>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, February 1, 2009.  The text for this week’s passage is Matthew 28:16-20.

Two weeks ago, we looked at the story of Samuel.  As a baby, Samuel was dedicated to the Lord and was raised by Eli, the high priest, at the tabernacle.  Hopefully you walked away knowing one simple truth: you are called.  You are called to do ministry right where you are.  You don’t have to be ordained; you don’t have to be employed by a church; and you don’t have to leave your current field of expertise.  What you do need to do is look for those opportunities where you are already.  Look for ways to serve God where He has you at this stage in your life.
Last week, we looked at the story of Jesus’ call to four fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus lived in that community and built relationships with these men.  When he comes and says to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” they drop everything they are doing, leaving behind their nets and even family members to follow him.  Peter, Andrew, James and John leave behind everything they’ve ever known to follow Jesus.  We know that even today, Jesus calls us out of our comfortable surroundings, at the most inconvenient times, in order to follow him.  And if we are faithful to this call, we often find ourselves in places we never would have imagined, doing things we never would have thought about and loving every minute of it, regardless of how difficult it seems.
This week, I want to look at what God calls us to do as His disciples.  Once we answer our primary call to live in relationship with God, and we lay down everything we are and everything we have in order to follow Him, what are we to do?  The call that we have to make disciples, which is found in Matthew 28, is a call that we all have as individuals, and it is a call that we have as a community of believers as well.  I’d like to begin looking at today’s passage with the second half of verse 18.
Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  Notice, he says, “all authority,” not “some authority,” or “most authority.”  And it’s not just the authority of heaven or just the authority of earth.  “All authority in heaven and on earth.”  Jesus has absolute authority.  We have to be willing to give over our wants, our desires and recognize that it is Jesus who has to reign in us and over us.  We will never truly have peace in our lives until we recognize and submit to Jesus’ ultimate authority, and, let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment, that is something we don’t want to do.
We live in an age of self-government and instant gratification.  We want to be able to make decisions for ourselves.  It’s built into the very core of our government.  I’m not saying that democracy is bad, I’m simply pointing out the obvious here.  If we don’t like who is in office, we can very easily vote the person out in favor of somebody new, who we do like.  We like to know that we have that certain amount of control over an area of our lives.  In the same way, in a society built on instant gratification, if we want something, we find a way to get it, even if we don’t need it or have any real use for it in the first place.  I read somewhere in the last month that Americans spend 110% of their income on an annual basis.  People would much rather dig themselves deeper and deeper into debt than go without something for a period of time.  We have fast food restaurants all over the place that exist solely to get their customers exactly what they want at a moments notice.  I love fast food, but let me tell you, I don’t eat it because of the amazing quality or the nutritional value.  I eat it because it is a whole lot easier than making dinner when Katie is not home.  I put Pizza Rolls in the microwave because I don’t want to wait the 10 minutes that it takes to cook them in the oven.  I eat Pizza Rolls in the first place because they are quicker and more convenient than baking a frozen pizza.  Do you see where I’m going with this?
We do things in our lives because it fulfills an immediate want and it is convenient for us.  But recognizing and submitting to Jesus’ ultimate authority doesn’t fulfill an immediate want nor is it particularly convenient for us.  It is a whole lot easier for us to just show up at church once a week instead of making the day-to-day investment of becoming a disciple.  Recognizing and submitting to Jesus’ ultimate authority disrupts our lives.  It challenges the status quo.  It destroys our complacency and false sense of security because at some point we have to stop and realize that Jesus doesn’t fit into this tidy little box that we have carved out for him.  Do you remember what I said about discipleship last week?  Jesus does not call us to make discipleship a part of our lives, he calls us to be disciples.  Being a disciple is a response to our primary call to live in relationship with God, and out of that relationship we begin to hear and respond to the call that Jesus lays out before his disciples here in Matthew 28.  And when I say “his disciples,” I don’t just mean the 11 that showed up at the mountain in Galilee that day.  I mean every person here who considers themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ.
What I find perhaps most interesting about today’s passage is that from verse 19 to halfway through 20, there is one sentence and one main verb.  “Go therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all which I have commanded to you.”  There is only one verb in that sentence, and it means “to make disciples.”  I know what you’re thinking – what about “go” and “baptizing” and “teaching.”  Well, those aren’t main verbs.  In the Greek, those are participles, which act as a type of verb/adjective mix.  In one sense, they are verbs, but they don’t stand alone in the structure of the sentence.  They serve as modifiers of the main verb.  Through these participles, we get a deeper sense of what Jesus means when he says “make disciples.”
The first modifier is translated as “go” in just about every version I have come across.  However, it doesn’t catch the full sense of the Greek word.  Another way of translating it is, “having gone out.”  What does this add to the mandate to “make disciples”?  Well, it adds the assumption that we are already out there, and we should be.  I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it like this, but when you are reading Scripture, you are not ready the history of the Jewish people or the story of early Christianity.  You are reading something that is a part of who you are.  You are reading about your story, not just history.
When we read about the exodus from Egypt, we are reading the story of our forefathers who were freed from 400 years of slavery.  When we get frustrated with the Israelites for falling into idolatry, or with the disciples for “not getting it,” we can look at those stories and see ourselves just as easily, as long as we are being honest.  These stories of Scripture are so exciting because at some point, we begin to see ourselves in them.  It’s almost like looking into a mirror.  And then, we realize something.  We realize that the story of redemption that is found in Scripture is our story as well.  We no longer have to worry about our standing before God.  We no longer have to fear death because we know what, or rather Who, awaits us.  We can truly live our lives as intended – in relationship with our Creator.  This is exciting stuff, and what happens when we get excited about something?  We can’t help but share it with other people.  We will often steer our conversations around to the point that we can talk about it some more.  It is the focal point of our lives.  That is what Jesus is assuming is going to happen to the disciples as well.
Think about it for a minute.  Their close friend, who they’ve spent nearly every day with for the last three years, who has had an incredible impact on their lives, who they truly believed was the long-awaited Messiah, was killed.  Now, three days later, he has risen from the dead, and suddenly, everything that was so cryptic and mysterious has been made clear.  He indeed was the Messiah, but that meant so much more than they ever realized before this point.  They are going to tell other people, they can’t help but do so.  By saying, “having gone out,” Jesus is recognizing that they are going to tell people, and he is saying, “Since you are going to be telling everyone in the first place, make disciples.  Do for them what I have been doing for you over the course of the last three years.”  Jesus didn’t have to tell them the process of how to make disciples, because they knew it.  They just went through it themselves.  It was that three year period of living their day to day life alongside Jesus, listening to his teaching and seeing them in action.  Now it was time for them to share that good news with others and to help open their eyes to redemption and reconciliation, just as Jesus had done for them.
What we see in the next two modifiers is a two-step process that helps bring people from not even knowing Jesus to making disciples themselves.  The first one is “baptizing.”  Baptism is an act of entering into the faith community.  It is the outward sign that something significant has happened in our lives.  We approach baptism as more than just an individual decision as United Methodist Christians, and we do so by two different means.
The first one is as the culmination of the process of evangelism.  It’s what we might call a “believer’s baptism.”  This type of baptism begins with us being obedient to share our faith with others.  I know I haven’t been in ministry for a long time, but I have never seen or heard of somebody who just wakes up and decides that they want to believe and be baptized into the Christian faith.  In fact I have heard that it takes on average somewhere around 20 encounters with the story of the Christian faith before someone will get to the point where they believe.  But when they do come to the point of belief, they enter into the faith community by professing his/her belief before the congregation.  In this way of baptizing, we welcome the new believer into the community of faith and reaffirm our own vows of baptism.
We do things a little differently when it comes to our infants.  We baptize an infant into the faith community and it is the community who promises to help the parents raise the child into the Christian faith.  Before it is all said and done, this child has to accept the faith for his/herself, which happens in confirmation.  In both cases, baptism is about the community of faith, and not just about the individual.  There is a significant role that we have to play before people come to be baptized, when they are being baptized, and then after their baptism because baptism is not the ultimate goal.  Baptism is a major step along the way, but it is not the final destination.
The final modifier in Matthew 28 is “teaching.”  This is the process that we typically refer to as discipleship.  This is why baptism is a good start, but not the end result.  We have to be able to raise people in the Christian faith, and this is not always easy.  We don’t have to know everything about what it means to be a Christian, and we don’t have to have all the answers, as we often think we do.  We can bring people along to where we are while learning from those who are further along.  Discipleship is a continual process of learning, living and growing.  We start the process of discipleship by hearing the gospel, but we never finish it.  We are always taking one more step to become like Christ.
So, that brings me back to today’s question.  Now what?  Now that we know we have been called, now that we know we have to leave everything behind to answer this call, and now that we know our call is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, now what?  How can we be a congregation that focuses on making disciples?  How can we grow in our own walk of faith, and how can we introduce others to the faith and begin the process of discipleship with them?  These questions bring us to a point where I don’t have all the answers. 
 
I know some very basic things that we need to do, but the specifics are beyond just me and my efforts.  I know that we need to be welcoming to those who visit with us.  I know that we have to have a commitment to reach out to those who have yet to hear the message of the gospel, even if it means getting out of our comfort zone a little.  I know that we have to be intentional about our faith development.  We have to want to grow in the faith.  Discipleship is a choice.  I know that we need to be willing to step out into the community, hear the needs and decide where it is that we can be of the most assistance.  We have to commit to the vision that Christ has placed before us to “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 all that [he] has commanded.”  So, what do you say?  Can we allow God to transform this congregation into one that is known by the community and by the surrounding communities as a congregation who is eager to spread the message of the gospel and desires to build up mature disciples?  I think we can, but we have to decide to do it – both as individuals and as a congregation.
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