Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gifted With Promise

Sunday Sermon - 6-19-11

The other day was “Captain Picard Day”. A former member of Star Trek’s Enterprise’s crew suggested we ‘end all our sentences with "make it so,"’[i] the way Captain Picard ends all his commands to his crew. Helmsman, warp, 8, …” – I’ve always thought my best benedictions end that way... “Go forth & ‘make it so’!"

But most of the time I feel like I’m ending the sermon the way an older TV show began, (music) "your mission, Mr. Phelps, should you choose to accept"  

Jesus' final message in Matthew must have seemed to the disciples an impossible mission. (Perhaps Jesus ascension was the 1st century equivalent of a tape recording disintegrating.)

Tom Long writes that Jesus’ message must have hit them with “near-comic irony,
“all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” (Mt. 28:18)
They must have looked around at each other, waiting for the ‘Mormon tabernacle choir to start singing the Hallelujah Chorus.[ii] Instead there they were on an “unnamed mountaintop in backwater Galilee.
They were with a congregation of 11, down from 12 the week before and even some of them are doubtful and not so sure why they have come to worship this day.”[iii]
Long says, it would be as if Jesus told us, here in this congregation, to “Go into all the world and cure cancer, clean up the environment, evangelize the unbelievers, and while you are at it, establish world peace.”[iv]     …an IMPOSSIBLE MISSION.

Their Reality was quite different than the glorious way we paint it reading back into the story. Their week has been full of drama and struggle. Only the disciples, the guys, hadn’t witnessed most of it personally. They haven’t seen Jesus or heard his voice. They last they knew, he was arrested and crucified.
Only the women saw that glorious, if confounding, scene at the empty tomb. All the guys know is that the women told them there were to “GO”. Go, get out of town, get to the small rural area of Galilee. And ‘Jesus will meet you???’
            It must have sounded like a command to go hide out.
And soon the disciples will be blamed for Jesus’ missing body. the rumors are being intentionally spread by the hierarchy accusing them of stealing it.[v]

Discipleship was never an easy job; leaving everything, their families and livelihoods to follow Jesus. But now that he’s gone – somewhere – discipleship looks like an Impossible Mission.

They finally DO encounter Jesus, but their response is mixed, we are told ‘some doubted’. They meet the risen Jesus with both
worship and uncertainty,
both devotion and hesitation.
It’s a mixture of faith and doubt. . . and THAT characterizes discipleship.

A NT scholar, Craig Koester, talks about the characteristics of discipleship and says the disciples going forth to “make it so” into an unseen future, is a "characteristics of discipleship"
            Going forth, with only a word to direct you, is a "characteristics of discipleship."
Note, the same commission is given to all the followers;
those who are ready, who accept all that is happening, those who  worship Jesus AND those who have doubts
Go & make disciples.
Go was the command that brought them back to the mountain top and  ‘Go’ is the command with which they leave.

Go, choose to accept this impossible mission. Not because you are sure you can do it, but because you hear the call of Jesus.

We bring ALL our doubts to the place Christ promises to meet us...and this too is discipleship.

            We don’t follow Jesus after we are certain he makes sense.
            We don’t decide to be baptized because it’s the smartest move for upward mobility.
            We don’t align ourselves with the Church of the Brethren, to get somewhere in this world.
We bring our doubts to THIS place where Christ promises to meet us!

We are gifted with his promise.
It is truly a great gift AND . . .  it’s all we’ve got. Christ’s promise, to be with us forever, even to the end of everything.

We accept the mission because it is an invitation to take our baptism seriously.

            Matthew 28: 19-20 is MY baptism verse. My father read it to me, just before he lowered me under the water of baptism.
I heard it again the day I was ordained to ministry. Ordination is a time when we renew our baptism vows and take vows of service as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
            On that day, in 2004 (I was already a licensed minister) but I had completed my seminary degree and the service of ordination was being held at Manassas. A woman from the congregation came to my colleague, Jeff and asked to sing at my service. Of course we said yes, but I didn’t know what she would sing. Jeff did but didn’t tell me. Heather sang, “Go, teach, baptize…” without ever having a clue that it was my baptismal verse.
            I was deeply touched. Both my parents were dead, yet I could almost see them standing behind her as she sang. It was a re-baptism of the Spirit. . .
. . .
Have you been baptized? Do you follow Jesus’ way of the cross?
It takes the commitment of baptism to really follow Jesus. Oh we can do plenty of good works without it. But, It’s like the difference between the commitment of marriage and just living together. Baptism marks us with the cross, which is the way of Jesus’ self-giving - living.

In my devotional reading this week, I came across Carlo Caretto, who wrote, it’s …
”hard to live the privilege of the cross. The fact is...I have to grasp the meaning of the Beatitudes. [Rules for living] that sound so unconvincing to the sort of Christians we [usually] are. We, (he said) who have received baptism like the squirt of a water pistol.[vi] P. 197

Is he right? Do we who have been baptised take it as lightly as a squirt of a water pistol? At times, I fear he is right. And I’m speaking only for myself. Yet I imagine, (looking at Christianity today) that his words relate to many of us who call ourselves followers, disciples of Christ, without the commitment and perhaps without the gift of his promise.

Let’s let the words of the ‘Great Commission’ be an Invitation to take our baptisms more seriously.

I want the months ahead to be known as our Summer of Renewal. Or, if you’ve never been baptised, then BE BAPTIZED. I’ll even give you the date, July 10, the Sunday after I return from Conference. (although you can pick another of your choosing.)
I promise it will be more than the squirt of a water pistol. We Brethren believe in a good dunking.
            So if you haven’t, then take the plunge, literally.
I promise to pull you up.
If you are already baptized, then join THIS church if you are not already a member. Discipleship is not a solitary pursuit and I can think of no better band of brothers and sisters to accompany you on the journey.

There are 3 ways to get into our fine membership.
1. Be baptized here.
2. transfer your membership from another congregation OR
3. become an Associate member. This is an appropriate option if you have a Home church that holds great meaning for you and you want to remain a member there, but still adopt us, as your current church home.

We don’t usually stress membership and we don’t do a regular “altar call” as they have been named, to invite people to make a commitment to follow Christ. Yet is IS appropriate to invite everyone to say ‘Yes’ to Jesus, and make the firm and public commitment of following Jesus, the Christ.

We can do this as a group. There are numerous people here who may want to make this commitment together. WE ALL renew our commitments every time someone joins this fellowship.

I must remind you, that No one can follow Jesus without the spirit that comes with baptism. This is the promise with which we are gifted. It’s not magic that arrives with the water. It’s a gift that is given to everyone who gathers around the feet of Jesus and hears his ‘impossible command.’ We’d never make it anywhere without his Spirit and this season of Pentecost is a time to remember we DO HAVE HIS SPIRIT, with us, here, NOW, and FOREVER.

And the command that comes to ALL Jesus’ disciples is to ‘Go,’
Go and make more disciples. Go & baptize, Go & teach, GO forth and ‘make it so.’
Go, become a disciple yourself, not because you have everything figured out but because Jesus has spoken to you.

Amid the fears & the doubts & the uncertainty, we go, gifted with promise so when the mission goes from hard to tough to impossible, we will still be able to GO.

[i] Levar Burton on Twitter
[ii] Thomas G. Long Feasting on the Word, Yr. A Pentecost I Homiletical Barlett & Brown, eds. (Louisville: WJK, 2011) p. 47
[iii] ibid p. 47
[iv] ibid p. 49
[v] Craig Koester,
[vi] Carlo Caretto from “Why O Lord?” quoted in Guide to Prayer for All God’s People (Nashville: Upper Room, 1990) p. 197

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