I love Homer Simpson. He is the proverbial couch potato. He’s content with his lot in life, goes to church, but doesn’t take it too seriously, in fact, he’s more at home at Moe’s Bar or in front of the TV than anywhere else. Instead of taking on life, Homer let’s life come to him. He may enjoy watching an action flick or a football game, but he has no interest in getting in on the action. Yes, I like Homer Simpson. I could even enjoy being Homer Simpson. Whether Cheryl would like being Marge Simpson – blue hair and all – is another question.
Knowing Homer Simpson as well as I do, I think he’d be a bit uncomfortable listening to this morning’s text. It has too many active verbs. For those of you who are grammar afficionados, you know that good writing requires active verbs. While that may be true, Homer Simpson likes a more passive style, and so he might not like the Great Commission with all of its active verbs. It’s too action oriented and not the kind of religion that appeals to a couch potato.
As much as I may admire Homer, this sermon isn’t for him. Therefore, I’m going to focus on five very active verbs that define the mission of the church – Go, Make, Baptize, Teach, and Remember.
Jesus said to the disciples as they gathered on a Galilean hillside: "Go into all the world." In saying this to them, he made it clear that the church’s ministry takes place outside the church’s walls. Remember, he once told the disciples not to put their light under a bushel. When Lesslie Newbigin returned to England after serving the church in India for decades, he was disturbed at finding a church that had lost its sense of purpose. He found a church hiding behind its walls and making no impact on its community. In books and speeches he challenged the church in England and in America to reclaim its calling to be a missionary people. He reminded us that we are all called to be missionaries –whether we minister in far away lands or here at home.
This word – go – reminds us that we are called to be a missional church. We are called by God to proclaim and to live the good news of God’s kingdom in our community. As we take up this mission, we bring to the world a message of hope, of healing, and of justice. (See Lesslie Newbingin, The Open Secret, Revised Edition, Eerdmans, 1995.)
2. Make/Create (Disciples)
The second word is Make. Because we have been created in the image of the Creator, we share in God’s work of creation. Part of that work of creation is creating disciples. As we go into the world and invite the world to share in the reign of God, they become disciples.
When Jesus sent us into the world to make disciples, he also told us to mark these Disciples in baptism. Baptism is a rite of initiation. It places the mark of the Spirit on those who hear the call to follow Jesus and share in the reign of God. There are very few places in the New Testament where we can find a Trinitarian formula, but in this passage we are told to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As we baptize in this holy name, God claims them as his own.
Because this formula has become the standard one, wherever we go in the world, our baptism stands as a sign that we are all part of one body. Because God has claimed us as his own, the things that divide us become less important. Having been marked by the Spirit, we are empowered and sent out to share in God’s mission of redemption and transformation. It doesn’t matter what language we speak, the color of our skin, the customs of our communities, having been baptized we are now one body in Christ called to do the work of God in the world.
There is one final task. It’s not enough to go into the world, make disciples, and then baptize them. We must also pass on to these new disciples the teachings of Jesus. If God is going to bring reconciliation and redemption and justice to our world, the world must hear the teachings of Jesus so that they can know the ways of God. We can accomplish this calling both by our words and by our deeds. The way we live as a community of faith is just as important as the words we say. Of course, if words aren’t enough, then deeds alone aren’t enough. We need both word and deed to teach the faith.
The words give our faith substance, our deeds tell the world that we believe what we teach. We may not have a creed, but we have the scriptures, and in those scriptures we find words that define how we are to live before God and with each other. Our task and our calling is this: Jesus is sending us into the world to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them the things of God.
Finally, Jesus tells the disciples to remember. If the first four words define our calling, this last word reminds us that we don’t go out alone. No matter where we go, Jesus promises to go with us — even to the ends of the earth.
If we are to remember that Jesus is always with us, three is no better place for this to happen than at the Lord’s Table. In the words of institution, we hear Jesus say to us: "Do this in remembrance of me." As we share in the bread and the cup, we are reminded that the one who died on the cross rose on the third day and stands with us as we go out into the world and proclaim the redemptive love of God. If Baptism brings us into the community, the Lord’s Supper nourishes this missional faith.
Unlike Homer Simpson, I’m ready for a faith that’s full of active verbs. That’s because, like a book full of passive verbs, a passive church gets boring rather quickly. But a church defined by active verbs is a church full of excitement and purpose.
I may be leaving you very soon, but I want to say, that you’re about to head out on a grand new adventure. When your new pastor comes, that person will help you hear and embrace this call to be a missional people. Together you will go into the world, make disciples, baptize them, teach them, and you will always remember that Jesus is with you – until the end! If you will embrace this calling, then you will participate in God’s redemptive reign.
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disicples of Christ)
May 18, 2008