The words of the Gospel from Matthew 22:16-20 are known as, “The Great Commissioning”. Jesus said “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Listen to the words: Go and make. Jesus gave his disciples a tremendous responsibility—go to the whole world and help people develop a deep and abiding friendship with Jesus. Jesus gave the responsibility for making disciples to the disciples. Let me remind you of what kind of people his disciples were. Some had been fishermen, one had been a tax collector, one had been a political extremist. Not a one of them was a priest or a pastor or religious professional. They were what we today refer to as laity—lay men and women. Remember, there were more priests and pastor types in Jesus’ day than you could shake a stick at. But Jesus entrusted this world-changing responsibility to the laity.
But not only did Jesus give his disciples responsibility, he also gave them authority. Jesus said that God had given him complete authority in heaven and on earth. What I want you to see is that Jesus did not jealously guard that authority and keep it for himself, but instead conferred that authority upon his disciples. Early in his time with the disciples, Jesus called them together and “gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness” and then sent them out to do ministry (Matthew 10:1). Jesus gave them responsibility, and he also gave the authority to do what he assigned them.
This is the point I want to drive home today: Jesus gave the whole church the responsibility of making disciples and he also conferred the authority to make disciples upon the whole church. When the clergy release the authority to act and when the laity accepts the responsibility for ministry the church becomes an unstoppable force that reaches its full potential in Jesus Christ.
It was not just the disciples of Jesus time that were given the responsibility of starting the church, bringing in new members and carrying out the work Jesus had started, it is our responsibility too. We are the descendants of those first disciples. We, as Christians are part of that same heritage, that same family. It is our duty as members of the body of the church of Jesus Christ to carry our weight just as those first disciples did. The great “commissioning” that Jesus gave his disciples in the gospel from Matthew applies to us today as much or even more so. We are the church, you and I together with all believers. We have a duty to carry on the faith by promoting it throughout our families, our communities, our state, our nation and to the ends of the earth.
It is important, very important to worship God; to attend Sunday services, to go to Sunday school and VBS, to attend bible studies and prayer services. It is imperative and good that we learn about our faith but God never intended for it to end there. Too often we get the idea that the only thing that we need to do to be “good Christians” is to attend church regularly. While the act of attending church is desirable, what good is it if we just leave our faith, our passion and our fervor for God in the pew as we leave, simply to be picked up where we left it next Sunday? How many of us can honestly say that we carry our faith home with us and use it and share it with others during the week? How many of us proudly display our faith for others to see as we would a new car or new clothes? We wouldn’t think of leaving our cell phones, our wallets or our glasses in the pew all week, why then our faith? Is it less dispensable than a cell phone? While we are together on Sunday mornings we are all very proud of our faith and are not ashamed to proclaim it through our singing, our praying, our confession or declaration of faith. But too often that mind-set evaporates the minute we walk out of church. Why? Why are so many of us afraid to take our faith to others, to talk about it, to praise it in the community? Many times, I must admit, it is because we feel what we do here on a Sunday morning would be embarrassing to do anywhere else. There are those who would label us as a nut case or weird if we shared our love for God in public. There are those who would maybe sue us because we offended them. Are we to be ashamed of our faith? Does it embarrass you? It shouldn’t be that way. We should never deny our God as Jesus tells us in the gospel of Matthew 10:33
"But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven."
"but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God"
We will get nowhere if we don’t take our faith outside these doors. While we set here Sunday after Sunday hearing the ‘Good News”, learning about our faith, what does it profit us, what does it profit the church, what does it profit society as a whole if we don’t take it beyond these walls and share it with others. It’s like some of the people I met while in college. They were quite a bit older than I was and were what I liked to call ‘professional students’. They had gone to school all of their lives. They had piled degree upon degree; they had switched majors several times and went on for advanced degrees. All they knew how to do was learn. While the quest for knowledge is good in itself, that knowledge is worthless unless we take it beyond the confines of the learning institution and share what we know with others for the benefit of all. These students were scared to enter public life, to get a job, to use their knowledge. They felt safe in school. They had, as Simon and Garfunkel once sang, “their books and their poetry to protect them”. All of their education did them no good unless they were willing to use it, to earn a living from it. For all of their accumulated wisdom, they were nothing but “educated fools”.
We cannot be like those students, setting here learning Sunday after Sunday, and never using what we have learned. Sometimes we feel safe here in church where we have our music and our bibles to protect us, where we are among like-minded people. For some of us the church is like a protective cocoon that we don’t want to leave. Like a child, apprehensive at leaving home for the first time, we too long for the safety of home. But that safety, that protection will not allow us to grow as individuals, to make the world a better place. I have attempted to give you an education, something you can earn a living at. I encourage you to use it. You won’t be paid a salary but what a living you will earn, eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom. Just as students have to graduate at sometime and go out and make their mark in the world using what they have learned, so you too need to take what you have learned here and make a mark for God in the world. It’s your “Great Commissioning”. And, like the student, you will need continuing education to keep your skills sharp. Continuing education classes meet here every Sunday morning for one hour.
A few years back I coached my son’s Little League Team. We spent many hours practicing. We practiced and practiced and learned the fundamentals; how to hit, how to bunt, how to throw, how to pitch and catch. We learned all of the secret coaching signs. We honed our skills day after day in the summer sun. We could have practiced all summer but it would have been meaningless. I may have had a great team; Little League World Series contenders maybe, but unless we quit practicing and went out and met the opposition, I would never know. The team would never accomplish anything until they played a game. The act of playing the game after careful preparation is what the world is all about. Practicing and learning go for nothing if we don’t go out and use our skills. There comes a moment in time when we need to leave the safety of our pews and go out and meet the opposition and win them over.
In conclusion, I am going to paraphrase what Paul W. Powell, in The Complete Disciple, wrote as he described this condition: "Many churches today remind me of a group of farmers trying to gather in a harvest while they sit in the machine shed. They go to the machine shed every Sunday and they study bigger and better methods of agriculture, sharpen their plows, grease their tractors, and then get up and go home. Then they come back every Sunday and study bigger and better methods of agriculture, sharpen their plows, grease their tractors, and go home again. They do this week in and week out, year in and year out, and nobody ever goes out into the fields to gather in the harvest."
God gave us a great gift, our very life. God also gave us a great quest, to go out and make believers of all nations. It was the “Great Commissioning”, and also our call to service. It is good to be here together today. It is good that you come faithfully every week. Now, as your coach, I am asking you to play, to go out and give it your best. You won’t have to go it alone for the Holy Spirit will go with you and give you the strength you need and remember, “There is no disgrace in losing, the only disgrace is in never trying”. Amen
Author’s note: The opening three paragraphs of this sermon were taken from a sermon by Dr. Bruce Emmert entitled “Reaching Our Full Potential”; Sermon Central, August 2000. Many thanks to Dr. Emmert for the use of his words.