Monday, November 12, 2012

Going with Jesus: Holding It Together

Preached on Sunday, November 11, 2012

Scripture readings: Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Peter 5:1-14

I was at the Washtucna School the other day, talking to someone who was in the middle of eating their lunch. They were eating a sandwich, and it took me a while to notice how it was constructed. Instead of the insides of the sandwich being laid out between two slices of bread, they were laid out between two leaves of lettuce. That sandwich looked like it had a lot of good things inside it: and so I thought, why not?

A trail along the Feather River
Slices of bread hold the contents of a sandwich together, and keep the sandwich from becoming too hard, too messy, to eat; maybe not all of the time, but most of the time. The lettuce seemed to work the same way.

But some things seem unlikely to hold things together and prevent a mess. A sandwich made between two layers of tomato would not work so well. A sandwich made between two layers of tuna salad or egg salad would not work at all. Even though they are good things to eat, they are very messy things to hold onto. Those things need to be inside the sandwich, and they need to be held together by the right stuff.

The closing words of the Gospel of Matthew are called “The Great Commission.” They are shaped in a way to hold good things together; things that could be messy if we tried to hold onto them by themselves. They are Jesus’ “marching orders” to us, as the members of the body of Jesus that is called his church. They are orders to go to everyone, and make learners of everyone; to claim everyone for God, to give them everything Jesus gave us. We need a way to hold onto all of this, and Jesus gives us his way. It is a way called grace.

The great commission is the work Jesus gives us to do. It is our mission. “Go 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 I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a)

But is this our work, or the work of Jesus? Alright, it’s the work of both. It is our work and Jesus’ work. It is certainly the work Jesus wants done. It is not always the work we want to do.

The only help for us, sometimes, is that Jesus has shown us his truest and deepest self, and so we love him with all our heart, and we know he loves us with all his heart. When you love someone, and you know that that particular someone loves you, and you know that that someone wants you to do something very important, then you have got to do it: you have got to try, or you can never be happy.

This is so not bad, really; and it is about love. Real love is strong. When I have been in love, I wanted to know that girl. I wanted to know how to make her laugh, or smile. I wanted to know how to get her to touch me and hold me. That is a very strong thing; just wanting to know how to do that. And the love of Jesus makes us want to do something we might not choose to do, otherwise.
Walking along the Feather River

Everything he tells us to do is about love. What does it mean to make disciples, except to make them eager to learn from the one who loves them?

The classic pick-up line of Jesus to any of his disciples has always been, “Come, follow me.” Be with me, and spend time with me. Watch me and listen to me. Talk with me. Let’s watch and listen to everything together. Let’s do everything together. This is love, and this is the deepest friendship. Disciples do this together with Jesus.

Baptizing everyone is about claiming them for Jesus and writing his name on them. Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is like being ready to write the name of all the fullness and the totality of God on everyone you meet.

The water is a sign of the saving love of God who can float them safely through the dangers of a fallen world, and wash them clean from the stains of that world, so that they can hold their heads up high to that world and say: “God has made me new and confident to live for a better world.” This is all about love.

Teaching everyone to obey everything that Jesus has commanded you is just the same as not leaving out anything they need to know about living and going with Jesus. It is about sharing everything that Jesus has said and done and how that changes and shapes us.

Even Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead teaches us the secret of being a disciple and going with Jesus. It is the most important commandment of Jesus. We know that the secret of going with Jesus is his invitation to die to ourselves and to rise in his love and power every day. This is also love.

But it is still hard. It can even be dangerous. Peter has spent a lot of time telling us what we should already know, that going with Jesus, in this world, sets us up for being misunderstood, and laughed at, and mocked, and treated unfairly, and downright mistreated. Going with Jesus, in this world, sets us up for suffering and sorrow.

This world is determined to compete with Jesus and rob us of him, if it can. There is a spiritual power that is opposed to God, which Peter compares to a roaring lion. That is the devil, which means the accuser and the enemy. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Jesus says, “Go, and make disciples of all nations.” By “all nations” he means “everyone in the world”, and (as it applies to us) it means everyone we meet.
Looking into the Feather River

But this is very hard. How can we make learners of everyone, when it is so hard to learn ourselves? How can we make learners of everyone, when they aren’t interested? How can we make learners of everyone when we don’t like them, or when they don’t like us, or when they don’t like what we stand for, or when they see through our misrepresentations of Jesus?

How do we make disciples of everyone (or learners of everyone) when the learners we do have just won’t settle down together and learn from each other? Peter says, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” (1 Peter 5:5) But that doesn’t feel very helpful. We don’t find humility very much fun; and it is so hard to get others to appreciate it and play along.

Being people who are committed to going, as Jesus said, instead of staying; being people who are committed to going to everyone, as Jesus said; being people who are committed to making everyone into learners, as Jesus said; being people who are committed to claiming everyone, and to giving them everything that Jesus has given to us, as Jesus said, is hard and messy work, even though it is all about love.

The structure of Jesus’ instructions tells us how to take hold of this hard and messy work. Jesus begins and ends his instructions with grace. Grace holds the instructions of Jesus together from front to back, from top to bottom; like the bread or the lettuce of a sandwich.

The first layer of Jesus’ instructions is his authority: “all authority in heaven and on earth.” The Greek word for this authority is not about Jesus holding a position that gives him the right to give us orders. This word is also translated as “power” and it is not about the ability of Jesus to use his power to make us or obligate us into following his orders. The authority and power of Jesus is the essence of who Jesus is.

Looking into the Feather River
Authority and power are the essence of what is in him. They are his ability to be what we need most. They are his ability, as God and Human, to form a perfect bridge; to come down and be with us, and to hold us close, and to bring us up to live on higher ground in his presence. So he shares our birth and our life, he shoulders our sin and weakness on the cross, he shares death and defeats its fear and power.

There is the advertisement about a “power drink” that asks the question: “Is it in you?” The power and authority of Jesus is “in him”. It is who Jesus is by his nature and by his action. And what is in Jesus is also in us, as he lives within us by faith.

The other layer of the sandwich that holds together the work of Jesus is “his presence.” “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

The power and authority of Jesus is the foundation of the work he calls us to do. The top layer is the presence of Jesus who is with us always. His presence covers us every day.

This is the grace of God in Christ. Going with Jesus requires life as a sort of “grace” sandwich.

The other day I needed to pull up some black locust shoots that had grown surprisingly big while I was gone for a few weeks. They had wicked thorns. I got wounded in the attempt, so I put on my work gloves in order to get the work done.

If you want to do some hard, tricky, messy work, like the work of a metal shop, or cutting roses for a bouquet, you want to wear work gloves. You have to hold the work of Jesus in the gloves of his grace. You have to wear his authority and his presence. You have to work that close. He never intended to send us out any other way.

Walking along the Feather River
There is something we need to know about the presence of Jesus, when he says that he will be with us always. The Greek says that he will be with us “all the days”, until the end of the age.

It’s easy to think of “always” as a unchanging thing. But we really need to have the presence of Jesus matching the challenge of each day as it comes. The easiest days may be our most dangerous because they lull us into forgetfulness. When we think of Jesus being with us “all the days”, it teaches us to count every day, no matter what that day brings.

We have good days, and we have bad days, but we have no days without Jesus. We have no more of Jesus on the good days than we have on the bad days. But we have him with us differently. We have no less of Jesus on the worst day of our life than we have on our best. Jesus is with us, exactly as we need him, “all the days”.

We may think about wasted hours, and wasted days and years; but the hours, and the days, and the years by which we count our time with Jesus are never wasted; no matter what we may think, and no matter what others may tell us.

The Bible is the word of God, through which we can receive the mind of God; the very thoughts of God. There is a thought we need to learn about the end of the age (or the end of the world, as some translations make it). The thought is that there is a structure and purpose in time, as God has designed it and created it.

Long ago, the Jewish rabbis came to think that, from the very beginning, God did not create only one world, but two worlds. They came to believe that, from the very beginning, God created this world (or this universe) and the world (or universe) that is to come.

And these two worlds bear a special relation to each other. The world to come is designed to be built on this world, like ripe fruit is built from a blossom.
Walking along the Feather River

The “end of the age” is almost like the concept of closure where things come together. The end of this world, where there is so much going wrong (where there is so much injustice, and hurt, and anger, and fear, and blindness, and tragedy) is about the righting of wrongs, the healing of hurts, the deflating of anger, the lifting of fear, the opening of eyes.

The author Ernest Hemmingway wrote this: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” But the end of the age which Jesus promises, and which Jesus rules (where Jesus is the king) goes much farther for us. The end of the age is the time and place where no one who comes to Jesus will go un-mended.  The age to come is built on the mending of every broken person in every broken place.

The way to the end of the age is by dying and rising with Jesus. When we die and rise with Jesus there is no breakage that will go unnoticed and unmet. Every broke place will have the glory of Jesus in it.

Every broken place in the creation will be like a jewel or a crown in the world to come. Every life in Christ will wear a crown. Every day in Christ will wear its crown.

Nothing will be wasted. Peter says: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10)

Sometimes this glory is the power to give comfort to others. The Apostle Paul once put it this way: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) It is the very nature of who God is; to make us strong in the broken places.

East of Live Oak looking toward the Feather River
Even in this world, even now, we see just a bit of this at work. This is the grace that enables us to follow the great commission and command of Jesus. This is the grace we wear when the work is tricky, and hard and messy.

This is how, when the days seem bad, Jesus makes us strong, firm, and steadfast for those days. But Jesus is with us always; all the days. And, as Peter says, “This is the true grace of God.” (1 Peter 5:12) And by “this” he means God gives us the gifts we need for everywhere he sends us, and for everyone we must meet and claim for him, and for every way we seek to teach and help others follow him. This is the true grace of God.


  1. Put on the full armour of God...I think this is in Ephesians...that is what I was reminded of.

  2. It is pretty much the same thing, the armour of God portrays asects of how the grace of God protects us and helps us go forward.