Fare thee well! Now bear with me on this. I’m not going anywhere other than to a point, to a literary one that is, a journey of a discussion about today’s gospel selection in Matthew 28: 16-20. In this brief selection of verses we have Jesus saying “good-bye” along with a crucial instruction. Some of the eleven disciples didn’t believe that it was Jesus who was speaking. Apparently, they couldn’t get over the ongoing, miraculous appearance of their leader whom they thought was dead and buried.
Incredulity notwithstanding, those eleven disciples witnessed either the last or near the last time Jesus would speak on earth before his final disappearance into heaven. This moment was crucial because Jesus gave an imperative to his disciples about what they were supposed to be doing after his departure.
What did Jesus tell his eleven followers about their new mission in life? Those who had gathered for Jesus’ parting words were told to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . .” (Matthew 28:19a). This magnificent statement is also known as the great commission. Jesus emphasized this missionary aspect of the gospel. The disciples were instructed to tell the world to obey all that they had been told, and with this Jesus gave the reassurance that he would be with them until the end times.
And so what are we supposed to be doing? There’s no compelling reason to believe that we should not also be fulfilling the great commission. Jesus gives us a message of love and life, and our wonderful, great purpose involves spreading God’s message upon the earth. It all sounds so simple, but Christians can’t agree on how best to spread the word (they often can’t even agree on what word to spread!).
So, here we are almost two-thousand years later wondering what to do with ourselves as we contemplate how best to accomplish what God wants from us. Complications abound. One is that our culture isn’t nearly as friendly to church concerns as it once was, and we face dwindling numbers of our own workers as time and circumstance take their toll. A skeptical public makes demands upon churches to be interesting, relevant, and able to help meet peoples’ needs.
Friends, I’ll be the first to state that we face challenges. But also know this: The realism of our situation is not without hope. We can choose to rally ourselves, take risks, and use our time, talent, and treasure to forge a brighter future. The reason for all this is that we, like those ancient disciples, are supposed to proclaim God’s love and truth. Yes indeed, we must do what we can to revitalize our congregation and try to attract people who need to be transformed by God’s message.
If we choose to do nothing then we have, by default, chosen to die. You know that I don’t like to dwell on negativity. However, we must also not succumb to denial. Part of my task as a spiritual leader is to highlight dangers and offer solutions. So, I’m calling attention to an obvious problem about our future. We must face the stark reality of our congregation and discern that we can’t continue indefinitely as we are. Look around you on a typical Sunday morning. The throngs of kids and young families once present are no longer here. Aging churches like ours must make heroic efforts to survive. The good news is that there are ways that we can get people back, but it will take everything we have—and more! Thankfully, God will give us what we need if we are determined to do our part. Sure, I know that it is tempting to just coast into oblivion and try to keep everyone smiling as things wind down. Not on my watch! I have to answer to God and my own conscience, which is why I won’t give-up on you. Choose life! I’d rather be criticized for trying to do too much than be praised for apathy. Please, join with me as we yearn for the transforming power of God’s Spirit. We can even have fun as we try new things and embrace the joy of our salvation.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey