One of my favorite pieces of scripture is found in the verses we read today, which generally are referred to as the Great Commission - the instructions or duty that Christ gave us before he ascended back into heaven to sit at the right hand of God.
The United Methodist Church believes in the Great Commission so much that we have made it into our mission statement, expressing our entire purpose for being a church “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
But there’s a problem with the Great Commission. We have made it optional in the church. We have started to believe that it is only some people’s responsibility in the church to go. Its the job of “full time vocational folks” like pastors and missionaries to “go”. But, my friends, in all of these statements Jesus is directing what he is saying to those who follow him. Everyone. No exceptions.
Let’s take a moment to put ourselves in the mindset of the early disciple. For the last three years they had traveled - a lot. They first went with Jesus wherever he would go, listening to him as he taught to the crowds and in homes. They watched as he brought healing. Then, after a period of time, he sent them out two by two to do as he did. To go into towns and villages and bring the good news of the Kingdom of God, in word and deed. Then after a period of time they would return to where Jesus was located. Their travels had been temporary, they would always come back to where they left Jesus.
Then Jesus died and the disciples were throw into a tailspin of sorts. Instead of going anywhere, they locked themselves behind closed doors for safety. They feared the outside world and the harm it could cause them, so they seemed to lose all sights of the missional journeys Jesus had sent them on when he walked on earth.
But Jesus came back. For forty days after he was resurrected, he once again walked the earth with the disciples. However, now the time was approaching for him to leave their presence again so he is taking time to remind them what their purpose is - not to just gather amongst themselves behind closed doors, but to go. To go into the whole world - not just the areas of Judea and Galilee where they had previously ministered - and to bring to all who would listen the good news of the Kingdom of God. This was a broad call. It was a bold task.
I think there are times in our lives when we all would prefer to gather behind closed doors. To just associate with folks we know are like minded in the faith. To come to church, where we can escape the pressure of the outside world, and meet with our friends in our safe cocoon. Let’s be honest, the cocoon feels nice at times!
But just like those early disciples we are called to go. Commanded to go. In Matthew we hear Jesus saying that we are to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Triune God and to teach them what Jesus taught. Sometimes, if we are honest, the broad and bold nature of what the disciples heard long ago, doesn’t propel us out so much as make us want to retreat even further into our cocoon.
Here’s the deal folks - some people are really called to go. To pack up their homes and families and move around the world to serve Jesus Christ. I’ve met some of them. When I attended college, the bulk of my friends were MK’s - missionary’s kids - who told amazing stories of what their families did in the name of Jesus Christ in some places that I couldn’t even locate on a map. And that is wonderful!
And there are other people who are called to serve God in vocational ministry, as pastors and youth leaders. Musicians and support staff at churches. And that is wonderful to! But what I want to stress this morning is that it isn’t just the missionaries and those in vocational ministry that are told to “go” and share the love of Jesus Christ. That is all of us by virtue of our baptism. However, to “go” doesn’t mean going half way around the world. It may mean going out our front door and forming relationships with our neighbors who don’t know Christ. It may mean being open about our faith with colleagues. There are so many different ways that we are called to go.
The Barn a Group does religious statistical research. They found that 75 to 90 percent of all people who come to know Christ will do so through a friend or relative. Let that sink in. 7 to 9 out of 10 people who come to accept Jesus do so because of relationships with people who are right there, doing life with them.
In the Gospel of Luke we hear Jesus saying that the disciples are witnesses. Witnesses of the death and resurrection of Christ. Witnesses of repentance and forgiveness of sins. Witnesses who are sent in the power and name of Jesus to share this life-changing news. We usually think of witnesses as ones who saw, but in this case it is also those who testify. Friends, we are called to testify to how Jesus changed our lives. To testify to how Jesus’s words touched our hearts. To testify to what salvation means to us, because God wants to offer that same salvation to the nations!
Years ago I offered a Bible study around evangelism, or how we share our faith, based off of Bill Hybel’s book Just a Walk Across the Room. The entire premise of the book is that we’ve made testifying harder then it should be. We get so caught up in our own fears in our head, that we make it hard for our legs to go when Jesus is calling us to share. But, friends, if we let our fears get in the way, then the people we encounter in our daily lives miss out on the message of God - the message that we are entrusted to share!
Brothers and sisters, where are you being called to go? Is it just outside of your front door? Are you being called to go into your town and neighborhoods to share the good news of Jesus Christ? If so, what is blocking you from going? If its fear, lets hand that over to God right now. If its worrying that people won’t respond - let’s remember that is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit. If its thinking that you aren’t wise enough - lets look to God for wisdom. Because we are all called to go. But we do not go alone. Let us remember and hear anew the words of Jesus to his disciples and to us, “And remember that I am with you always, to the end of the age”. Amen. And Amen.