May 6, 2018: Seeing Jesus Conclusion
Matthew 28: 18-20
I’m going to begin today by asking you to step out of your comfort zone just a little bit. I want you to turn to someone nearby you, preferably not someone that you came with, and just tell them a fun little story; something that happened to you this week. Tell them a story. I’m going to give you a couple of minutes: go.
OK, back into your comfort zone. The Scripture here today is called the great commission. We understand the great commission. You have probably heard this before. The last few weeks we’ve been trying to figure out how to see Jesus in our every day lives. Now we move one step beyond that. In our story, the Apostles have now spent 40 days living with the resurrected Jesus. They probably don’t need to be able to recognize him, or training in recognizing him. They probably know that it’s him (although the verse right in front of this makes that questionable). Still Jesus is moving on from identification to what he intends for the disciples to do. And he is very clear here in the Gospel of Matthew: you must tell the story. You have to go and you have to make disciples, to teach them what I have taught you, all that I have done for you.
When I was in high school I, like many high school age students, had a flair for the dramatic. Things appeared a little bit bigger to me than they really were. And I remember one of those cases when I had a mountain of homework that I just had to get done. But I also had church choir practice. And I knew that in order to get my mountain of homework done, I could not go to church choir practice. But I also knew that I was going to procrastinate the homework so that if I didn’t go to choir practice I wasn’t actually going to work on homework anyway. And so I went to practice. And at practice my mind kept going to the homework. The pressure was beginning to build on me, and I began to have anxiety about it, with the pressure on my chest, and nervousness. Until I could not take it anymore and I went to a safe place within the building, away from the church choir, away from everyone where I could just be at peace. Except I wasn’t at peace; my mind is still on homework. And now I was doing neither of what I should do. So I came to God and said, “God, I need you to help me.” And from with in, moving out, there was a calm rippling from the inside; a calm presence as if someone had taken me in their arms and said “it’s going to be all right.” I believe this is what Wesley was talking about when he said his heart was strangely warmed; there was warmth that spread from inside me. And I felt at peace. That’s how God was working in my life in high school.
By the time I got to college I was doing a little bit better on those kinds of things, but I was still tempted to covet. And one of the things that I wanted more than anything with a Chevy Aveo. But I did not have a Chevy Aveo nor did I have money for a Chevy Aveo. What I did have was a very old Volkswagen that fell apart. So we went to the dealership. I had $3000, and we begin looking at cars. There were a few at that fit the $3000 budget, and there was a Chevy Aveo for $6000. And I wanted it. Through the dealer’s shrewd actions I got to a point where I was almost putting pen to paper in order to go for that car, even though through the entire bit something inside me was saying “no. You cannot do this. This is a bad decision. Stop before you ruin the rest of your life.” Eventually the feeling overpowered me and I was able to take a night off, and with some help the next morning I was able to go back in and buy the Buick that I had the money for. But I believe that was one way God was working in my life and my college years.
In my ministry I remember a time at Camp Chippewa when I was a counselor there. One of the first weeks I was there we had a camp with several kids and two of them stand out in my memory. We had a boy, we’ll name him John, and John did not want to be at church camp. He wanted to be at camp Wildwood, which was an adventure camp, and he let us know at every opportunity that that’s where he went to be. He did not want to be here. This is a kid who would hide during Bible study time, he wouldn’t eat anything in hopes of being sent home; he was the quintessential troublemaker for the first couple of days. Also in that camp was a girl, we’ll call her Jane, and Jane was the exact opposite. She was the quintessential Sunday school attendee. She had all of the answers and during Bible study to the point that I eventually had to ask if anyone but Jane knew the answer. On one of the last days of camp we were returning to our cabin from a worship service and John was upfront skipping and talking about the glories of camp Wildwood, and Jane was in back with me. And she asked “why is he even here? I mean what good has it been? He’s nowhere with God.” And I do not know where these words came from. I firmly believe that they did not come from me. Yet they have served as a motto for me for the rest of my life. I said, “You do not know where he started. You do not know how far he has come. You can see the present, but you do not know the past. Perhaps he has come further toward God then any of us, but he was just starting that much farther away.” I believe God was working at Camp Chippewa at that moment.
The great commission is about many things but one of the things it’s about is evangelism. And evangelism can be a four-letter word in some sense for a lot of us, but really evangelism should not be feared. Evangelism is merely stories; our personal stories. Stories like these I have shared above. Sometimes our personal stories are just as powerful, if not more powerful, for evangelism as a Gospel story is. After all, the Gospel story is for growth in your faith, it’s for conversions, it’s for discipleship, and it’s for the later stages. For potential new Christians who might not even be remotely close to the faith, their interest builds when they see God working around them. They are interested in how God is working in your life, not the life of someone 2000 years ago. Now, it is important that were able to see Jesus around us so that we have a personal story to share. Which is why we’ve spent the last few weeks talking about seeing that. Once you have a story, once you’ve seen Jesus, then telling that story is just like telling the fun stories you just shared to each other or like the stories I shared to you
The conference that we’re in is in a four-year focus around the great commission and the things that they’ve seen in the great commission. One of those is evangelism, and that is what we will be focusing on this year: proclaiming Christ. It is interesting to me that they actually did not start with proclaim Christ; they started with know God. In the great commission we bring disciples to Jesus Christ, we make disciples for the transformation of the world, because all authority rests in Jesus. That’s what it therefore is there for. Because God is amazing, and because we know God in this way, therefore we make disciples. And of course in the United Methodist church we would say we make disciples for the transformation of the world. Which begs the question: are we trying to transform the world? After all, we are disciples of Jesus. Are we following the teachings of Jesus that we are challenged to teach others; that people were challenged to teach us; by Jesus in this passage? Are we following him?
It’s OK to say “not yet,” for if you rely upon only your own strength it is indeed impossible. Luckily Jesus tells us he will be with us, even till the end of the age. Which brings us to one last story. The first Annual Conference of the Great Plains Conference saw a presentation from the leader of our Zimbabwe mission. That mission is called our Chibadza partnership. The leader described the word Chibadza as the practice of offering to help those you see working as you walk along the road. You offer them Chibadza, which is the offer to help with what they are already doing for a time. And by custom a worker is expected to have a tool on hand in case someone does offer Chibadza. It is on them to furnish the tools for the help.
Our story of working with Jesus is like this. Jesus is at work in the harvest of the world. He has been at work for 2000 years. He is instructing us here to offer him Chibadza; to offer to help him in the work. And he has a tool waiting for us. And he promises that he will still be working as we join him, even till the end of the age. So let us go and offer Chibadza to God throughout the world. Let us do this in Jesus’ name. Amen.