One of the ways in which we best honor Jesus in our churches is by following His words. And no, I'm not talking about what we call the "Great Commission," for we, in all our sinful glory, have turned even that into something that Jesus would never condone.
I'm not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the way, we decided that these closing words of Matthew were the only ones Jesus wanted us to remember, the only thing He had for us to do. Go. Make disciples. Baptize. Like spiritual zombies, we set out in our world to do just this. Go. Make disciples. Baptize.
It's this very mentality that has led us to hit people over the head with the Bible, to burden them with the story of God, to make them our projects rather than our neighbors, and to condemn all those who will not just drop their nets and come, follow us. That's right. I said it. We set out to make disciples of...ourselves. Who will follow us as we pretend to follow Jesus. Who will come to our churches. Who will tithe in our plates. Who will carry our doctrine and dogma.
Because that's what we decided, above all other things, that Jesus wanted us to do.
But, uh, what about all that other stuff He said?
Matthew 28 is not the only time Jesus sent His disciples into the world; He'd done it before. It is recorded for us in the Gospels. He told them to go out, preach the Good News that Jesus has come, heal the sick, cast out demons, and take nothing with them. Go out into the world and meet people, carrying with you only My heart, He said. And if this world doesn't accept you, shake the dust off your feet and move on.
We have incorporated none of this in our so-called following of Matthew 28. We go out into the world and strong-arm people into listening to what we have to say about Jesus, without taking His heart with us. We do not heal the sick; we tell them that if they are faithful, or more faithful, God will heal them. We do not cast out demons; we condemn the demon-possessed. We do not go with empty hands, ready to receive others' hearts or ready to put our hands to work; we take massive weaponry with us. Not shields, but swords. And when this world rejects us, we do not shake the dust off our feet and move on; we dig in until this world relents.
Just like Jesus imagined, right? Just like He told us to do? Go out and make disciples.
Or what about all the stuff Jesus told His followers to do, and not just His disciples? What about things like love your enemy? Do good to those who hate you? Give your cloak, your time, your energy to persons? Love your neighbor as yourself? How much of the time that we spend trying to make disciples do we also spend loving people? I mean, really loving them. I mean, giving them our most precious resources - our time and our hearts - and not just our message?
Sometimes, I think we try to get the world into our churches so that we can love them. We might go out and meet sinners, but we tell them clear and plain - come to my church. We love people there. Even people like...you. And I think sometimes, the world looks right back at us in disbelief. Why would you love me in your church when you won't love me on my doorstep? Why would you love me in your church when you won't love me on my street?
It's the smallest, most subtle thing. We don't even realize we're doing it. But we hold out love like a promise rather than giving it away like a gift. We ought to stop telling people how to find love and start throwing it out of our lives like candy at a parade. We ought to be such amazing lovers of our world that people whisper about us. Hey, that guy in the Jesus float has the best candy.
What about...what about what Jesus says about Himself, or about His Father? I think this is one of our greatest detriments when we carry out the so-called Great Commission. We go out into this world like we're working for Jesus, not like we love Him. And we invite others to come work for Him, too. Come, follow us, and you, too, can beat people over the head with the Bible and strong-arm them into doing stuff. Come on, it's great. And if you do a good job, you can go to Heaven.
See, we're so business-minded in our modern society that God is our commodity, not our Father. He's our manager, not our Maker. He's our boss, not our Lover. And that's heart-breaking.
I'm not saying the Great Commission is bad; Jesus does, indeed, say Go. But He says a lot of other stuff, too, and here's what's most important, maybe about that: all the other stuff He says? He says it before there's even grace. He says it before there's mercy. He says it before there's a Cross and a burial and resurrection. He says it before there's hope, when there's only a whisper of a promise.
Why does that matter?
Because when we go out into this world and talk to persons who do not know our God, that's where we meet them. We meet them in a place before grace. Before mercy. Where they are beating themselves up and weighing themselves down. They are living in a place before there's a Cross, before there's a burial, before there's a resurrection. They're living before hope, when there's only a whisper of a promise.
We are that whisper.
So we ought to stop shouting.