Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A New Kingdom - The Spreading of Jesus

Preached on Sunday, April 12, 2015 

Scripture readings: Psalm 47:1-9; Matthew 28:16-20

If you were in charge of everything, everywhere, and had the power to do whatever you like with it, what would you do?
Saddle Mountains, Hanford Reach: February 2015
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:18-19) This means that Jesus is in charge of everything, everywhere, and that he has the power to do whatever he likes with it: and what he likes is sending you and me into his world.
This didn’t make any more sense two thousand years ago than it does now. There was too much wrong with the world. It needed setting right. What needed setting right was that, as it stood, might made right. There was no justice for the weak. The world placed no value on humility, or kindness, or gentleness. There was no compassion for those in need. The Romans ruled their world and laughed at the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Jesus.
The world was full of conquered peoples and Roman crosses. The disciples were hated and threatened by the rulers of their own people. They were completely outnumbered, and they had no refuge and no allies.
The world was against them and the world was too big for them. Naturally, since all power in heaven and earth was in his hands, Jesus decided to overcome this world by sending his outnumbered and overwhelmed people (including us) into it, and spreading us through it. In the world according to Jesus, that was the change the world needed.
That’s where we come in. That’s what we’re here for.
In the Gospel of John Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) It was true the moment he said it. Jesus overcame the world by dying on the cross for the sins of the world, and by rising from the dead. Jesus overcame the world by defeating the power of sin and death. Jesus has not finished overcoming the world, but that was the beginning of it.
It is by going into the world that we show how Jesus has overcome it, and that he has all power in heaven and on earth to do what he likes.
Jesus was being very clear about this. He can’t mean anything else. Think about this and it will also become clear how the disciples thought about it. It will become clear why, when they saw Jesus in Galilee, some of them worshiped him and others doubted him.
Jesus said, “Make disciples of all nations.” In our own small way, we are focused on all nations. In our own small way we help support a mission to one of the most dangerous parts of the world for Christians and for sharing the gospel. We support missionaries who serve in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.
Long ago I felt that God was calling me to be a missionary as well as a pastor. I thought about going to Thailand or to Latin America. I never made it. I had a rocky enough road merely to be ordained to the ministry, and none of my early inquiries into the mission field panned out.
When I was ordained it was when I felt called by God to a small town on the south coast of Oregon. It was lumber town, a rough town, truly a lawless town. All the people in our congregation knew this. It was unlike any place I had ever lived.
One day I confessed to an elder of the church that I felt I had failed by not being a missionary. The elder looked me in the eye and said, “Dennis, you are a missionary.” The truth is that I was a missionary, and I am a missionary, and so are you.
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” I could have made disciples of all nations by simply staying in my home town and taking it seriously. My home town had Hispanics, Portuguese, Filipinos, Japanese, and East Indians (including plenty of Hindus and Sikhs, and one or two Muslim families). My home town had Okies and Arkies too, and I used to be able to speak their language.
The disciples were born and raised in the land called “Galilee of the Gentiles”. “of the Gentiles” means “of the nations”. That means that Galilee was like my home town. In the case of Galilee, it was “of the nations” because it was full of Jews, and Syrians, and Greeks, and Romans, and many other groups.
We know that we live Grant County of the Nations. There are many nations around us here. And so we find we live in a place that fits exactly with what Jesus had in mind. How could any disciple possibly complain about this?
There are other kinds of nations as well. There are people who work for the government and there are people who pay taxes to pay the salaries of those who work for the government (of course the people who work for the government pay the same taxes). There are farmers, and engineers, and teachers, and school staff. There are golfers, and fishers, and boaters, and swimmers. There are the retired people, and the not retired, and the half-tired people. There are the well-to-do and the not-so-to-do. There are young and old. We can make disciples of all nations because the nations have come to us.
Think about the opportunities. Think about how much you have in common with the first disciples: that small group that looked at a world full of people who seemed so unapproachable and so different from them. Like them, you have the chance to become something new that you have never been before: something that Jesus wants you to be.
Have you ever found, as I have, that being who you are makes it very hard to be, whole-heartedly, what Jesus wants you to be? This is hard for us, even when we think that our identity as disciples of Jesus is precious to us.
The disciples thought of themselves as being disciples. But they also had a heritage in the form of an identity. They represented an ancient cause and an exceptional nation. They were very proud of who they were and what they stood for.
Jesus was calling them to cross over the line of their own identity because there was no other way to help other people cross over the line of their own identities. To belong to Jesus calls us to belong to a whole new world, and to a whole new purpose and way of life.
This did not come easily. Jesus called them (and he calls us) to be thankful people, and that means valuing what he has given us and what he has made us to be in the past. But Jesus also called them (just as he also calls us) to be willing to become something completely unfamiliar.
We are called to become something that we have never been before. You know that life itself requires this of us. Sometimes becoming what you have never been before has been wonderful.
Other times life may seem to call us to become something less than what we were before. That scares us.
Jesus always calls us to be something different in the sense of becoming something more than what we were before. This also scares us. This is part of following Jesus. It has always been this way.
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” This is a traditional English pattern for translating this verse, but that means that the English language has changed somehow. It would be better, in modern English speaking and thinking, to say, “Go and disciple all nations.”
Disciple can be used as a noun. Here it is used as a verb. Here disciple is not an identity we put on. It’s a process we go through. Disciple, as a verb, is an evolving relationship. It’s a teaching and learning relationship. It’s a connection with others, but most of all it’s a connection with Jesus.
A pastor told a story about a member of his congregation who always tried to have a constructive attitude toward what was going on in his life. But he also wanted to be honest. When this member was asked how he was doing, he wouldn’t say that he was doing fine, unless he was really doing fine and felt good about it.
When things were difficult, this member learned to answer like this. If you asked him, “How are you doing?” he would answer, “I’m learning and growing.” I’m learning and growing.
This is the answer of any true disciple. We are always learning and growing. To disciple other people means introducing them to a life full of learning and growing. In particular it means learning and growing to be like Jesus.
Jesus related to others by the thousands. He served others by the thousands. He healed and fed others by the thousands. Jesus discipled twelve men.
There were other disciples beside the twelve. Jesus had friends. They were disciples as well, and they learned from him. He loved them and they loved him back. But Jesus concentrated most of his time on the twelve.
How did Jesus disciple his twelve? He said, “Come with me.” He fished with them. He ate with them. He boated with them. He walked with them. He sat in their houses. He sat on hillsides with them. He grilled meals with them on the beach. He talked about farming and gardening with them. He talked with them about food, and wine, and birds, and flowers, and families, and marriages. We can all do that.
Gerald Sittser writes, “Christians bartered in the same markets, drew water from the same wells….The church thus attracted outsiders through natural networks.” (In “Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyr to Modern Missionaries” Intervarsity Press, p. 57) Bob Moll writes, “The Christians’ message was received in these private settings where people offered one-on-one friendship, care, and support.” (“What Your Body Knows about God”; Intervarsity Press, p. 75)
Discipling is about learning. Matthew thought enough about what Jesus said about “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” to have put together whole chapters of the teachings of Jesus in his gospel. There are five long collections of what Jesus taught that can be found in the Gospel of Matthew. The Sermon on the Mount is one of these.
Being a disciple is about being a learner. It is also related to the idea of discipline. There is the idea of practice and mastery of what we learn. There is also the idea of a frame of mind and an inner life that changes along with what you are learning.
In the discipline of geology you learn to look at the countryside you drive through and you can often read the story of how that land was formed. In the discipline of Jesus, you look at the world, and the people around you, and you can often read the story of how Jesus loves them and the purpose that Jesus may have for them.
The learning of a disciple and the changing life of a disciple is not a matter of learning facts or being consumed by the facts. Jesus said, “It is enough for the student to be like his teacher and the servant like his master.” (Matthew 10:25) Being a disciple is not about knowledge, it is about relationship. For the Christian, being a disciple means being like Jesus, and it means looking for ways to make others into disciples of Jesus.
When we disciple others, the aim is not to make them like us. It is not about making them listen to the music we like, or using the jargon we use, or enjoying going off on our favorite holy tangents. We better not want other disciples to aim at being like us, because we should know that we are not enough like Jesus yet.
Being a disciple means being like Jesus; not too much like us. Being a disciple means being merciful and forgiving. It means being brave, and thankful, and taking joy in what is worthy of joy. It means being patient. It means putting others first. Being a disciple means not making life to be all about a list of information and rules on a checklist, but about the heart. Being a disciple is not about building walls but opening doors.
Jesus had shown authority before: the authority to forgive sins, the authority to heal and to cast out devils, the authority to teach the will of God in a new way. At the end of Matthew, something new had happened in order for Jesus to say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Jesus had died for the sins of the world on the cross, and he had risen from the dead. Jesus was the conqueror of sin and death. I believe that is the special authority with which Jesus sent his disciples out.
Dying to sin and rising from death are the form of authority that he entrusts to us. We have our own crosses to carry. We have to die to ourselves. We have to rise with Jesus above the deadly and destructive things that come out in us. When we have a disciple-making relationship with others, our authority is seen, at its best, when others can see the greatest things of Jesus at work in us. Others have to see us die to ourselves and rise above ourselves through the love, and the grace, and the power of Jesus.
Being a disciple is about relationships, and that is why we cannot be disciples on our own. That is also why Jesus never called people to follow him in solitary lives.
Being a disciple is about relationships and so there is the discipline of fellowship. There is the discipline of commitment between Christians.
There is a holy discipline in the family, where you are bound by holy promises and by relationships that cannot be taken lightly. It’s like the discipline of parent and child. These relationships define who you are, and you can never live as if they were not a part of you.
As Christians we can never live as if the brothers and sisters we have in Christ are not a part of us. They are always part of us, and we will be side by side with them in heaven. Such relationships are mostly beyond the imagination and the motivation of this world.
The family and the church are fertile fields for crosses and empty tombs. Holy relationships require lots of dying to ourselves and rising from the dead. This is how we receive the authority to disciple others. This is how we love Jesus, and his world, and the people around us.
There is power in this. It is never a power in the sense of strength. It is power in weakness. It is the power to be vulnerable. This is hard to learn.
This authority, when it is real, has no room for pride, because it’s usually born from humiliation or desperation. It is also born from a love that will not be stopped. This authority for making disciples has its roots in the authority that Jesus won by his dying and rising.

It is part of the reason why we can trust the promise of Jesus to be with us always. We can go and make disciples who are not like us, but like Jesus, because we are people who are never alone. In all of the dyings and risings of life, Jesus is God with us.

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