September 5, 2010
Joyce MacKichan Walker
"The Art of Disciple Making"
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Jesus said it. Go do it. Jesus has your back.
“All authority … has been given to me.” Jesus said it.
“Go and make disciples of all nations…” Go do it.
“I am with you always….” Jesus has your back.
Jesus said it. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Go do it. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” (walk to the font) “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” - there’s a sign.
Jesus has your back. “And remember, I am with you always….” (walk to the table) – there’s a sign.
Jesus said it. Go do it. Jesus has your back.
The church’s mission – our disciple-making – is grounded in who Jesus is – Son of God, given authority over heaven and earth by God, the one and only God, the God of all. Jesus said it.
The church’s mission – our disciple-making – includes both teaching what we believe and living like we trust it. Go do it.
The church’s mission – our disciple-making – is accompanied by Jesus. The one who sends us goes with us. Jesus has our back.
Sounds simple. Even compelling. Familiar words. Familiar signs. But is it really simple? Two weeks ago in the Prayers of the People I prayed, “Open our minds to see broader visions… of true recognition of Muslim worshippers as brothers and sisters who call on your name when they pray, the one and only God. At the door some people said things like, “Thank you, in this climate, for your prayer for Muslims.” “Thank you for acknowledging the God of Muslims is our God. ” One person asked, “So what about Muslims? Should we be evangelizing Muslims?” Great question. TOUGH question.
In our budding mission and service partnership with the Stony Point Presbyterian Center in New York, we will be invited into a conversation they are focusing on – Exploring the traditions of non-violent conflict resolution in three monotheistic (one God) faiths – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Living on site at Stony Point are a rabbi, an Islamic leader and teacher, and Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase, the Christian (Presbyterian) co-directors of Stony Point. One of the ways they are beginning this exploration is through a summer program for interns. An equal number of Christians, Jews, and Muslims ages 19-29 live together for a month – examining each other’s scriptures and writings, studying specific justice issues in light of religious belief and faith, experiencing each other’s worship rituals and traditions together, and sharing with each other what their faith traditions bring to the conversation. One issue they studied was laws about the foods one may eat, called “kosher” for Jews and Halal for Muslims. They visited the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center farm in northwestern Connecticut, which integrates organic farming, sustainable living, Jewish learning and teaching, and contemplative spiritual practice. After much explanation and discussion, the Muslim leader invited comments. One of the interns from the Freedman farm stood up and said, “It’s amazing how close our customs are even though we have different faiths and different Gods." The response was swift from almost every Stony Point intern and quite a few of the farm interns. All at the same time, they yelled, "It’s the same God!" I’m sure it was startling, I hope even eye-opening, for the speaker, but as I heard the story, it was clear it was eye-opening for everyone.
Should we be evangelizing Muslims? Or Jews? “It’s the same God.”(1)
A group from the United States was visiting the Mar Elias School in Ibillin, in the region of Galilee, Israel. The school was started, and continues to be run by now Archbishop Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian Melkite Catholic priest with Israeli citizenship, who was driven from his home during the Israeli occupation in 1948 when he was 8. Called “Abuna,” by his parishioners, he started this school, open to all religions but containing mostly Muslims, Christians, and Druze, so that children of different religions would grow up together – knowing, instead of hating, one another. Someone in the group from the United States asked Abuna, "You are a Christian school. You have Muslim students. Do you ever convert any of the Muslims to Christianity?" Father Chacour's first reply was, "We want to convert all of the students — to their God." Then he proceeded to tell this story:
One day Father Chacour was leaving the courthouse in Haifa, having been there to deal with a matter of permits for a new building at the school. Upon leaving the courthouse Father Chacour saw a young man being brought up the steps in handcuffs with an Israeli soldier on either side escorting him. Father Chacour recognized the young man as one of the recent graduates from the high school he founded in Ibillin. His name was Hassan. He was an Arab of the Druze religion, an offshoot of Islam. (One feature of the Druze is that they swear allegiance to whatever government presides over the land in which they live.) Father Chacour spoke, "Hassan, my dear, what is wrong? What happened to you?" Hassan replied, "It's your fault Abuna? You are the reason why I am in the prison." Father Chacour asked, "How can that be?" And Hassan replied, "For four years, every day of school you or one of the faculty spoke to us when we assembled before classes. You told us many things: ‘We must not hate, we must love even our enemies. Violence only causes more violence. War is not the answer to our country's problems. Every person deserves to be respected because every person is a child of God.’ You taught us all those truths and I believed you. So, I have refused to be drafted into the army to bear weapons against my brother and sister Arabs. That is why I have been in prison for six months." Father Chacour asked, "What is going to happen to you?" Hassan answered, "The judge will ask if I am now willing to be drafted into the army." What will you say?" Father Chacour asked. "I will say that I refuse to bear weapons against my fellow Arabs. And, if I am put in prison for six more months and six months after that and six months after that,
I will not change my mind because I know that what you taught me is the truth." After telling the story, Father Chacour concluded, "That is what I mean by converting all the students to their God." (2)
Jesus said it. Go do it. Jesus has your back.
So what do we do with these words of Jesus? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
The heart of this last commission of Jesus lies in the command to make disciples. Despite what the English translation “Go,” implies, the only imperative verb, second person plural, not singular, is “Make disciples.”
You - make disciples. You plural – make disciples. It’s not really four commands: Go; Make Disciples; Baptize; Teach. It’s really, “Once you’ve gone,” or “While you’re going,” - make disciples - baptizing them, teaching them….” The command is “Make disciples.” “Going… baptizing…. teaching,” – that’s the process. And in Matthew, it’s a commission not pointedly for individuals, but for the church. It’s a collective, plural “you” – you church - make disciples.
This command, “Make disciples,” is entirely consistent with what Jesus has been saying all along in Matthew’s gospel. Matthew knows we have to go – this is good news! You – you plural – you the church – get the word out. It will involve teaching. It will involve baptizing. It will require being out there in the world – engaging the conversation, telling the story, knowing the story in order to tell it!
But the telling – that’s the tricky part for us, isn’t it? In this multi-faith world, with Jews and Muslims and Christians and Buddhists and Agnostics and Atheists and Wiccans and God knows what else out there – all of them – all of us – in our schools and our workplaces, on our playgrounds and in our grocery stores, in our book groups and neighborhoods. What in the world… what – in the world – does the conversation look like?
We might want to take our lead from Matthew’s Jesus. From all of those things Jesus commanded, taught, modeled, demonstrated, lived. Making disciples might look a lot less like telling, and a lot more like doing. Making disciples might look a lot less like telling, and a lot more like doing.
After all, Matthew’s Jesus says, … Follow me. 4:19
Blessed are the peacemakers. 5:9
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good words and give glory to your Father in heaven. 5:16
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 5:23-24
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 5:43-44
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 6:14-15
"Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 7:1
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven …. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 6:19-21
First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. 7:5
"In everything do to others as you would have them do to you. 7:12a
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 7:21
"A disciple is not above the teacher, it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher….” 10:24a, 25a
"'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 22:37-39
“'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' …just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' NRS Matthew 25:40, 45
Doing is so much harder than telling…. Maybe disciple-making is a whole lot of living our Christian faith. Maybe the way we practice our Christian faith speaks volumes. In the face of all the stories that are out there, knowing our own – our Christian story, claiming it in the conversation every time an opportunity arises, but most of all – living it every day of our lives – maybe that’s disciple-making. It’s the doing that Jesus teaches us. It’s the doing that Jesus commands.
That and embracing the signs. The water… the bread … the wine… they proclaim, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus said it. Go do it. Jesus has our back.
1 As told by one of the interns in “Farm the Land, Grow the Spirit,” summer of 2010.
2 Story recounted by the Rev. Donald L. Griggs, former Executive Director of the Pilgrims of Ibilin, an American fund raising board for the Mar Elias School in Ibilin.
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