Intro: There is a story from the Bible that is traditionally read today - the Sunday after Pentecost. It is Matthew 28: 16-20, a story that contains doubt, authority, a difficult theological concept, and reassurance. So let us read it, and then I will unpack these four verses:
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28: 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted Matthew captures the mood of the disciples – they worship Jesus, even while they had their doubts..
• When Jesus gathered those disciples, he did not first interrogate their beliefs to make sure that they had got everything right.
• He did not ask them to reassure him that they were confident they could do the job before he sent them into the world.
• It was not even a condition of discipleship that they first be sure of everything they believed:
Following Jesus allows space for doubt. We can be a disciple – even while we bring our question, and things that make us unsure. It is our questions that open up space for our spiritual growth.
Matthew 28 tells us that it is these unsure, hesitant, doubting disciples are commissioned by Jesus to go and make disciples.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples (Matt 28:18)
This word “disciple” is derived from the Latin discipulus – a student. We are told that the disciples of Jesus are turned into teachers, sent to raise up new students. The disciples still have doubts and questions – which I noted as the essential tools for further learning - but this does not prevent them from passing on their faith. Because discipleship does not depend on having the right explanations, or saying the correct Creed, or belonging to the best church:
Our Christian discipleship is based in hearing Jesus say to us: “Go… in the Name of God”. This is the one key idea that holds all this together: the disciples are sent “in the name” of God. This is a deliberate term. Throughout history, people in authority have sent messengers to speak on their behalf: the messenger from the King would announce a message in the village square “in the name of the King”. This message is not the words of the messenger – but is instead said with the reputation and the authority of the one who sent the messenger.
So those who follow Jesus are sent “in the name of God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit” to share our faith: This faith is rooted in a relationship….a relationship with The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. My Christian faith begins at the moment that I discover that God loves me with the same passion that a Good Father loves his newborn baby; this relationship is modeled on the life and teachings of Jesus the Son; and it is nurtured and strengthened by the power of the Spirit of God. So when you and I follow Jesus – let us intentionally call ourselves “disciples” of Jesus: we do not know everything, we have our doubts and our uncertainties, but we have been sent by Jesus to share the Gospel.
This brings with it both Good News and a Challenge:
The Good News is that we have space for our doubts and our imperfections – because the message does not depend on us being perfect: the message belongs to God. We speak a message of the Love of God for the people of this world. Let us never remain silent because we are overcome by our fears, or our weaknesses, or our failures. Because the God uses imperfect vessels to carry a perfect message.
The Challenge in this: we cannot become arrogant about the message. Matthew 28: 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. The message of God’s Salvation is not my message! It does not belong to me. There is no room for me to think I am superior or more righteous than others – just because I have the message of Jesus. I am heartbroken by how easily Christians preach the anger and the retribution of God – mostly often aimed at other people. We import our own cultural prejudices into our faith and make it appear that God hates the same people that we do! John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world that he sent his son”…Jesus came to love the whole world – and yet we are so slow to speak (and demonstrate) the love and compassion of God towards all people. God loves everyone – without exception. In this month of June hear me clearly: God loves the LGBTQI community. Let us distance ourselves from the unkind prejudices of our national culture – and show love to all people.
And then the concluding promise: Matthew 28: 20 “, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We do not do this alone. Not only do we go in the name of Jesus – but God goes with us.