Sunday, April 27, 2014
Sermon: Matthew 28: 16-20 The Great Commission
We’re almost coming into the time of year when my doorbell starts to ring with increasing frequency. Tourists from America, Canada, and Australia arrive at the door, seeking information about their great, great grandparents who left this parish to seek their fortunes across the ocean. They’re wanting to get back to where it all started; to the townland of their ancestors; sometimes thinking they’ll see the very cottage that was left behind. To see how their family line started, by getting back to their roots.
Part of my family can do the same by going to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra. My great aunt lived in one of the wee houses in Meeting Street, and now her family has grown and spread. Their family history is an actual part of history; their roots are there to discover.
In our reading today, Jesus is with the eleven disciples in Galilee. As you read through the gospel, you might wonder why the insistence on Galilee. After all, you might remember last week that the angel had told the women to tell the disciples that Jesus was going ahead of them to Galilee. (28:7) And then when Jesus meets the women, he tells them again: ‘go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ (28:10) And if you remember from the middle of Holy Week, at the last supper Jesus had told the disciples that they would all abandon him, ‘but after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.’ (26:32). Galilee, Galilee, Galilee. Why Galilee?
Galilee was the place where it had all began. It was by the sea of Galilee that Jesus had called the first disciples (4:18). It was in the region of Galilee that Jesus began to teach and heal. It’s there that Jesus had started his ministry, and it’s there that Jesus starts afresh. Jesus takes the disciples back to the roots, back to square one. They might have deserted him, but now they’re starting again.
Except, this is something new, something different. Things are just going to be the same old way they had been before. Jesus has died and been raised. He’s not going wandering around Galilee and Judea any more. Instead, Jesus gives the great commission, he tells them the way things are going to be.
This isn’t just a great suggestion; or a great optional extra for super keen Christians. Jesus gives the great commission, the orders for the church in every generation. It has worked out really well that we happen to be reading this on the day of our Easter Vestry, as we come again to move forward for another year, continuing in the Lord’s work.
As Jesus speaks, he mentions four ‘alls’ which will keep us on task, and keep us right. The first all is: all authority. Look at verse 18: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ By his death and resurrection, Jesus is confirmed as the king, the rightful ruler. He’s not just the king of the Jews, as the title on the cross said. He is the King of the whole universe - heaven and earth. He has all authority, not just a little bit. He rules over all.
When the Queen’s father died and Princess Elizabeth became Queen, the news was proclaimed. No longer was she just a princess, she was the Queen. The risen Jesus has all authority. So what?
This leads us to the second ‘all’. Jesus says: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.’ (19) This is the business of the church - to make disciples, not just in one place, but of all nations. The church is called to go and make disciples, followers, learners in every nation. This is the only measure that counts. We can sometimes get caught up on finances or on figures; accounts and attendances. But the thing that really matters is whether we are making disciples. Are we growing in our devotion to Jesus? Are we following him more and more? How have we grown in faith over the past year? Who has begun to follow Jesus?
This is the reason why the church exists - for disciples to make disciples. Everything that we do should be helping this aim to be achieved, through church and Bible study; meetings and organisations; pastoral visits and occasions. It’s something that we’re all involved in, not just the rector.
But, you might be asking, how do we do that? How do we make disciples? What should we be doing with them to make disciples? Jesus tells us how: ‘baptising 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.’ (19-20)
Disciples are learners. We’re learning to obey all - everything that Jesus has commanded. Throughout Matthew’s gospel, we have lots of his teaching. The sermon on the mount is very practical when it comes to obeying Jesus’ words. This is what needs to be passed on. It’s not just, do whatever you feel like. Christianity isn’t just do whatever makes you feel good. There is a body of teaching that has been passed on, and it’s our job to pass it on to the next generation, and to every nation.
It’s at this point that things can start to seem daunting. Wow, that’s a big job that you’ve given us. How could we possibly do that? It’s like the first day that you’re left on your own to look after the house. I remember the first time mum and dad went away for the weekend and I could stay at home. I didn’t have to stay with granny. I was big enough now. So off they go, and suddenly you begin to think - oh, will I be able to manage to cook? check all the windows and doors... There was one time when I had some friends over and I turned quickly to go and answer the door, only to kick a full glass of club orange onto the wall. We got it cleaned off, and mum never knew - unless she’s reading/listening this on the internet!
So the disciples might be thinking to themselves - this is a big job. How could we do it? You might be thinking as well, how could we continue to do that in this generation? Well, Jesus gives them and us some encouragement with his final all. Look at what he says: ‘And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (20)
You’re not on your own. No matter where you might find yourself; no matter what comes when you step out to obey Jesus’ command; no matter what pressure you might find yourself under, you are not alone. Jesus is with you at all times, always.
The risen Jesus has all authority. He sends us to make disciples of all nations, by teaching them all he has commanded. And we are not alone, he is with us at all times.
What an encouragement as we begin a new year in the church’s life, as we choose a new Select Vestry and all the other offices. This is the task at hand. My prayer is that we will ourselves obey Jesus’ command as we work together to make disciples under Jesus’ authority, with Jesus’ presence and power. Amen.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 27th April 2014.