Sunday, August 17, 2008

“You Can’t Make Me”

Matthew 28: 16-20

The Commissioning of the Disciples

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and 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

This is a true story. When I was in college my parent’s life together seemed to fall apart at the seams. My mother was diagnosed with cancer and then months latter the oil company my father worked for was bought out by a less than reputable consortium of men in dark glasses and black limousines – now you do the figuring of who they were and remember it was New Jersey!

Dad found himself in a moral dilemma in which he knew he couldn’t work with the new owners and yet he had a good job and this just wasn’t the best time to make a change with a wife needing medical insurance and his undivided attention. To this day I feel badly that I was as un-involved in providing support to them living in Michigan at the time.

It didn’t take Dad long to realize he would have to leave the company. One lunch time after giving notice and the previous employer not wanting him around a minute longer Dad took a walk up the street to an old friend who ran an insurance company. The old friend though well of my Dad and offered him what he could – a sales job at the bottom rung. Dad had to take it. Two kids still at home a sick wife and a kid in college – a father has to do what he can and he did.

The company he went to work for thought of itself as THE ROCK in people’s lives and had a highly social scientifically engineered way to convince people that they really needed them as the ROK in their lives – there was sales training that at times felt like corporate brain washing. Dad endured it with grace and clear perspective and he went on to quickly re-climb the ladder and was a great success.

Years latter when I would struggle with vocational challenges I asked Dad to tell me about his journey and the key to his success. He took his time to reflect on how he always believed that his work must be shaped ultimately by his faith more than the company line or the bottom line. He talked about how rewarding it was to sell a family the right type and amount of insurance. He told me of a most memorable occasion when a family he had sold a policy to had lost her husband – he was the sole bread winner and she would be financially lost with out his income. He said: “Son – I can’t tell you how fulfilling it was to drive to that woman’s home and to hand her a check that will provide for her with the loss of her husband. That’s what your work should be all about – you need to have a higher purpose than a paycheck.”

Now I know I should have saved this illustration for Father’s Day but I was thinking about that need for a higher purpose as I listened again to the Great Commission of Jesus: Go and do...he says. You have a purpose. Unfortunately the Christian Church has often taken this commission as a sales talk – purpose is lost as productivity is emphasized.

Let’s put this commission in perspective. In some ways we have our festivals backwards. Last week we celebrated Pentecost – the day Jesus sent us the empowerment to be his disciples in the world. And now this week were turned back to the last of the resurrection appearance stories of Jesus – before the Holy Spirit descends upon those frightened and anxious followers. Now I figure the reason the stories are set in the common lectionary this way is that following Pentecost the church has now experienced the third party of what we call the Trinity and that is what this Sunday is designated as; Trinity Sunday . This is the time when the church recognizes that we experience God in three different ways – as Creator or what we traditionally call Father and as Redeemer or what who we know as Jesus the Son and now the sanctifier or what we know to be the Holy Spirit. The church in its teaching through the ages has found this description to be essential to how it tells about God – and we can all appreciate that.

But this morning our story takes us to the commission – before the empowerment has come. Its like the your boss explaining your new job to you – and before she explains how to do it or before you get the training.

The commission is to Go out into the world and make disciples and to baptize them. Now that always sounded like a bad translation to me – perhaps because of the work make. The way we use that word in common language is to force some one to do something – like some school yard bully making the kid at the edge of the play ground to give up his lunch money. I don’t know about you but I’m not all that receptive to having anyone make me do anything. Its not very invitational to say the least. So what’s the point of what Jesus is saying to his new disciples then and now? Well I don’t think it’s to go out like they did on the Crusades and accumulate a large baptismal role or to forcible convert the neighboring heathen. In fact – I was helped when I finally traipsed back over to my office here in the church to dust off my Greek Bible to discover for the first time that the word make isn’t there. I don’t just mean there is another word in it place – as if we just translated it wrong – the words in the original don’t flow as nicely but what they say – literally is going there, disciple ye al the nations. Now you might think this is just a little bit of exegetical nit picking but in this one absent word I find the basis for a clearer understanding of what Jesus intends our whole purpose to be about. Consider this translation: Jesus says to us: All the authority – all the backing you need I give to you on behalf of the Lord of the Universe….there for go and help people live the life I have offered you.. to do that you will need to disciple them – that is you will need to prepare them and their children for baptism – the being of the journey and to do that you will need to teach them my teachings.

Now that translation would give my former Greek professor’s cardiac arrest – but I think it’s an important distinction. We don’t bring people into the life by try to make them believe. We bring people into the life we have come to know in Christ by invitation.

Allow me to go back to my father’s instruction to me; imagine a salesperson who is so intent on their quota – on accumulating a large sales record – now lets give them the benefit of the doubt – lets agree that they really believe that what they have to sell is truly important to people – they believe that the world will – in fact – be a better place if everyone has a big life insurance policy – so with all the passion and fervor of an evangelist on a mission they go out and sell tirelessly and unrelentingly – they preach a sales pitch of such urgency and instill such fear that each client begs for him to sell them the premium policy. Friends – sadly this is what the church has done through the ages – and this is what the church in many places still does – with the most sincere passion a` times – it goes out into the world with fear on its breath – urgently making disciples of anyone they can find – anywhere they can find them.

Imagine instead that you come to know – as you probably already do that the life Jesus calls us to is one filled with grace and love – acceptance and forgiveness – that this life speaks to your deepest needs and answers your deepest question – that this life gives purpose and meaning to your life. Now imagine that you love the people of this world – as I also know you do – so what do you do with this life that means so much to you? You share it – right? You offer it. I mean if it’s as good as you believe it is – well then it really ought to sell itself – and you know what – it does. We don’t have to make people be disciples – we simply share what has first been offered to us.

This anxious world with its end times prophets and worrisome evangelical urgency may accumulate followers – but have they in the process full embraced the grace and the acceptance this new life offers?

I had a woman say to me recently about funerals; I don’t know how you preachers do it – you get up there and tell everyone about the person who has dies and that they are going to heaven – when you know a lot of those people really didn’t have Jesus Christ as their personal savior. I replied to her – I don’t have to worry about that – that’s God’s work – the saving – my work it to share the Good news God has given me.

Friends – if we are ever looking for a purpose in these lives of ours – if we love the people of this world as much as we believe we do – and if we have - something to share with them – we have a purpose - we have a commission.

So lets not try and make anybody do anything – lets just share what we know and see what God can do.


HMD 5.18, 2008


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