Every worship service ends with a benediction.
Benedictions are a missional statement. They serve two purposes beyond closing the worship. First, they wrap up the message of the day or whatever the sermon was about. Second, a benediction sends you out with a mission. In these words, you are being commissioned to go out and be witnesses of Christ in all you do this week.
It’s a very biblical blessing, one we see throughout Scripture. The most well known is the one found in Numbers 6:24-26. After the Lord gave Moses some rules relating to worship, the Lord gives Moses this blessing to share with the Israelites: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” These words become a prayer seeking the Lord’s grace and peace to be on the individual as they go out.
Writers have also written blessings. My favorite is from St. Patrick, “May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, and the rain fall short upon your fields, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
Our passage for today is a benediction of sorts, a commissioning statement that sets the stage for the mission of the church, which is the representation of Jesus Christ as we await his glorious return. Jesus is giving his disciples a prayer of blessing and a mission to accomplish. It comes in the moments after his resurrection; that act which confirmed all that Jesus did and taught and gives us hope to live for Christ each day. We know this text as the Great Commission, because in these words we find the great missional challenge for the church. It’s not just for those gathered in Galilee, but it is for all of us. Our mission is simply this: Go. Make. Disciples.
It’s a message that Jesus gives on a mountain in Galilee. That’s not a throwaway scene-setter. Matthew is alerting the reader that something important is taking place. Mountains are important to Matthew’s gospel, because it is on these high places where some of the most crucial moments of Jesus’ earthly ministry occurs. These included important times of teaching, such as the Sermon on the Mount, and miracles, such as the feeding of the 5,000. When Matthew says Jesus is on a mountain, he is is giving us a clue to pay close attention, because what is about to happen is important for everyone to hear and experience.
Jesus’ message begins with an announcement. Jesus tells his followers that all authority in heaven and on earth is now with him. It is a pronouncement that says Jesus is not dead, but is alive and because of that has been given all the power and authority from the Father. He is in the fullness of his divinity as the Son of God. This means Jesus has all sovereignty and jurisdiction. He is the King and the Lord. As Paul writes in Philippians 2:6-11, Jesus has been glorified by his death and resurrection, and because of that Jesus has the name that is above all other names and is the one we are called to worship and follow in our lives.
Because Jesus has all the authority and power, he is giving us a mission. All who desire to follow him are called to a missional movement to go and make disciples. It’s a visioning and missional statement. Jesus is calling us to the mission field to reach and love the lost. Jesus doesn’t give us a lot of details of what this means, but we know at the heart he is proclaiming the Gospel by our words, actions, and deeds. Each generation and missional movement – congregations – must examine what it means to go make disciples in ways that are true to the proclamation of the hope of Jesus Christ. We must be willing to examine ourselves and our practices to see how we might proclaim the message in ways that are true, credible, and appropriate for the times we live in. But what does that look like for us?
Our proclamation of the Gospel must begin with the decision to go. One of my favorite board games is “Monopoly.” Abbi does not like playing it, because she thinks I win too much. Whenever you play Monopoly you want the “big reward” that comes with the right Community Chest or Chance cards. Those “big reward” cards are the ones that send you straight to “Go” and the cash prize.
In a way, the Great Commission is our Community Chest card. It’s sends us out to our mission field. Going involves movement. Jesus is telling us the mission of the church has to be on the move. The church – all of us – must engage the communities that we interact with on a daily basis. We cannot do so from the safety of the sanctuary. Movement into the mission field means meeting people where they are and going to them. It calls us to be in relationship with the people around us, both those we know and those we do not know, to hear their stories. By hearing their stories and entering into relationships with them, we can share how Christ’s story and Christ’s love impacts their lives.
This act of going also requires us to look within ourselves. The mission of the church asks each of us to look at how we are doing things. Going into our mission field means we must be willing to adapt to the changing culture and situations we find ourselves in. It calls us to prayerfully discern what the Holy Spirit is asking of us and how we might respond. Sometimes, we may be able to do things the way we’ve always done them, but often we have to adapt our practices – not our teachings – in order to reach the people.
What does that look like for us? How can we impact our mission field for Christ? How is Christ calling us to go out? What is our outreach? We must prayerfully seek the will of the Spirit to move into our communities and spread the name of Christ by our words, our actions, and our deeds.
Friends, Jesus sends us out with a purpose. We do not outreach merely so people will say, “Look at that great church.” We’re not going out so other churches or our friends will notice us. We are going out so others might know Christ. Our purpose is to make disciples.
Making disciples is the act of leading people into a relationship with the Father, by receiving the free gift of grace and salvation from the Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our outreach into our communities must be done with the purpose of helping others to see their worth and value in Jesus Christ. Everyone has value and importance in the eyes of Christ, and we are called to share that love with all people. Notice what Jesus does not say in this passage. He doesn’t say we reach out to only those whom we know, or those with whom we might be comfortable. Jesus simply tells us to go and make disciples in loving ways that brings all people to Christ.
You know what is the hardest thing for us here. It’s not the realization that we are called to go out and make disciples of all people. It is the fact that is not us who does the making. The Holy Spirit is the one who opens our hearts and minds to faith. Thus, outreach into our community and the act of making disciples is our participation in what God is doing in our midst. We have the great privilege to join in ministry and be used by Christ in ways that bring others to faith. When we humble ourselves to be used by the Holy Spirit, our words become the words of grace that show someone Christ’s love for them. Our actions becomes the witness that shares Christ’s love to others.
What would it look like for us to be humbled and used by the Holy Spirit in the act of making disciples? What would we have to give up? What would we have to take on?
There is something else Jesus asks of his followers. Making disciples is not the final story. We are called to train and teach disciples in what it means to be followers of Christ. We know this to be true. When we are learning how to drive, we’re not just given the keys and told to teach ourselves. We have someone sitting beside us who is telling us when to brake, when the speed up, how to take the curves, and how to parallel park.
The same is true for teaching disciples. We are continually training and teaching what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ based on his teachings and commandments. Jesus is the center of our teaching – not us or our own desires of what the church must look like.
Notice something else here. Teaching what it means to follow Christ comes after someone is made a disciple of Christ. That is significant. Teaching and growth in faith – acts of sanctification – comes after one has been redeemed. What this means for us is we cannot expect someone to “have it all together” or to be “without sin.” We have to be willing to engage and see people as Christ saw each of us – as children of God in need of love and grace.
Who do we need to see in our community as Christ saw us?
None of this do we do on our own. Christ tells us that he is with us until the end of the age. His presence is with us when we outreach. He goes before us and prepares the field for the mission. That should give us confidence. Our calling is to walk where Christ has already gone, to meet the people Christ has already loved, and share the free gift of love that has redeemed and shaped us.
There is an opportunity for all of us to go and make disciples. Tonight, we begin the journey of outreaching into our community – as two churches and a charge. I invite you to attend these discipleship trainings tonight and Wednesday as we look at growth and outreach. Make time in your week to learn and talk about what it means to share the love of Christ in ways that are welcoming and loving.
My friends, Christ has given us a calling. He has given us a mission. Let’s go and make disciples in Mackville, in Perryville, in Springfield, in Danville, and in Harrodsburg. Let us walk into the mission field that Christ has prepared for us so that all might know the redeeming love of Jesus Christ.