Today’s lectionary selection in Matthew 28: 16-20 reveals a “good-bye” and important instructions still relevant today. Jesus’ words are critical because he wanted to instill guidance about what his followers were supposed to be doing after his imminent departure.
What did Jesus tell his eleven followers about their mission going forward? 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, which is what we’re supposed to be sharing with the world. Jesus emphasized this missionary aspect of the gospel which we must continue to fulfill by spreading the word to all peoples everywhere. All God’s followers, both ancient and modern, are encouraged to share the good news about God’s offer of redemption.
Then as now, Jesus provides a timeless message of transformative love. Our wonderful, great purpose involves proclaiming God’s message upon the earth so that all life can be enhanced. It all sounds so simple, but Christians seldom agree on how best to spread the word (they often can’t even agree on what word to spread!). Rather than do nothing in the face of uncertainties, we can confidently move forward and assist people with total life, holistic renewal, the type that leads to the wellbeing God wants for us.
So, here we are almost two-thousand years later wondering what to do with ourselves as we contemplate how best to accomplish Jesus’ great commission. Culture isn’t nearly as receptive to our message as it was decades ago. We also face dwindling numbers of our own workers as time and circumstances take their toll. A duly skeptical and questioning public asks churches to prove their value-add by proving if attending church is worth their time. Part of our response to these headwinds involves keeping church interesting, relevant, and able to help meet peoples’ needs. Unlike how it was in the past, the church must now earn peoples’ trust and respect.
Friends, I’ll be the first to admit that we face profound challenges. But also know this: Working hard makes us stronger. 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. We must do what we can to revitalize our faith as we attract people who yearn to be transformed from the inside out by God’s message. So, making the church stronger starts with you and with me being all that God is calling us to be.
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 never deny what’s going on. Part of the task of any effective spiritual leader is to highlight dangers and offer solutions. So, I’m calling attention to an obvious problem about the future of American Christianity and even more so about how true followers of God must demonstrate spiritual power. Are you ready to change how you think, feel and act? By remaining responsive we’ll be far more effective than if we are stuck in the muddy waters of darkness and denial.
Look around you on a typical Sunday morning and notice how the congregation has changed over decades. The throngs of kids and young families once present are not as numerous as they once were. Our church is still healthy in many ways, and there are creatively satisfying ways that we can fulfill Jesus’ great commission of spreading the gospel. Our task is to remain agile and ready to do whatever it takes. Churches like ours will survive and thrive as we respond positively.
Rising to the many challenges requires everything we have—and more! Thankfully, God will provide 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 must answer to God and my own conscience, which is why I won’t give-up on you. Choose life and do your part to pass your beloved church down to future generations. We are here at St. John to help one another overcome obstacles. What encouraging words can you share with your brothers and sisters in our faith fellowship?
It is far better to be criticized for trying to do too much than be praised for sliding down the numbing path of negativity and indifference. Please, join with me as we embrace the transforming power of God’s Spirit. We can have fun as we adopt new strategies and techniques for reaching people. We have a wonderful church that has much going for it so what is restraining you from being all God is calling you to become?
–Reverend Larry Hoxey