I am preaching on Matthew 28:16-20 this weekend as we follow the Narrative Lectionary through Easter. This is the sketch that emerged as I worked through the text.
God’s mission (missio dei, to use my fancy missional ecclesiology language) is:
The disciples all worshiped Jesus when they saw him post-resurrection, but some doubted. I find great comfort in that. Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI) began his Introduction to Christianity by noting that doubt is the one thing that unifies us as humans (read my annotated notes here).
When we, as followers of Jesus, embrace our doubts, it humbles us and opens us up to be able to truly listen to others. I have found that when I listen to others tell me about their faith journey–no matter how radically different it is from mine–I learn something new about God.
Faith is not putting God in a box and tying it up with a neat bow of correct doctrine. Faith is encountering the resurrected Jesus and grappling with the radical implications of that reality for the universe.
Our doubt keeps us human. It keeps us leaning in for more understanding. It keeps us engaged with the world. It’s messy.
God’s mission is about life. Jesus reminded the disciples that his authority is over all things. He wasn’t sending them out to “reclaim the world” for God. That’s a done deal. It is God’s.
Notice three things in this section:
- It’s about experiencing life. Jesus wasn’t actually sending the disciples. The imperative in this text is not the word “Go,” it is the word “make disciples.” The tense of the word “go” might be better understood to read, “as you are going.” As you are living your life in the world…
- It’s about life-long learning. Jesus didn’t tell them to make converts. He told them to make learners/followers (that’s what disciple means). The term convert implies a quick and complete change from one thing to another. Once you were that, now you are this. As I’ve studied conversion, I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t work that way. Conversion is a long and messy process (again, messy). A disciple, on the other hand, is a person who is engaged in the process of learning, investigating, walking with, and growing. We can engage people in authentic conversations, in which we listen more than we talk, that will invite them to learn more about the way of Jesus in the world.
- It’s about life in the Triune God. Jesus told them to dive into the Life of God. That’s what I think Jesus meant by the phrase “baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Baptism is not merely an event or a box to check on a religious to do list. To be baptized is to be immersed completely into something. Baptism is a way of life. We are created by the loving community of God–Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all things–for loving community with all things (read more about the Trinity here). We are invited each day to follow Jesus to the cross, to die to the sin and death that binds us, to be buried with Christ, and to walk in the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit. This is the life of God for the world.
Jesus said “teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.” Is this another list of rules to follow? Is it a test to determine whether you are “in” or “out.” Follow the rules and you’re “in.” Disobey and you’re “out.” I don’t think so.
What were Jesus’ commands? “And this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Love God. Love your neighbor. That’s it. That is the beginning and the ending of the law that we must follow. Every human activity is contextually bound and must be evaluated only on the test of whether it demonstrates the love of God for others. Period.
That means our highest calling, and the mission of God, is to learn to live together. The good news is that we aren’t left to figure this out on our own. Jesus has promised to always be with us as we live this messy life together.