When I first sat in the chapel at my seminary, I immediately got a little nervous. You see, over the altar was a huge stain glass window. Around the edges of the window were emblazoned the words, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel.” I remember staring at those words and thinking, “When I said I wanted to be a priest, I didn’t mean I wanted to go out evangelize people.” Sure, I wanted to gather communities around the sacraments, encouraging us to serve the poor and needy, and creating groups of people set apart. My early vision was about the people who were already there. But that is not what Jesus commands in the Great Commission. Though Mark’s gospel is where the instruction comes from to preach the gospel, Matthew’s intent in similar. They are to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. In other words, they are to be evangelists. I don’t know about you, but no matter how many sermons I hear from Presiding Bishop Curry about the Jesus Movement, I still get nervous thinking about going out into the world to make disciples.
I have been thinking a lot this week about why, after all these years after Jesus’ commission, we are still a little skittish about the idea of going out, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching. I think a lot of our anxiety is about fear. We are afraid of what people will think. We do not want to be perceived as one of those faith groups that goes door to door, pressuring someone to come to Jesus. We do not want to be perceived as judgmental, as if by sharing the Good News we are saying someone’s life is incomplete. We do not want to be perceived as fanatical, nosy, or just uncool. And as we all know, the minute you start talking about God, you can get into all kinds of trouble around interpretation of Scripture, historical sins of the Church, and modern heresies. Forget being judged – we could lose friends!
So why in the world would we ever do what Jesus is asking? Why would we go out, make disciples, baptize, and teach? We do what Jesus asks because we were once baptized, and faithful people surrounded us, promising to journey with us, to raise us into the life of faith, and to help us get to know the mysterious, loving, life-giving entity that we call Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We do what Jesus asks because we have been taught – by countless faithful people. Some of them were priests, professors, and Sunday School teachers. But some of them were everyday people, just trying to make sense of the Word of God, who spoke truth to us and changed our lives. We do what Jesus asks because we were made disciples. At some point along the line, we learned enough, prayed enough, struggled enough, served enough, and were loved enough that we decided to walk in the way of Christ – even on those days when we do not understand fully what that means. If all of those wonderfully converting things have happened to us, have brought beautiful children of God into our lives, and have changed our lives for the better, why wouldn’t we want to share that with others?!?
I imagine you may not still be convinced. You may be still sitting there thinking about that scary window at the seminary thinking, “There is no way I can do that.” After rereading Matthew’s gospel this week, here is what I wish that seminary window had done. In that big arched window, emblazoned with the words “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel,” I would have put under the window, perhaps even in parentheses, the words Jesus says today: Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. The going, the baptizing, the teaching, the making disciples is all done because Jesus, coeternal with that creative, blessing God we read about today, through the ever-present power of the Holy Spirit is with us always, to the end of the age.[i] Not just back then, in a historical moment with the disciples, not just tomorrow when we are finally ready, but now, this very moment, God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is with us, always, to the end of the age.[ii] Our God created you in God’s image, making you very good. This community, as the community of the Corinthians did with Paul, has taught you how to agree with one another, live in peace, be a people of love who greet one another with holy kisses. And Jesus sends you out to do some hard, life-giving, joyful work, which you can do because the Jesus, through the Spirit, is with you always, to the end of the age. When we dismiss you today, we will dismiss you to love and serve the Lord. But we also dismiss you to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. And we all say, “Thanks be to God,” because we know that God is with us, always, to the end of the age. Amen.
[i] Thomas G. Long, “Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 49.
[ii] David Lose, “Trinity Sunday A: The Great Promise,” June 7, 2017, as found at http://www.davidlose.net/2017/06/trinity-sunday-a-the-great-promise/ on July 8, 2017.