The Mission of the Church II - May 2, 2018
© 2018 Evan D. Garner
Who taught you about following Jesus? Not the Sunday school teacher or preacher who told you about him. Not the parent or grandparent who made you go to church. Not the wife or husband who still makes you go to church. But the people who taught you what it means to follow Jesus, the ones who showed you how to be his disciple. Who were those people in your life?
You are here today because someone invited you to become a disciple of Jesus. You didn't come to Rhodes-Ferry Park in Decatur, Alabama, on a Wednesday evening to break bread with other Episcopalians from this part of creation because you had to. You might not be here strictly because you want to, but, somehow or another, you are here because you are a disciple of Jesus. And that means that, somewhere back in your past, someone showed you how to follow Jesus as a disciple. And I bet you can think of who it was. Maybe it was one person, or maybe it was a dozen, but I bet you can remember their names and see their faces. I've been to church many times and heard many sermons and gone to many Sunday school classes. I've seen lots of preachers on the television and heard even more of them on the radio. I can't remember much of what they said. But I can tell you about Pat and Wayne and Ann and Emily and Doug and John and Clive and Robert. I still remember those people who did more than tell me about Jesus, and I can tell you how they held my hand and led me gently but firmly into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Who are those people in your life? And who are the people in this world who could say that about you?
In Matthew 28, Jesus says to the eleven disciples, "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." He doesn't say to them, "Go therefore and tell all nations about me." He doesn't tell them to preach sermons or teach Bible studies. He doesn't tell them to put his name on billboards or to quote him on t-shirts or to brag about him on bumper stickers. He tells them to go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything that he has commanded them. And that's hard, hard work. But that's the work of a disciple. That's the calling of someone who follows Jesus. That's the your mission and my mission and the mission of the whole church.
Making disciples isn't easy. It takes time and effort and, above all, relationship. You can't invite people to follow Jesus as Lord without knowing at least a little bit about who they are and where they've been and what their hearts desire and what they will leave behind when they become Jesus' disciple. You can't baptize someone without knowing him, without looking him in the eye, without touching him. You can't encourage someone to become obedient to everything that Jesus has commanded without walking beside her and joining in her struggles.
Here in the Tennessee Valley, we live in a culture that loves to talk about Jesus, but I don't see or hear nearly as many people who are committed to making disciples of Jesus, and I include myself in that. How much of what we do as Christians, how much of what we do as churches, is about making disciples? But that is what Jesus tells us to do: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." But how are we to do that? By "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that [Jesus] has commanded [us]." We are called to invite people into the converted, transformed, redeemed life that is symbolized and enabled by the waters of baptism. We are called to teach them to become obedient to the disciplined life of a follower of Jesus. That doesn't mean to make them feel guilty when they mess up. Nor does it mean to lay heavy, Pharisaical burdens upon their backs. It means to show them what it means to be set free from sin and guilt and shame in order that they might choose to become joyful, obedient slaves to the cross of Christ. This is more than proclamation. This is more than hospitality. This is the transformation of the world into the reign of God, and it starts with us, and it grows one person, one life, one disciple, at a time.
Be encouraged. Yes, the calling is difficult. Yes, the challenge is great. Yes, many of us have our doubts. But Jesus isn't worried about that, and neither should we. Look around and see that the kingdom of God has already taken hold in this community, in your heart. The risen Lord is here with us. We are not alone. We stand on the shoulders of those who taught us how to follow Jesus as Lord. Now, it is our turn to invite the world into the transformed life of discipleship by holding their hands and walking beside them and inviting them to be forever changed by the love of God in Jesus Christ.