Just a Few

Matthew 28:16-20
David A. Davis
June 4, 2023
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“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw Jesus, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority…”. The eleven disciples went to Galilee. That’s the original twelve minus the one; Judas the betrayer. They went to the mountain to which Jesus directed them. You remember that mountain visits in the biblical tradition are not to be taken for granted. Important things happen on mountains. Matthew works very hard to portray Jesus as the Great Teacher in the tradition of Moses. The call of Moses at the burning bush happened up on Mt. Horeb. The Ten Commandments on Mt Sinai. Elijah and the still small voice was on a mountain. Here in the gospel of Matthew: there is the Sermon on the Mount and the Mount of Transfiguration, the feeding of thousands happens up on a mountain, and Jesus heads to a mountain for solitary prayer. And here at the end of Matthew, just the other side of Easter morning, soon after the Mary’s went to the tomb, the eleven disciples when to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. Important things in the bible happen on mountains.

The Risen Christ. Eleven disciples. A mountain. Matthew tells that “when they saw Jesus, they worshiped him, but some doubted.” You and I, the gospel’s readers, the church, we start to look around that mountain and do a head count. Some doubted. There are only eleven and “some” means more than one. “Some” seems more than a few. There’s no intimate embrace with Thomas complete with scarred hands and feet. That’s John. This isn’t that account of Christ being revealed in teaching all the scriptures had to say about him and in the breaking of the bread. That’s Luke. But this is a mountain. Important things in the bible happen on mountains. Important, decisive, divinely clarifying things happen on mountains. The risen Christ. The eleven. And a mountain. And Mathew writes “But some doubted.”

The newest published edition of the New Revised Standard Version bible, rather awkwardly labeled “The New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition”, adds a twist on worship and doubt. The translation reads like this: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted.” The eleven all worshiped. The eleven all doubted. The same disciples worshiped and doubted. Not doubting Thomas and few others. All of them. No inner circle of the more faithful disciples. All of them. Worship and doubt all within the same disciples. That’s provocative. That’s compelling. That’s really comforting. “When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted.”

I texted New Testament Professor Eric Baretto from my study after I came upon, what was for me, at least, a rather mind-blowing revelation. How many preachers have that privilege? Eric texted back in seconds. ….. In the presence of the Risen Christ on a mountain, the eleven disciples worshiped him and doubted. Doubted and worshiped him. It is both the worship and the doubt that invites you and me to that mountaintop. Into the mysterious space created by worship and doubt, the Risen Christ breathes the Great Commission. On a mountain clouded by a decidedly human mixture of doubt and Jesus, Jesus give the Great Commission. With Matthew seemingly acknowledging the questioning, searching, vulnerable souls of those eleven and all the disciples of Jesus Christ that were to come after, the Risen and Glorified Christ sculpts the Great Commission. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Go. Make. Baptize. Teach. It’s hard to miss the multiple action verbs that fill the Great Commission. Christ’s sending of the church. With all the authority of heaven and the breadth of the Triune understanding of God and the mandate to cover everything that Jesus taught, those eleven were sent. The church’s eleven were sent to embody, to live into, to witness to the very nature of God uniquely revealed in the ministry of Jesus: his teaching, his healing of the sick, his care for the poor, his touching of the unclean, his eating with sinners, his challenge to the powerful, his work for justice, his call for righteousness, his suffering on the cross, his self-emptying, his death and his resurrection. Jesus sent them to embody the breadth of God’s love. Entrusted with task of carrying out the very mission of God. As God sent Jesus into the world, as Jesus sent the first disciples into the world, so Christ sends the church, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to show forth God’s love for all. Important things in the bible happen on mountains. Here, in the mysterious space created by worship and doubt, the Risen Christ breathes the mission of God to just a few.

In his book, The Continuing Conversion of the Church, Darrell Guder lifts up the task-oriented nature of the Great Commission. “The commission doesn’t stand at the end of some religious quest for meaning”, Dr. Guder writes. He goes on to argue that commission results from an ever-present encounter with God in Christ as the church goes about its witness, its task, it’s life. This is to say, though Christ Jesus gave life to the Great Commission in that mysterious space created by worship and doubt, the lasting promise of God comes to life amid the verbs. The assurance of Christ, “I will be with you always” comes in the going, the making, the baptizing, the teaching. It is in the doing, in the living, in the serving, in the loving that the church remembers, experiences, and lives the everlasting promise of Jesus.

Just two Sundays ago we celebrated confirmation here at Nassau. Mark Edwards quite remarkably wove the words of the confirmands into a really compelling and moving sermon. The quotes Mark shared were from the narratives of their faith journey and their faith statements shared with the Session the evening they were received as members. I had the privilege along with the elders to read all of what they wrote. As Mark preached, I remembered what I thought as I read them in my office. In some way, shape, or form, all of our confirmands were very honest about their doubts and all of them expressed that they were confident in God’s love for them and how nothing could ever take God’s love for them away. I sat right here during Mark’s sermon and thought, “wow, it worked. Nassau Church did what God calls us to do!” for there is no higher calling in the church than to send young people out into the world with God’s love deeply planted in them and knowing that Jesus will be with them forever. A sanctuary full of the followers of Jesus, and just about eleven of them standing around the baptismal fount expressing their worship and their doubt. And somewhere in the kingdom of heaven that morning two Sundays ago Jesus turned to those first disciples and said, “Now that’s a Great Commission.”

Two, three, eleven at a time. More often than not, the Great Commission happens just a few at time. God calling disciples to live into the task God sets before them. Not that the world might be conquered, but that the kingdom might come. Sunday after Sunday you and I find ourselves in a broken gathering easily identified by the sacred mix of worship and doubt. Into this space, Christ breathes his great commission. His call to you, to me.  In the going, the making, the baptizing, the teaching, the loving, the forgiving…the doing. The Great Commission embodied in the likes of you and me. Sent out from here, sent from Christ’s Table, to carry out the mission of God and in the doing, experience the everlasting promise of Jesus. “I will be with you always.”