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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
April 16, 2023
Grace to you and peace from our risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In Matthew’s gospel, mountains are important. Jesus frequently treks up them to teach the crowds or the disciples, and to pray by himself. But he never stays there. Once he’s done teaching or praying, he goes back down to be with the people to embody his teachings among them. So, it’s fitting that the risen Jesus meets the disciples on a mountain before sending them out into the world.
This is the end of Matthew’s gospel. It’s the only time Matthew reports that the risen Jesus met the disciples, and it seems that they don’t spend too much time together. Matthew doesn’t tell us any individual accounts that the disciples have with the risen Christ. We don’t hear about Thomas or Peter, or any of the others.
Instead, the risen Jesus meets all of the disciples together in a place that was familiar to them. And the fact that some of them doubted even as they worshiped him – I think that’s to be expected. This is the first time they’d seen the risen Christ, so it isn’t surprising that there was some disbelief among them.
More importantly, though, it didn’t seem to matter to Jesus. He gave all of them the same commission: to go and make disciples and baptize and teach. And included in that is the expectation that the disciples will remember what Jesus had commanded them to do throughout his life and teaching. Because if they were going to teach others to obey what he commanded, they needed to do it, too.
And included in that was the assurance that Jesus had already given them the tools they needed to fulfill his commission. Regardless of where they were in what they thought about his resurrection, Jesus had already equipped them to do the work he was now sending them out to do.
They knew how to go and make disciples because Jesus had done it with them. They knew to do it the way he did – with love and compassion and understanding. They knew how to reveal Jesus’ teachings in ways that welcomed others, that let them know there’s a place for them in God’s realm regardless of what society said about them – and that’s God’s realm was right there in their midst.
They knew how to do all of this because they’d lived it with Jesus. The assurance of that gave them the confidence they needed to go and share all of this themselves, so that others could then go and share and do the same.
So that the good news of Jesus – his teachings, his love, his compassion, his grace, and his resurrection – would continue to be shared throughout the world. In Matthew’s gospel, it’s the beginning of the church. And it’s still going.
None of this is to say that it was easy for the disciples. The assigned reading for today was only what we call the Great Commission – verses 16-20. But I included verses 11-17 because the events they describe happened right after the risen Jesus met the women on the way to Galilee.
And it’s important for us to recognize how far the religious leaders and others in authority went to try and deny the resurrection, and say that Jesus’ body was simply stolen. Because then they could say that he’s still dead and there’s no life beyond the grave. That God lost and Jesus is no longer with us because the empire won.
It’s important for us to keep that in mind, because that’s the world that the risen Jesus sent the disciples into. It was the world that Matthew’s community lived in. And it’s the world we live in because these lies continue to be told in some form today.
They are told every time another school or mass shooting happens, and we get gridlocked in conversation about what the right solution is and we throw up our hands and end up doing nothing.
These lies are told every time war shatters a peaceful situation and we can’t agree on how to resolve it, so we just let it play out. They are told whenever we hear that there aren’t enough resources to help a child that goes hungry, or a family or individual person becomes homeless.
Every time legislation that targets, or further marginalizes, certain groups of people; every time that we’re told there’s no point in working to make things better for people here and now – to nurture and sustain life here and now, it’s a lie that tells us that death has won.
And the risen Christ sends us out to disprove those lies by teaching people about who he was and what he commanded. And we do that by obeying Jesus’ teachings, by living them in our own lives.
Author and theologian Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that, as individuals and as the church, we “bear hope for the world because of [the] commission that Jesus gave the disciples and the whole church long ago.
‘And [that] when that world looks around for the risen Christ, when they want to know what that means, it is us they look at. Not our pretty faces and not our sincere eyes, but our hands and feet – what we have done with them and where we have gone with them.’”
Her words echo what Matthew has written in his gospel. They remind us that who we are as Jesus’ followers doesn’t have so much to do with what we say that we believe about Jesus as it does with how we embody his teachings.
In other words, every time we obey Jesus’ teachings and commands, we disprove the lies that the world tells, and we bear witness to Christ’s resurrection.
Every time we work to establish a just and lasting peace between people; every time we go the extra mile for someone; every time we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, we teach others what it means to obey Jesus’ commands.
Every time we refrain from judging others; every time we stand up for someone; every time we feed or clothe or visit someone who is in need, we make disciples.
Every time we strive first for God’s kingdom – God’s realm; every time we live its values – every time we obey Jesus’ command to have love, mercy, compassion, peace, and grace for one another, we experience the promise that he is with us always.
That’s what the risen Christ sends us out to share with others. That’s what he sends us out to teach and obey and live as his followers. And we already know how to do it because others have shown us.
Jesus’ commission to 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 that he had commanded, began in a tiny place in the Roman Empire and went out into all the world.
It continues with us. It continues in us. The risen Christ sends us out, and he promises to be with us as we go. Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Amen.