"Called to Christ's Vision"

Scripture:  Matthew 28:16-20

Opening Day

       A recent ESPN poll found that 72% of Americans consider themselves to be football fans.  That means that, statistically speaking, over half of you may be having a difficult time being here today instead of at home preparing for the Seahawks season opener today.  I thank you for choosing to be here this morning instead, and I hope that you will stay after the service for the visioning gathering, as well.  I promise that I’ll make my best effort to provide score updates every 15 minutes or so.

       Opening Day of the season is always exciting.  There is so much hype building up to the beginning of the season, but none of that hype really matters until the season begins and the teams are able to prove that their statistics and their training translate into a winning team on the field.  After spending all of that time preparing, there is nothing left to do but take the field and play their heart out.  Asked about opening day, quarterback Cam Newton – who will be facing off against the Seahawks this morning – said, “It’s going to be an adrenalin rush like no other. … The first game of the season, everybody’s juiced.  Everybody’s healthy.  Everybody’s happy.  Everybody’s undefeated.”[1]

       Being a preacher is a strange thing.  I have apparently reached a point that I can’t even read an article about football without thinking about how it relates to the scripture passage.  Because, you see, Newton’s quote makes me wonder:  What would those eleven disciples have said if somebody asked how they were feeling as they received Jesus’ call to go forth into the world, making disciples of all nations?  Were they feeling filled with adrenaline, ready to run out and start proclaiming, teaching, and baptizing?  Were they, like Cam Newton and his teammates, feeling “juiced”?  Healthy?  Happy?

Casting Vision

       For the three years prior to the events of this morning’s gospel lesson – known popularly as “The Great Commission” – these eleven disciples had been studying and training with the best.  For three years, those disciples spent every moment with Jesus, watching him, listening to him, and learning from him.

       Because, essentially, that’s what makes up the job description of a disciple.  At the most basic level, a disciple is a student.  A disciple is like an intern, “watching, practicing under supervision, asking questions, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes.”[2]  Disciples are leaders in training, people who have decided to be with another person in order to receive their wisdom and to become capable of doing what that person does or to become what that person is.

       For three years, they had been learning about Jesus’ vision for the world and its inhabitants.  You see – when Jesus looked at our world, he didn’t just see its imperfections and brokenness…  He saw the beginnings of God’s kingdom.  He showed his disciples his vision of human relationships marked by love, service, and equality.  He taught his disciples that the way things are isn’t the way that they have to be.

       But then all of that was interrupted when Jesus’ ministry was suddenly cut short.  Faced with the arrest and crucifixion of their leader, the disciples had their hopes and dreams torn away.  If Jesus was killed, how could his vision for a different world possibly live on?  After all – didn’t his death prove that his vision was a mere fantasy, a utopian dream of a world that could never be?

Good News

       And therein lies the Good News of our gospel lesson this morning. These five verses provide the story of the last recorded encounter between Jesus and his disciples, and in Matthew’s Gospel, the very last words that Jesus ever spoke.

       Directed to return to Galilee where Jesus would meet up with them, the disciples followed yet again, not knowing what they would encounter.  Galilee was where it all began and Galilee, it seems, would mark the new beginning.  As they traveled to Galilee, I imagine the disciples filled with hope – that they might actually encounter Christ there.  It was their last ditch effort to possibly find out what, if anything, happens next – should they throw it all away and count the last three years as loss, or was there still something they could do to continue their journey?

       Then Christ meets them.  He meets them just briefly – long enough to send them out again.  His simple words of commissioning to the disciples were, “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.”

       Receiving the Great Commission, the disciples are no longer the “leaders in training.”  They are now called not just to know Christ’s vision, but to fulfill Christ’s vision for the Church and for the world.  It is not enough to have learned about the Kingdom of God, but each of the disciples is sent forth into the world to do the work necessary to make God’s Kingdom a reality.  The time of preparation is over – it’s time to take to the field and see how their training plays out in the real world.

Taking The Field

       So, I wonder again… What would those eleven disciples have said if somebody asked how they were feeling as they received Jesus’ call to go forth into the world, making disciples of all nations?  Were they feeling filled with adrenaline, ready to run out and start proclaiming, teaching, and baptizing?  Were they, like Cam Newton and his teammates as they prepare to take the field on opening day, feeling “juiced”?  Healthy?  Happy?

       If my own experiences of being called and sent hold true for the first disciples, then they probably felt all those things…  As well as terrified, nervous, and under-prepared.  But also blessed, and excited, and hopeful.  There are many emotions and feelings associated with being called out as a disciple…  But no matter how discouraged Jesus’ disciples may get, they are reminded of Jesus’ last words: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  The disciples were sent, but they were not left alone – Jesus promised to walk every road alongside them.

Our Commission, Too

       There’s as reason this passage has come to be known as “The Great Commission.”  It is great because it is a commission not just of those earliest of disciples, but of each one of Jesus’ followers today, as well. 

       It is difficult to be a United Methodist without understanding that the commissioning of the disciples 2000 years ago is also our commissioning.  Our denomination’s mission statement is, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  It sounds like quite a big undertaking, doesn’t it?  What, exactly does that mean for us today?  What does it mean for the congregation of Bay View United Methodist Church?

       There are two big questions that we are called to answer…  They are big questions, with no simple, immediate, or obvious answers.

       First, what does a disciple look like at Bay View United Methodist Church?  If we are called to make disciples, it is important for us to know what one looks like, in the first place.

       The second question is, what does transformation look like in the community of Bay View?  Before we can expect to transform the world, we need to first look at how we can transform our neighborhoods and our community.  Perhaps another way to ask this question is, If Bay View UMC ceased to exist tomorrow, who would care?  How would the community beyond the walls of the church be impacted?

       These are big, tough questions…  But questions that need to be asked answered.  It is my hope that, over the course of the next five weeks – 4 weeks of visioning plus our anniversary celebration – we will begin to answer these questions.  We may not have answers that will work forever – but we will at least get the conversation started.  We will begin the hard work of answering these tough and important questions.

       We have been called to discern Christ’s vision for ourselves as individuals followers, and for our congregation – Christ’s Church.  It’s a big task, but we are reminded that Christ is with us, to the end of the age.

[1] Quoted by Scott Fowler in The Charlotte Observer, accessed at http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/09/07/4294614/everybodys-happy-everybodys-undefeated.html#.UivPyGTFTUM

[2] Steven P. Eason, “Matthew 28:16-20: Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting On The Word (Lousiville: WJK Press, 2011), 48.