16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I want to center my remarks this morning around the theme: “If you aren’t making disciples, you are doing it wrong.” If you aren’t making disciples, you are doing it wrong.
Well, let me again acknowledge that today is Father’s Day. I know not everyone has or has had good relationships with their father, and that makes today a difficult day for some, so let’s be sure we honor those complicated feelings. But each of us has had father figures in our own lives, whether they are biological or not, and I am thinking of many of the men who have mentored me, who have taught me things, who have given me advice.
A couple of weeks ago, I told you that my wife Stacey and I took Emmaline to Memphis to visit my family. One day that week, my wife, Stacey, my dad, my brother, and I put the car seat in my dad’s truck and took my daughter Emmaline about three hours outside of town to Lexington, TN to meet my 94-year-old great uncle. My grandfather, my dad’s father, was killed in a car accident while my dad was in medical school, so I never got to meet him, but Uncle Dick, my grandfather’s brother, never was married or had any children so he sort of stepped into that role for my dad.
And we took Emmaline out to see the old home place my grandfather and great uncle built when they got out of the army in the 1940’s, and it’s fallen into disrepair so we sat on the porch and ate sandwiches. And my brother asked my great uncle, Uncle Dick, how is it that you have lived to be 94? Do you have any advice for living a long life?
And Uncle Dick, being a very particular man, said, why, yes, I am glad you asked, there are three steps to living a long life. So I am going to share them with you.
First, he said, don’t eat too much meat. I thought, I can do that. I mean, I love barbecue but I don’t eat it regularly. Uncle Dick said that on most days, he’d rather eat bad vegetables than good meat, and I would agree with that. You might not know it, of course. But I try to only eat meat once a day or so.
Second, he said, don’t smoke dope. I thought, ok, great, maybe this isn’t going to be as hard as I thought.
Finally, he said, don’t work a job in which you will have any stress. At this point, my father the doctor, and I, the preacher, looked at each other and realized we were never going to live to be 94. My brother, who is an upper- upper- upper- upperclassman in college, will probably live forever.
The scripture lesson today is sort of like the advice from my great uncle about how to live a long life in that it is instructions about how to be a follower of Jesus. In the church, we call this passage the Great Commission. And unlike my uncle’s three pieces of advice—which is good, because I’m likely only going to make it two/thirds of the way there, the great commission says that if you want to follow Jesus, there’s one non-negotiable command: making disciples. If you aren’t making disciples, you are doing it wrong.
That’s not to say that there aren’t other important parts of being a Christian. I want to affirm that when you encounter someone who is hungry, just giving them a Bible doesn’t help very much because a Bible does not taste very good. You feed them, for when you offer them food, the Bible says, it is as if you are offering food to Christ himself. This kind of thing is important. But just feeding people is not uniquely Christian in and of itself. I hope Jesus leads you to feed people. But you don’t need Jesus to feel a tug on your heart when you encounter a hungry child. That’s just part of being human.
And if this sounds obvious, like it’s not that revolutionary, let me say this. It is VERY good to feed people. But if you are feeding people without making Disciples, you are doing it wrong. This is the central piece of being a Christian. Yes, we’ve all seen how this stuff is done poorly, the emotional manipulation, the difficulties involved in relating across cultures and talking about something as sensitive as your faith in Jesus Christ. But if you aren’t making disciples, you are doing it wrong.
I mean, we can quibble about the various parts of being a Christian, but surely the church ought to be taking this seriously. I’m just wondering, what would it look like to use this litmus test to test every single thing we do here at North Decatur United Methodist Church? That’s the mission of the United Methodist Church, to make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. What if we applied this test to every single thing we did? What if the people who made decisions about the facilities didn’t start with the question, how much will this cost, but rather, how will this make disciples? What if when we plan ministries, we don’t ask, how can we pull this program off AGAIN this year, but how can we best use this opportunity to make disciples? And if it won’t, they why in Heaven’s name are we doing it? Because it is an effective use of the resources we’ve been given here, on this corner, that will lead us to make disciples? Or because we’ve always done it?
If you aren’t making disciples, you are doing it wrong. And I know it is difficult. But so are most of life’s most precious gifts.
It’s difficult, so let’s talk for just a few minutes about how it is that we make disciples. There are three easy steps. I don’t know if you’re big on taking notes during the sermon. I’m usually not. But I want you to take notes if you can—just write down the three steps. Here they are: say hello, grow, and go.
Alright. Number one, you’ve got to say hello. You’ve got to welcome folks on behalf of Jesus. This happens in a few different ways. Folks may wander in on Sunday mornings—because of our great location, that happens fairly regularly around here. And when they get here, they need to be greeted by you. If you’re able to get around on Sunday morning, your first priority has got to be looking out for somebody you don’t really recognize and welcoming them here. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure if you know them or not—if you aren’t sure, then you need to welcome them even if they’ve been here before! Ask about their families. See if they have any questions. If it’s raining, look out the door and run out with an umbrella. Show them where the nursery is, introduce them to your friends.
But saying hello on behalf of Jesus does not just happen on Sunday morning. You’ve got to invite people here if you expect them to experience a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. Let me ask you this. This is a serious question. Do you like it here? Do you think God is glorified here? Do you think we’ve got something special? Then invite somebody! Here’s another question. When is the last time you invited somebody to church? Called them the night before to see if there is anything you can do to help them get here? Followed up after they visited? I am glad you think this place is special—I do too! But until we each make an effort to constantly invite new people into the life of this incredibly special place, we aren’t making disciples, and if we aren’t making disciples, we aren’t doing it right.
The second easy step is to grow. Becoming a Disciple doesn’t mean saying, oh, I’ve joined the church, I’ve read the Bible, I even went to annual conference one year, I’m all set. Discipleship requires growth, and growing’s got to happen from the moment you take your first breath until you take your last. You don’t graduate from church! Now, I will acknowledge that growth is hard. It involves stretching yourself to see new things in new ways, to encounter new people with new perspectives, and so here’s a helpful little test. If you are comfortable all the time, you aren’t growing! If you aren’t in a Sunday school class, I hope you’ll find one! We will have some new options in the fall for young parents and young adults, and for those who want to go a little deeper in their study of the Bible and Christian theology. Find a class and get plugged in. And just because you are in a Sunday school class doesn’t give you license to slack off. Discipleship means growth! So you’ve got to grow, and you’ve got to help others grow as well! You all have been so wonderful about embracing our children’s ministry, but it is going to take even more of us than we have now, because we each have a role in helping others grow. And if we aren’t growing, if we aren’t helping others grow, we aren’t making disciples, and if we aren’t making disciples, we aren’t doing it right.
The third and final step is to go. Notice that when Jesus talked to his disciples, he didn’t say, “wait around for opportunities to make disciples.” He didn’t say, “sit in the church until they show up.” There’s nothing in here about a building at all. He didn’t say “if it is convenient, or if you feel like it, or if you have some free time.” He said, “GO!” Get up out of your well-work pew and go be the church. Now, if most of us found ourselves in the presence of the living God, and we got instructions as clear as “GO!” I don’t think we’d argue too much! And yet this is what we do, at least in our own minds. We say, oh, that’s not my gift. I am too old, or I’m not good enough a Christian to go out and wear my faith on my sleeve, or I’m just too shy,” and yet while I am convinced that Jesus loves us no matter what excuses we make, that’s what they are—excuses. Jesus says Go! There’s no argument necessary. When the son of God says Go, we should say, how far?
I know it is not that easy, believe me. It’s all well and good for the minister to stand up in the polyester robe and the stole and talk about the importance of going out to make disciples, but let me tell you that while I am, in fact, a professional Christian, I really do get it. I am an introvert. I am also painfully shy. This may surprise you—I don’t know—but the fact that I am who I am and I am in the business I am in is proof positive to me that God calls each of us—painfully shy or not—and that God equips us for ministry. The last word here—in fact, the last word in all of the gospel of Matthew—is not just the command to go, but a promise: Lo, I am with you, even to the end of the age. There is nowhere you can go that God is not. Yes, the responsibilities of a life of faith are difficult. But we worship a God who creates, redeems, and sustains us. God is here, with you. God will sustain you, if you will just go along with God’s mission. It’s a promise.
I will end with this. This week, I want to invite you to think about what I think is a simple question: What is God calling ME to do to make disciples? I don’t mean, is there a program at the church that needs my help. That’s well and good, but Jesus did not tell us to go and make programs of Jesus Christ. Jesus said to make Disciples. And he said he’d be with us to the end of the age. That pretty much covers it I think, and on days when I feel inadequate, I am reminded that there’s really no good argument against any of this stuff. It’s pretty clear. If you aren’t making Disciples, you are doing it wrong. And so when the service is over, and the prelude is done, and you’ve shaken hands and said hello to your friends, I don’t think Jesus would mind one bit if you left your dignity sitting right here in the sanctuary to run out the doors and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And if you can’t run, walk. And if you can’t walk, pray. For each of us, each of us in our different lives and different circumstances and different cultures and different ages, each of us has one common mission: to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. So let’s go.
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