A sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark., on June 19, 2011
Psalm 8:1-9; Matthew 28:16-20
I don’t get much mail anymore, not any that matters, anyway. Oh, I get lots of stuff in the mailbox… businesses trying to sell me things, banks sending me free money. I mean, I guess the money is free. I open it up and there are blank checks inside. They even have my name and address on them. Imagine that… someone taking the time and making the effort to put my name and address on all those checks. All I have to do is fill in the amount and it’s mine. Free money. I get that all the time.
I even hear from other churches… about their upcoming Vacation Bible Schools, their Christmas and Easter events, things like that. All I have to do is show up on Sunday morning. But that’s kind of hard for me to do, so while I may take a look at this information with some interest, just to see how it is the other guys do things (to make a comparison, don’t you know), you don’t have to worry. I’m not planning on attending another church any time soon. Somehow, I don’t think that would be a very good idea.
Occasionally, however, I do get a letter addressed to me, written by the hand of someone who really and truly wants to communicate with me. There are others who try to fake it, print my name on the salutation in cursive as if they know me personally, but my mama didn’t raise no fool. I know a computerized greeting when I see one.
One time I filled out a form on the computer and evidently misspelled my own name. Or, someone else misspelled it for me. I’m not sure. But for years, and from all quarters, I got mail addressed to Randy Hydke… H-y-d-k-e. In our household we wear out a lot of shredders.
Nowadays, if somebody really and truly wants my attention, they’ll generally do it by means of e-mail or calling or texting. Haven’t gotten into the Twitter thing yet. I never say never, so I’m not saying I’ll never do it. But as of right now, if you want to communicate with me, a tweet won’t get the job done. It’s that whole 140-character limit thing that bothers me. I generally can’t say something of any substance in that short amount of time and space, and if what I communicate doesn’t have substance to it, I might as well not try to say anything at all.
But if you really want my attention, send me a personal letter by means of snail-mail with a first-class stamp. Now that gets my attention… which, interestingly enough, is how a young man communicated with me just a couple of weeks ago. From Japan, no less, which took more than 44 cents, I would think. A typed-out formal letter that asked for a reply… all the way from Japan.
The writer is an American, a military dentist stationed overseas and about to be brought back stateside to North Carolina. It seems he had seen my name on the Internet somehow attached to an article on parenting. Strange. I don’t remember ever writing anything on parenting, at least not anything that would make it on to the Internet. But he knew of me somehow. Spelled my name right and everything – without a k! – knew I was the pastor of this church. And he used the correct address. Everything about his letter said he was sincere and on the up-and-up. I figured that out because there weren’t any blank checks inside, and because he didn’t try to convince me he was a rich widow from Nigeria.
He and his wife are raising her sixteen year-old son, his stepson. He’s concerned about the boy’s work ethic. It seems that Matt – that’s the boy’s name – is intelligent (like his mother, says the stepfather) and at this point in life thinks he can get by on his wits rather than by means of hard work. Did I have any advice for him on how to get his stepson to shape it up a little and learn how to fly right?
I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences during my forty or so years of pastoring churches, but this was a first. All the way from Japan. Imagine.
I began my response (fortunately, he sent me his e-mail address so I didn’t have to snail-mail my reply) by telling him that parenting is not my area of expertise, though I did raise two kids who both were sixteen at one point and both managed to turn out pretty well. The only thing you can do, I said to him, is model a good work ethic (which I’m sure he’s already doing), make sure he and his wife are always on the same page when it comes to discipline, and wait. Patience is a vital part of parenting, I told him. One day his stepson Matt might just be the kind of man he hopes for him to be. But it won’t be tomorrow or the day after. The process takes awhile and requires great patience.
All this makes me wonder how patient Jesus is. It’s been a couple of millennia now since the church was given birth. Do you think Jesus is still waiting for us, his church, to do what he wants us to do? Do you honestly think we are anything close to what Jesus’ original intentions might have been?
And I wonder if Jesus didn’t feel something like a parent when he met with his disciples for the last time. They’ve gone out to a mountain somewhere, we are told (probably Olivet) and he gives his followers his final instructions. What he tells them includes the word go. And as you go, Jesus says to them (which is really the essence of the statement… as you go, wherever you go, whatever you find yourself doing), make disciples. Raise up children for the Lord. Propagate the family and see that they learn how to behave like kingdom people.
“Go! Do not stay here in Galilee where it is comfortable and familiar. Do not remain where life will be the same as it was before. Go where people need to hear the gospel. Go where the journey has not yet taken you. Go into the unknown. And as you go, tell the good news. Make disciples. Baptize those who believe. And take with you the knowledge that I will always be with you.”
Jesus encourages his followers to meet him in Galilee so he might give them instruction. But the last thing he wants them to do is stay there. Galilee is home, but it also represents comfort and familiarity. It signifies the past, and Jesus wants them to focus upon the future, a future that will be dependent on their making disciples.
How do you do that? How do you disciple people? Fred Craddock says we do it the same way Jesus did. He loved them. He blessed them, he helped them. But some of them, Craddock admits, did not care any more than some of the folks you and I meet.1 However, like the parent of a recalcitrant teenager, you love them and bless them and help them all the same because that’s what Jesus did.
It’s not an easy thing to do. Discipling people takes a long time and a lot of patience.
I could go on and on about the particular challenges of trying to reach people in this day and age. In fact, I sort of did that a couple of weeks ago when we met downstairs in Hicks Hall because the air-conditioning here in the sanctuary had given out on us. I could talk again about how hard it is to disciple people with such short attention spans, people who want what they want when they want it – which is usually now and not later – and they want it on their terms. I could complain about how the church has had to resort to the kind of marketing as you offer would-be participants a variety of goods, not unlike the supermarket down the street or the shops at the mall.
I could point back to the good old days when people were knocking down the doors of the church. Except, you can find in the Bible examples of the same kinds of challenges that we, the church, meet today right here in the second decade of the 21st century. It’s simply amazing how what goes around comes around, even after two thousand years.
Craddock cites the rich young ruler as an example, the one who asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus looked at him and loved him, and said, “Your life is so absolutely cluttered. You’ve got too much stuff. Just give it away to the poor people and then come follow me.”
The man became sad and said, “I can’t. I just have to have it.”
And this is what Craddock says about that. Listen carefully now… he says, “Jesus gave him room to say no, because if you don’t have room to say no, yes doesn’t mean a thing.”2
I know, I know, we don’t like that. When we finally muster up the gumption to tell someone about Jesus – or even about our church and how we’re open to all people and welcoming to those who are looking for just the kind of fellowship we are – we don’t want to give them the room to say no. We want them to come and love us just as much as we are willing to love them. But sometimes that doesn’t happen. Sometimes they say to us, “I think I’ll look elsewhere.” And we feel rejected and can’t help but take it personally.
Jesus tells us to go and disciple people, but some of them are going to say no. And that’s a hard thing. We don’t like taking no for an answer, if for no other reason than we know what’s at stake.
Well, consider what’s at stake for these disciples of Jesus. They now are eleven in number, not twelve. They’ve lost Judas… to his treachery and betrayal, not to mention his own impatience. But they stayed with Jesus, though, as Matthew clearly points out to us, some doubted. Doubted what? The whole thing, probably… Jesus, his mission, why they ever decided to follow him in the first place. But they were there on that mountain nonetheless. Let’s give them credit for that.
Have you ever come to worship and brought your doubt… about Jesus, about yourself and your faith, about whether there really is anything to all this? Of course you have. We all have at one time or another.
And Jesus began by saying to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” And then he says, “Go…” And as you go, he reminds them, they have available to them the very same authority that’s been given to him, authority that is found in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And unless we’re completely wrong about all this, you and I have that power at our fingertips as well. Imagine.
But I need to tell you that our modern translation breaks down at this point. “Remember,” is the word used. “Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.” But that’s not what the Greek says, and I will remind you that this story was written in Greek. No, the Greek word means “Behold!”3 That’s a wake-up word, isn’t it? It’s hard to say “Behold!” without an exclamation point, without saying it loudly.
What do you do when you behold? You see for yourself, you hold up the promise in the light of scrutiny, you determine if it has any real substance to it or if it’s just flash. It’s the same word used at Jesus’ birth, the same word God uses at Jesus’ baptism. It’s a holy, powerful, godly word. It’s hard to say it without belting it out. Behold!!!
Except, Matthew tells us that Jesus came near to them and spoke to them. The essence of that – again in the Greek, which is, in many ways, a much more expressive language than our English – is that Jesus pulled them in close and practically whispered his instructions into their ears. He spoke quietly to them and only to them. That’s what the original language conveys.
Try it sometime. If you want someone to hear what you have to say – really hear it – pull them in close and whisper in their ear. Works every time.
Behold! Behold what? “I am with you always…”
“Always” may not have meant that long to them. After all, they thought Jesus was going to come back soon. “Always” may very well mean something else to us. “Always,” as far as we are concerned, means a very, very long time.
Should we continue to hold Jesus to that promise of being with us always? Let’s do. And then, let’s go… go to be the church, not in here, but out there. If we will, we won’t be alone. And that’s a promise.
Lord, may Jesus’ words ring in our ears, just as they did for his disciples. Help us to go and be your people, wherever you take us and whatever that means, and may we trust that you will indeed be with us always. Amen.
1Fred B. Craddock, Cherry Log Sermons (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), p. 43.
2Ibid., p. 44.
3Meda A. A. Stamper, Feasting On the Word: Year A, Volume 3, David L. Barlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), p. 49.