Sermon for 08-15-10: “Can You Hear Me Now? Part 6”

August 23, 2010

Sermon Text: Matthew 28:16-20

[Click the play button below to listen or select this link to download the mp3.]

The following is the original manuscript of the sermon.

Do you know what this is? This is our United Methodist Book of Discipline. This book is our church’s law book. It sets the rules and guidelines for how we are to be the church. It tries first of all to be faithful to scripture, to the Christian tradition in general, and to our own Wesleyan traditions in particular. There are things in this book that I have to abide by or they will come and take my recently hard-earned credentials away, and say, “You are not a pastor in our church anymore.” There are things in this book that we as a local church have to abide by or they will come and change the locks on the door and say, “You cannot meet in this building anymore.”

This is, in other words, a very important book that we are supposed to follow. So when it defines the mission of the church and says, “Here is what the Church is supposed to be about,” we need to listen: “The mission of the Church,” it reads, “is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” If we are faithful to this mission, that that means that everything we do as a church should move us in the direction of making—what?—disciples of Jesus Christ for the—what?—transformation of the world.

We Methodists did not invent this mission. It comes from today’s scripture: “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.” We call this the Great Commission. It doesn’t exactly say “for the transformation of the world,” but it’s no stretch to say that if we go and make disciples of all the world, baptize them, and teach them to obey all the Jesus commanded, the end result is that this world will be transformed.

When people talk about the Great Commission, they usually focus on verse 19—the go and make disciples part. And we’ll get to that. But what also struck me as I was preparing to preach on this text is the stuff that comes before verse 19, beginning with verse 16: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.”

This verse tells us, among other things, that when we answer God’s call, we must take a step of faith. We must put our faith into action. Listen, we know from all four gospel accounts that the disciples clearly didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about when he mentioned his own resurrection; they couldn’t process it; they expect Jesus to be resurrected in the here and now. And, yet there these women disciples who came from the tomb on Easter morning with an incredible report that angels told them that Jesus was raised and that they were to go and meet him on a mountain in Galilee. The women, who didn’t talk to Jesus directly, had to have faith in these messengers; the disciples had to have faith in the women’s testimony and take a three-day-long journey to Galilee. They had to believe that maybe, just maybe, what the women said was true. The point is, it took a lot of faith all around in order for these disciples to go to Galilee. There’s no getting around faith, and faith is difficult.

I feel asleep watching TV a couple of weeks ago and woke up around 2:00 in the morning. An infomercial was on for this great-sounding fitness program called P90X. Have you heard of this? It’s a workout DVD that will, with minimal equipment requirements, get you in shape. And they have testimonials of people of all ages who got results—and they showed the “before” and “after” pictures to prove it. You just commit to follow the DVDs for 90 days. It’s a lot cheaper than a gym membership. And, sure enough, I talked to a friend of mine who bought the DVDs, did the workouts, and said that, indeed, it worked as advertised. He dropped a lot of weight, toned his muscles, and got in better shape.

Now I’m thinking, I need to get in on this! Right? So it turns out that in order to get the promised results you have to commit to work out one hour a day every day for 90 days. One hour a day every day for 90 days! I’m sure the program works. But geez… If you commit to do any serious exercising for an hour a day every day for 90 days straight, chances are you will lose weight, develop muscles, and get in better shape.

But the problem with that is that it’s hard! It takes commitment. I don’t want to do it that way. I want to do it the easy way. I want the short-cut.

But there is no short-cut! There is no easy way! There is no way around hard work and commitment. Isn’t that true for anything worth having or pursuing in life? It’s certainly true for our Christians faith. Remember Jesus’ words: “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

There is nothing easy about Christian faith.

Maybe you’ve been tempted to think, “Oh, it must have been so much easier to have faith if you were one of those first disciples—who lived and traveled with Jesus, sat at his feet as he taught, witnessed the healing miracles, were eyewitnesses to the resurrection. Faith came easy to them.” That’s not at all the testimony of scripture. Time and again, we see Jesus’ closest disciples failing to believe the words Jesus says, misunderstanding Jesus, failing to put into action what Jesus was telling them—in spite of all they had seen and heard and experienced with Jesus during his earthly ministry.

Even in the next verse, verse 17, Matthew tells us, “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” What a remarkable admission! Even as they saw Jesus with their own eyes in his transformed, resurrected, glorified body, some of them—we don’t know how many—continued to doubt.

What we need to wrap our minds around is this fact: These first disciples of Jesus were not so different from you and me. These were very imperfect disciples. These were not super-Christians. Be that as it may, even as some of these closest disciples of Jesus doubted, Jesus commissioned them… To go and—what?—makes disciples of Jesus Christ. For the—what?—transformation of the world. Jesus doesn’t say, “You, you, and… you go and make disciples. The rest of you, stay here until you get all your questions answered, figure everything out, and it all make sense to you.” No. He says to all of them—doubters included—go.

I don’t wrestle with many intellectual doubts about Jesus anymore. If you’ve read my blog, I hope you get a sense that I want to help people who do. I believe strongly that we don’t have to check our brains at the church entrance in order to believe in Jesus. No, the kind of doubt I struggle with is like this: If I really believe in Jesus, why do I so often fail to fall on my knees first thing in the morning and seek his guidance through prayer? If I really believe in Jesus, why don’t I commit to read God’s word more deliberately and consistently? If I really believe in Jesus, why do I worry about my material possessions so much—what I have, what I don’t have? If I really believe in Jesus, why do I struggle with self-doubt; why do I sometimes fail to love myself as a child of God, created in God’s image? If I really believe in Jesus, why do I get so stressed out and worry—instead of trusting the Lord?

Doubt expresses itself in many different ways. Think about some of the testimonies you’ve heard in the videos over the past six weeks. You’ve heard from people who doubted at first that God wanted them to do some particular task. They doubted at first that God was really calling them. They doubted at first that they had what it takes to be successful. And they were often surprised at how successful they were!

You know the best way to overcome doubt? Put your faith into action and see what happens!

Consider this: This word that Matthew uses in verse 17, which is translated as “doubt,” is only used in one other place in the Bible—and that is earlier in Matthew’s gospel. Chapter 14, verse 31. If you have your Bibles—and you should—please turn with me as we look at that passage. The disciples are on the Sea of Galilee—by themselves. There’s a storm on the lake with fierce winds and crashing waves. Jesus comes walking on the water toward their boat. They’re afraid.

But then Peter says something interesting. He says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” In other words, Peter was saying, with great faith, “I believe that you have the power to enable me to walk out to you on the water. Command me to do it, and I will do it.” And Jesus does. So Peter takes those tentative first steps of faith—and, miraculously, he’s walking toward Jesus! Can you imagine? Before long, he begins to notice just how perilous and risky this thing is that Jesus has commanded him to do, and he loses courage, begins to doubt, and starts sinking. And what happens? Does he drown? No… Jesus catches him and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

When it comes to answering God’s call, going where our Lord tells us to go, doing what Jesus commands us to do, aren’t we all a little like this very imperfect, doubting disciple named Peter? Answering God’s call is risky and uncertain. It’s scary. Success, at least as the world defines it, isn’t guaranteed. Maybe right now we’re standing on the edge of the boat, peering into the water below. Guess what? We gotta step out of the boat! There’s no other way to get started. But in spite of our doubts and fears, Jesus says, “Come.” Will we go? Or will we let these fears and doubts control us?

My family was at the pool last week with Amy Andrews, a member of our Vinebranch congregation. And our six-year-old was uncertain about jumping in the deep end. And Lisa and I were feeling lazy, so we said, “Ian, go ahead and jump in. If you start to drown, Amy will jump in and save you!” The point is, Peter wasn’t alone. It wasn’t simply sink-or-swim time for Peter. Jesus was right there with him. And that’s true for us when we answer God’s call.

And that’s the problem with simply focusing on verse 19 in the Great Commission. It places the emphasis on what we disciples do. The center of gravity in this passage, the emphasis, the focus, is not on us at all: it’s on Jesus, who says in verse 18 that he’s been given “all authority on heaven and earth.” Now look at verse 19: There’s a “therefore” there. It’s because Jesus has all the power—and shares this power with us through his Spirit—that we are able to be successful as we go and—what?—make disciples of Jesus Christ for the—what?—transformation of the world.

Who is it that calls imperfect and doubting disciples like you and me? [Jesus.] Who gives us the power to succeed? [Jesus.] And if we fail, who lifts us up and enables us to start again? [Jesus.] And who promises to be with us every moment of every day until end of time? [Jesus.]

Do you believe it? [Yes.] Do you really believe it? [Yes.] Are you going to obey Jesus? [Yes.] And even if you have some doubts and some fears, are you going to obey him anyway? [Yes.] Are you going to open your heart to Jesus and let him use you in this mission to make disciples for the transformation of the world? Amen!

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