Message Manuscript for “The Jesus Way of Life” Matthew 28:16-20
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, June 7, 2020
Have you ever seen those bumper and window stickers that say “Salt Life?” They’ve been popular for a while now but I still see plenty of them. If you aren’t familiar with “Salt Life,” The internet describes it as “a way of life and dress brand for individuals who adore surfing, boarding, and all things shoreline and wave related.” So, if you have those words posted somewhere on your car or clothing, you are describing to everyone your way of life.
What we’ve heard today in our gospel text is about another way of life, one created and demonstrated by Jesus for his followers. It is a Jesus way of life, which is the kind of life we as followers of Jesus today are to live and promote in our world.
Part of living and promoting the Jesus way of life is realizing the challenge of it. Imagine being with Jesus on that day described for us in Matthew’s gospel, going up to the mountain with the other disciples to meet with Jesus after his resurrection, seeing him there with you in his risen state, and hearing the commission from him to go out to all people groups and make disciples. You are having trouble focusing your eyes on the impossibility of how a crucified and dead man can now be alive in front of you when you hear him give you an assignment that sounds so far fetched it’s laughable. Jesus wants our ragtag, beaten down, impoverished group of disciples to leave town and go out to all nations to share with them what Jesus said and did and to baptize them? Saying it was a challenge would be a great understatement. And yet this is what Jesus gave–mandated–them to do.
And this is still a challenge for us today as followers of Jesus, to go out into our world to teach the Jesus way of life. Just look at our world for a minute these days and you will see very little of his way of life. What you will see is self-centeredness, disease, racism, white supremacy, narcissism, violence, and inequality. It could be said that’s just within the church. How can the church with its belief and doubt go out and influence a world full of all of that and more challenges? And think of the challenge of this commission particularly for us as Church for the Highlands, right here in our part of the world and beyond. We are a few more than eleven disciples but still a small group when it comes to the people and needs around us. Perhaps we would chuckle at the challenge if we were there with the disciples when Jesus gave this assignment.
In addition to being a challenge, Jesus’ call to go out and live and promote his way of life involves a requirement–following it ourselves. The eleven disciples gathered around Jesus on the mountain were already living Jesus’ way of life up to this point, having heard his words and learning to put them into practice. They had given up everything to follow Jesus, fully committed to him and his cause. Obviously they stumbled and stammered at times. As the text indicates this morning, they even doubted at times. But they kept following Jesus, living out his way of life.
We too must keep following Jesus’ way of life. There’s no way we can help other people live it if we aren’t. No disciples of Jesus will be made by those who aren’t themselves true disciples. One of the realities we are seeing right now is the absence of true discipleship in churches in our nation. It’s sad, for example, when predominantly white churches have been more vocal recently about not being able to meet for worship and stay at home policies than police brutality of black people, gaping inequalities with income and healthcare between blacks and whites, and the long list of other injustices black people have experienced and suffered in this nation. The witness of white Christians in our nation’s history has been one of following a Jesus way of life as long as it is a white Jesus with a discipleship that doesn’t address a history of slaveholder religion, white privilege, or interfere with systems that perpetuate racism in our schools, businesses, courts, or financial institutions.
What does it look like for the church to follow Jesus’ way of life in this time we are in? What will it look like here in our neighborhood and city? People will hear followers of Jesus learning together about issues like excessive force, implicit bias, redlining, voter suppression, gerrymandering, and mass incarceration. They will also hear us speaking out against the practices and systems here that discriminate against black people and others. People will see followers of Jesus making real and lasting changes to dismantle those practices and systems. People will witness how our commitment to follow Jesus doesn’t stop at the doors of the church building but compels us to the self-emptying, self-giving, self-sacrificing kind of actions that Jesus lived out with his life. Doing anything else means we are not yet true disciples of Jesus.
If all of this sounds overwhelming or unrealistic, that’s because it is. That’s what the disciples must have thought on top of the mountain with Jesus that day. So Jesus gives them assurance that they were going out from there to live and promote his life with his authority, which had been given to him by God the Father. And not only that, they could know he would be with them every step of the way, even to the end of the age.
That same assurance is to be ours today as well. We can’t help but feel overwhelmed and underpowered when it comes to living like Jesus did, much less teaching others to do the same. The Great Commission is an impossible mission if we try to do it on our own or apart from the authority Jesus has given to us. So it is vital that we be aware of the authority he has given to us. We don’t have to wait to be deputized to change the world; we’ve already been authorized. We don’t have to be experts on anything or pass a test. We don’t have to wait until a better time when things are easier or more acceptable with the majority or for when we are perfect with our own lives. No, Jesus sends us out as we are.
It’s also vital that we receive the promise Jesus has given to us that he will be with us always, no matter what. Have we not already found that out as a church? Have you not already known that in your own life as you have set out to follow Jesus? Knowing Jesus is with you always doesn’t mean that your life will be without pain, hardships, discomfort, or setbacks. What it does mean is that you know that in all of that, he will never leave your side. His words, his actions, his resurrection will be right there with you and with us as we live the Jesus way of life.
I began this sermon talking about a bumper sticker, one that tells everyone who sees it what the driver’s way of life is. Apparently, it’s been effective and catchy. I’m wondering what are we using today to promote our way of life? What we’ve heard this morning from Jesus is the call to do something even more effective and catchy–to go out into our world and live like Jesus, and teach others to do the same.