Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 15, 2014

2014.06.15 “Go, Make Disciples, Remember” – Matthew 28: 16 – 20

Central United Methodist Church

 “Go, Make Disciples, Remember”

Pastor David L. Haley

Matthew 28: 16 – 20

Trinity Sunday

June 15th, 2014


Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “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.” Matthew 28: 16 – 20, the New Revised Standard Version.

Every now and then, you see a news story about a pilot who lands at the wrong airport. One estimate I read said that over the last 20 years, at least 150 US pilots have either landed – or begun to land – at the wrong airport. While, as far as I know, this has never resulted in a casualty, it certainly is embarrassing to the pilot, and frustrating for the passengers.  I can only imagine that “word from your captain.”

I have a friend who is a retired commercial airline pilot, who told he almost did this once.  He said it occurs when you’re flying visually, especially at night, and you see the lights of a runway that looks like the one you’re looking for, until – on approach – you find out it isn’t.  As another pilot put it: “You’ve got these runway lights, and you are looking at them, and they’re saying: ‘Come to me, come to me. I will let you land.’ They’re like the sirens of the ocean.”

I’ve shared this because there are Sundays in the year when I as a preacher feel the same way; and today is one of them. It’s Trinity Sunday, it’s Father’s Day, and a special offering Sunday in the United Methodist Church, Peace with Justice Sunday. Big as all these are, none of them may have anything to do with what’s going on in our lives, personally or as a congregation. With the result that I as a preacher, wind up looking for a runway to land on, hopefully the right one.

You can be sure that with all the fathers here dreaming of the steak or burgers or BBQ they are going to eat later, a long theological discourse on the nature of the Holy Trinity would definitely be the wrong runway. Like those errant pilots, it would be likely be embarrassing to me, and frustrating for you.

Today I believe the story closest to where we are (and therefore the runway I’m going to ATTEMPT to land on) is the story from the Gospel of Matthew about Jesus’ last words to his disciples.  Because – believe it or not – what Jesus described there is what we – some 20 centuries later – are doing today: going into the world making disciples, baptizing, teaching and remembering that even as we do this, he is with us.

As we have seen over the last few weeks, each of the four Gospels ends the Jesus story in a different way. After all, how do you end the story of a man risen from the dead?  Mark, the earliest Gospel, ends with the women running from the tomb in fear, saying nothing to anybody. Luke ends with Jesus floating away into heaven, and repeats it in a slightly different way at the beginning of his second volume, the book of Acts.  John ends with a reunion by the Sea of Galilee. Matthew ends his Gospel with the story we heard a few moments ago, of Jesus giving his disciples, what has been called the Great Commission.

If you think about it, the scene is downright comical. Jesus is on an unnamed mountain in backwater Galilee with a congregation totaling eleven, down from twelve the week before.  Even some of them are doubtful and not sure why they are there. Undeterred, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me,” although nothing appears to support such a claim. If he were speaking to vast multitudes, as far as the eye could see, with angels singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” in the background, maybe.  But not there, not that day, not with those few disciples.

Thomas Long says this would be about the same as me saying to you here today: “Go into all the world and evangelize everybody, clean up the environment, cure cancer, and, while you are at it, establish world peace.” Even though I wish you the best of success, it’s not likely to happen!

And yet, think about this: here we are, 20 centuries later, doing the very thing Jesus asked us of us, which is, “Go and make disciples, baptizing, teaching, and remembering that he is with us.”

We’re still going. I doubt when Jesus said this, he was thinking of Skokie. It’s like a few years ago, when my family visited Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. As you may know, actors dress up as the original characters, and essentially become them.  So I was talking to Rev. William Brewster, the pastor of Plymouth Plantation, about pastoral things, when he asked me where I was from. Chicago, I said. “I’ve not heard of those parts,” he said.  No more than Jesus would have that day on a mountain in Galilee.  And yet, here we are.

We’re still making disciples. You should know that, “Go,” in that sentence is a participle, meaning, “As you go.” Going in not the main point; the main point is to make disciples, who will also follow Jesus, wherever we go. I’m afraid that either our hearing or our reading is bad, because for a long time what we thought Jesus said was not “make disciples,” but “make Methodists,” or worse, “make members,” as if Jesus founded a country club rather than the Church.  Fortunately we have put on our glasses and become more clear about this, such that the mission of Central United Methodist Church, as that of all United Methodist Churches, is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Considering the shape of the world this morning of June 15th, in the year of our Lord, 2014, we still have our work cut out for us.

At least, on this June morning, we are still doing the two things Jesus said were instrumental in making disciples, which is (1) baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and (2) teaching all that Jesus commanded us.

We do this, even though none of us fully understand it, no matter who we are: not baptism, not the Holy Trinity, not exactly what “Jesus commanded us.” (If you who are presenting Emmanuelle for baptism today, and you Nick, being baptized, don’t feel like you understand it, don’t worry, those of us who ARE baptized don’t fully understand either.

We may be as bad, at times, as the two boys playing in a puddle after a rainstorm, who – unknown to them – were being watched by their mother. The older of the two, a five year old, grabbed his brother by the back of his head and shoved his face into the puddle. As the boy recovered and stood laughing and dripping, the mother ran into the yard in a panic. “Why did you do that to your little brother?” she said in anger. “We were just playing ‘church’ mommy.” “I was baptizing him in the name of the Father, the Son and in the hole-he-goes.”  (OK, maybe we’re not that bad.)

As for the teaching of “all that Jesus commanded us,” that’s what we do here every Sunday, week by week.

With such basic instructions, “make disciples, by baptizing and teaching,” we may wonder how Church ever got so complicated. After all, we have committees and boards, councils and conferences, doctrines and dogmas. We even have trials to enforce them; although, as a clergy colleague once memorably noted, “There are no United Methodist Police.”

And, it should be noted, that due to the way we have done it over the last 50 years, our failure rate is pretty high. I’m seen estimates of as much as 60 to 90% of all the children and youth that we have put through Sunday School and Youth Group, have dropped out and no longer attend church, any church. Where did we go wrong?  Where we went wrong was trying to teach Christianity as content; when we should have been teaching it as an experience, the experience of following Jesus, in worship services and mission trips, in reaching out beyond ourselves to serve others.

Look at it this way. What Jesus asks us to do is the same thing he did: take a group of imperfect, reluctant, and often annoying followers, and made them into disciples.  He didn’t do that by sitting them down in a classroom or enrolling them in a course, with a certificate or diploma given at the end. What he did was take them with him, into homes and streets and the places where people were, sometimes even to church. He talked with them, walked with them, ate with them, lived with them. They had conversations and discussions, with questions and answers on both sides. They fed the hungry and healed the sick, and even learned how to pray, as they saw him pray.  What Jesus did for his disciples, is the same thing he asks us to do for each other, and for others we don’t even know.

I was reminded this week of how this happens now, in church, in two ways.  First, I went to the Clergy Retirement service at Annual Conference, and heard clergy give thanks for the great privilege we clergy and congregations have, which is to share some of the most important moments in people’s lives. “Hatching, Matching, and Dispatching,” some clergy call it in shorthand.

And then I came home from conference to do it.  On Karen’s alert, Michele and I went over and had a last wonderful visit with Lillian Wegener, near the end of her long struggle with cancer.  She went unconscious and died the next day. On Saturday, I had the privilege of praying and giving thanks for 7-year-old Hannah, at her birthday party in the Log Cabin.  Today, we get the honor of baptizing Nick, and Nick and Odessa’s child, Emmanuelle. Just two years ago, I had the honor of officiating at their wedding. (BTW, Nick & Odessa, apart from other children to be baptized, this is the last pastoral act I intend to perform for you; for the “dispatching” you’ll have to get somebody else.)

I have always loved the apocryphal story that when Jesus arrived back in heaven, after his life on earth, he was asked by the angels what his plan was for the fulfillment of his mission on earth.  “Well,” he said, “I trained these 12 disciples.” “That’s it?” the angels said. “That’s it,” Jesus said. “What’s Plan B?” the angels said. “There is no Plan B,” Jesus said.

As improbable as it might have seemed, because they fulfilled Jesus’ mission, here we are today, still fulfilling it: making disciples, by baptizing and by teaching, and even as we do it, remembering: “I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day.”  Amen.


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