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit that lets you know for sure and for certain, that it’s not about you. It’s about this larger story that you’re apart of. It’s about all of the years that you’ve worked, all the hoops, all the times of doubt and struggle, but even more than that it’s about this Greatest Story Ever Told that we’re apart of.
Enoch has now turned 4 and he’s close to 4 feet and the size of one much older than him. If you try to put the straw into the CapriSun for him, walk across the street holding hands, put him in his booster seat, you’ll hear him say these now familiar words. ”By myself, Mommy. I do by myself.” There’s something inherent in us that wants to do things by ourselves, by our own might, our own smarts, our own strength, our own glory. Yes there’s the natural claiming of one’s identity and independence, but there’s also something in us that wants to do it by ourselves and not ask for or need someone else’s help. I hear the “I do by myself, Mommy” so loudly and clearly and confidently.
Jesus with all the authority of heaven has commissioned us (sent us out with blessing) to preach the Good News but we don’t have to do it by ourselves. There’s a tension there. It’s not all on whether we do everything right, have the most energy or enthusiasm or have all the right words to say. A little secret – we don’t suddenly get ordained and have everything figured out with the perfect eulogy, all knowledge of scripture and the ability to pray beautifully on command. So it’s not all about us or our merits, but we do have to DO something. It’s not about earning anything, but it is a command to GO and make disciples and baptize and teach and remember. Those are action words. It’s not based on our power, but God’s power.
Enoch is loving superheroes right now. Somehow he heard about Iron Man and Spider Man and Batman and he loves them. He wants to pretend to be them, he plays with the action figures, the whole thing. We can’t let him watch a lot of the cartoons because they’re scary and violent but he still loves the whole idea of these heroes. We were talking to him about Sunday school last week in the car on the way to church yesterday and he was talking to my mom about Jesus healing the paralytic man and how the man got up off his mat and walked. Enoch started asking a lot of why and how questions. Why did Jesus heal him? Why did he need healing? How did Jesus heal him? It finally ended with – because Jesus is powerful. Jesus is powerful.
Jesus is powerful. More powerful than any superhero – Iron Man, Green Lantern, Black Widow, any of them. It’s not about our power in this Great Commission, it’s about God’s power. It’s about being willing to go forth and tell all nations. Not just the people in our church already. Not just the people in the USA. Not just the people that look like, act like or believe like us. Or the reverse of that – it’s not just about going to some far off place like Fiji, India or Zimbabwe to tell people about Christ. We have to look around right here, in our time and place and live not just by our lives and actions but also by our words, the Great Commission.
What does this commission of God mean to us? What does it mean that Jesus called these folks, not great scholars or awesome speakers, not just ones full of faith, but also those with their doubts? Who are the “all nations” or all people that we are called to reach out to? How does our life, our home, our family, our community, our church show by our words and actions that we are taking this Great Commission seriously?
Those are questions to think about, pray over and wrestle with. It seems like a tall order at times. Especially verse 20 – “and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” That’s a lot of stuff to teach. It seems pretty big. But we can’t forget the promise, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We are not alone in this journey. We are not alone in this task. We are not alone in this great story. We just have to be willing to be an active part of this tapestry of movement within our world. We have to trust that even when things look darkest and at their most doubtful that God is with us and we have been given the blessing and the commissioning to go and tell the world about this great God we serve.
What does the Great Commission mean to you?
What are those little nudgings from God about ways to serve or ideas that may seem impossible or people that you just can’t stop thinking about, praying for, and wondering about, or the things you keep wanting to do but putting off? Often God calls us toward something, long before we answer. What is God laying upon your heart? What is holding you back? Who are the bad guys/girls that your superhero is facing? What fears and concerns can possibly stand up to the power and majesty of Christ?
May we not push aside or compartmentalize, may we not put off until another day. May we embrace and wrestle and intentionally wonder and vision and ask God to lead us and guide us as we depend on God’s power and might to carry us forward.