A sermon preached by Bob Keller on June 19th, 22011 based upon Matthew 28: 16 – 20.
Cowboy Joe was telling his fellow cowboys back on the ranch about his first visit to a big-city church.
“When I got there, they had me park my old truck in the corral,” Joe began.
“You mean the parking lot,” interrupted Charlie, a worldly fellow.
“I walked up the trail to the door,” Joe continued.
“The sidewalk to the door,” Charlie corrected him.
“Inside the door, I was met by this wrangler,” Joe went on.
“That would be the usher,” Charlie explained.
“Well, the usher led me down the chute,” Joe said.
“You mean the aisle,” Charlie said.
“Then, he led me to a stall and told me to sit there,” Joe continued.
“Pew,” Charlie retorted.
“Yeah,” recalled Joe. “That’s what that pretty lady said when I sat down beside her.”
I’ll tell you why I told that story in just a bit.
The passage that Pastor Jeff just read is the end of Matthew’s Gospel, but it’s the very beginning of our walk of faith.
The Great Commission of Jesus is not just to preach the Gospel to everyone, but to make disciples so the Gospel can be effectively preached to everyone.
This command to “therefore go” also appears in the other Gospels:
Mark 16: 15
15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
JOHN 20:21 -21 Then Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
LUKE 9 -1 Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.
2 He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
6 So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
On May 2, 2008 the USS North Carolina was commissioned by the US Navy. The 337 foot long submarine has a crew of 144 and a flexible mission to aid in the fight against Global Terrorism.
During the commissioning ceremony, Navy Secretary Donald Winter said
“We must remain vigilant and be prepared to face the challenges that risk surprising us in the decades ahead,…With USS North Carolina, the nation has made an investment in our safety and in our peace. She now joins the world’s greatest Navy and will be cast into a wide range of missions.”
By the authority of the US Navy, the USS North Carolina was assigned to serve as a tool to protect the US and also to serve as an agent of peace.
As with any assignment, the crew will need Direction, Presence, Authority, and Assurance from its leadership, from the command levels all the way to the American people.
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you have also been commissioned to participate in a great assignment; an assignment to go and make disciples. Through the years this assignment has been called the Great Commission
A commission is (1) an authorization to perform certain duties or tasks, or to take on certain powers, (2) authority to act in behalf of another, (3) an entrusting, as of power, authority, etc., to a person or body.
A commission is being put into service.
Some of you may say, “But wait a minute, Bob. I’m not qualified to go out and preach and make disciples.” God says otherwise.
In 2 Corinthians 12 we read: “But he [God] said to me [Paul], ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
It was very few men or women in the Bible who were used of God who didn’t have a personal struggle or challenge of one kind or another.
“Moses stuttered. Timothy had ulcers. Hosea’s wife was a prostitute. Amos’s only training was how to trim fig trees. Jacob lied. Solomon had too many wives and concubines. Jesus was too poor and wasn’t taught in the right religious schools. Abraham and Sarah were too old. David was too young.
King David was a man after God’s own heart, and he was one of the greatest difference makers in the Bible, but he started off a lowly shepherd; so unimportant that his own father forgot to mention him when Samuel came looking for the King of Israel.
Peter was impulsive. John had a temper. Naomi was a widow. Paul was a murderer, as was Moses. Jonah ran from God. Gideon and Thomas both doubted. Jeremiah was depressed. Elijah was burned out. Martha worried too much. Matthew was a despised tax-gatherer. Noah had a drinking problem.”
Look at the differences all these people made. None were qualified. None were overly smart, rich, talented, or anything else. But they did have one thing in common. What was it? They all had a heart that loved God and wanted to serve Him.
Too often, we aren’t available to work for God because we are very comfortable people. In our comfort, we expect God to let us work for him in the way we find, well – the way we find most comfortable to us. But that’s not how God works. God expects each one of us to sacrifice. He wants us to sacrifice our comfort zones so that we will have to depend on Him.
It was Ernest Hemingway who first wrote about the world breaking us all but some grow strong in the broken places. The idea behind these words is that where a bone is broken and heals, it becomes the strongest part of the bone. The same is true of our broken places—where we have been hurt, have fallen, or failed.
But with Christ, his strength is made perfect in and through our weaknesses. This is certainly true as we minister to other people. Our friends are not helped so much by our brilliant logic or our persuasive speech as they are through the honest sharing of our own struggles and how, with God’s help, we have overcome. As one speaker put it, sharing our faith in Christ is just a case of one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread!
God, of course, doesn’t want us to stay stuck in our sins and problems. While he loves and accepts us as we are, and uses us as we are, he loves us too much to leave us as we are. But never think that you have too little talent or too many hurts or problems for God to use you. The key issue is to be available. Everyone that God has ever used has had their weaknesses, sins, and failings. But they were available, and they have been remembered for what God did through their lives.
It’s been said that to work for God, you have to be F.A.T. That’s not what you may think. That stands for FAITHFUL, AVAILABLE, and TEACHABLE.
All of us may be faithful in our belief that Jesus is the Son of God and our only Savior. But are we always available to help others? And many of us do not let ourselves become teachable, because to do that, we would have to be open to new ideas, to be able to change some of our ideas, and we just can’t bring ourselves to do that.
But for every one of us that are like that, I’ve seen many more that will do all that is necessary to reach out to help others.
Have you listened to the “Moments of Gratitude?” Nearly every Sunday since the beginning of the year, someone has stood up here and told us why this particular church is important to them, why they are grateful for it. Almost without exception, everyone has mentioned Pastor Jeff and the warm embrace that they felt from God’s people when they first came here.
So we can let the “qualified” among us do it, right? Jeff and David have been through seminary and have the training. Today’s Gospel passage tells us that we, all of us, God’s people, are to make disciples of all people. What is a disciple?
A disciple of Christ is one who (1) believes his doctrine, (2) rests on his sacrifice, (3) receives his spirit, and (4) imitates his example.
So why is this “commission” important? This passage has never been referred to as the Great Suggestion. Jesus said, “Go.”
Alone, maybe we can’t do it. But we have been given the authority, through Jesus, to do it. It’s interesting to note the wording of the scripture here. The passage tells us to make disciples in the name of THE Father and of THE Son and of THE Holy Spirit. The original Greek only uses the article “the” to define individuals. So we have the authority of all three.
Almost without exception, every visitor to this church has felt God’s love moving among us. During the Moments of Gratitude we’ve heard the sad stories of treatment that some of our members received at other churches. I certainly hope the hurt inflicted on these people wasn’t intended and that those churches thought they were acting as God wanted them to. But something went wrong. They felt like Cowboy Joe that I mentioned at the beginning of my message. I certainly hope that no one that has visited here has ever felt as welcome as Cowboy Joe probably felt.
We have a lot to offer if we live up to the words given to us in the Great Commission. And that’s why it’s of vital importance that we keep this church alive. Many of us probably don’t know all of our neighbors, but we know the people we see here every week. We care for one another. We’ve made disciples of one another. With that comes the responsibility to continue to be FAT – Faithful, Available and Teachable – to God, and to one another. Just as a father planted the seed that grew into a child doesn’t ignore the child once it’s born, we should not, we can not, ignore our responsibility to one another.
Now brace yourselves, because I’m going to turn this message into a kind of good cop/bad cop message. Many pastors, in fact over 80% of them, never talk to their congregations about money. It’s just too uncomfortable. But without funds, this church ceases to exist.
Now some of you like figures, others don’t. Those that don’t can hit your internal pause button now and I’ll tell you when you can come back.
Pastors don’t like to talk about money because, in most churches, a big portion of the budget goes to pay the pastor. That’s not true here. The largest monthly expenditure we have is our mortgage, it’s about $5,000 per month. Add our conference obligation and we’re close to $7,000. And let’s not forget the utilities and insurance bills and you have the lion’s share of our budget.
OK – all of you ‘non-numbers’ folks can hit ‘resume’ and come back now.
It’s important that this church is here, and by that I mean this place. God’s people are truly His church, but without this sacred place, this building, I doubt that many of us would enjoy the fellowship, the discipleship, that we share. There would have been no open door, or open hearts or open arms to greet those that were in such need, had such a hunger, for the spiritual fellowship that we offer through God’s grace.
Do you know that there are nearly 15,000 fewer churches in the US that there were in 1995? Even the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest protestant denomination in the US, is feeling it.
A report by the Southern Baptist Convention shows that baptisms have dipped to their lowest point in 60 years. A report by Nashville-based LifeWay Christian Resources shows there were 17,416 fewer baptisms in 2010 compared to 2009. That is one baptism for every 48 Southern Baptists. Sixty years ago, the rate was one for every 19 church members. The baptism count has declined for eight of the past 10 years. And membership has declined to 16.3 million in the Southern Baptist Convention — down for the fourth year in a row.
Think it can’t happen here? As a lay speaker, I was recently asked to fill the pulpit for three Methodist churches in the district that are too small to have full time pastors. One had less than 30 members in attendance; the other two had fewer than 10. All of them were churches that were established in the mid 1800’s or earlier. One, in fact, claims to have been visited by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. I don’t know their financial status, but I find it difficult to believe that they will be able to survive much longer.
That’s why it’s important that we give. Pastors don’t like to talk about money any more than you like to hear it. But without funds, we can’t accomplish the Great Commission. Please be especially mindful of that as we approach summer. Many of us will be away, but the church will still be here along with its mortgage and its bills for utilities and insurance. I’m sure that you, like me, will want its doors, its arms and its heart to be open for your return.
This church has meant so much to so many. Listening to the Moments of Gratitude has proven that, whether they’ve been given by adults or children. By the way, you’ll want to be sure to be here next Sunday when Barb Bradley, a woman who was once a child in this church, tells us why she is grateful that this church is here and has always been here for her.
In closing, another cowboy story:
One Sunday morning an old cowboy entered a church just before services were to begin.
Although the old man and his clothes were spotlessly clean, he wore jeans, a denim shirt and boots that were very worn and ragged. In his hand he carried a worn out old hat and an equally worn out bible.
The Church he entered was in a very upscale and exclusive part of the city. It was the largest and most beautiful church the old cowboy had ever seen. The people of the congregation were all dressed with expensive clothes and accessories.
As the cowboy took a seat, the others moved away from him. No one greeted, spoke to, or welcomed him. They were all appalled at his appearance and did not attempt to hide it.
The preacher gave a long sermon about Hellfire and brimstone and a stern lecture on how much money the church needed to do God’s work.
As the old cowboy was leaving the church, the preacher approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favor. “Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask him what He thinks would be appropriate attire for worship.” The old cowboy assured the preacher he would.
The next Sunday, he showed up for the services wearing the same ragged jeans, shirt, boots, and hat. Once again he was completely shunned and ignored.
The preacher approached the man and said, “I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church.”
“I did,” replied the old cowboy.
“If you spoke to God, what did he tell you the proper attire should be for worshiping in here?” asked the preacher.
“Well, sir, God told me that He didn’t have a clue what I should wear. He says He’s never been in this church!”
God IS in this church. He is in each one of us. And wonderful, absolutely wonderful, things will continue to be done in the lives of those we touch, those that we reach out to to make disciples for Christ if we remain faithful and available and giving to God the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Dear God, we are available. Please make us usable and use all that we have today to be as Jesus in some way to every life we touch. Please use us in whatever way you choose to be a part of your plans and what you are doing in the world today and tomorrow. Thank you for being there, and for being here with us, as we try to become better disciples. Gratefully we pray, in Jesus’ name, amen.”