Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Other Great Commission - John 20:21

Below is my sermon from last Sunday, given at First Christian Church of Tyrone, GA.


John 20:19-23 –
19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."


"The Other Great Commission"

Anyone who has been around church very much has probably heard of “The Great Commission” of Jesus. I’m talking, of course, about the end of the book of Matthew (28) when the resurrected Jesus says to his disciples “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” I grew up in church and I have heard many sermons and references to this text – and rightly so! But it wasn’t until I was in seminary that one of my professors drew my attention to what he called “The OTHER Great Commission” of Jesus. It’s a verse that I had pretty much glossed over until that point, and it is to this text that we turn today. Erin just read it:

John 20:21 – …Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."

This is a powerful verse on which we could spend a month or a year of sermons, but since I only have an hour and a half or so to talk to you today… Just kidding – but all joking aside, Billy told us that we’d have 20-25 minutes but keep preaching until there are 15 baptisms and 30 people signed up to go to the mission field…

So today let’s take a look at this powerful verse of Scripture and see what we can learn:

First I would like to draw your attention to this word “SEND”. “As the Father has SENT me, I am SENDING you.” I know what you are thinking: Big surprise, the missionary is going to talk about “GOING”, to all nations, and make us all feel guilty about living close to home or whatever. Don’t worry. One of the things I’ve come to learn is that God doesn’t do the guilt trip, nor (Listen up, parents!) is it the chosen motivational technique of anyone who is primarily concerned with the will of God. So I’m not here to make you feel bad today, only to point out that our God is indeed a SENDING God. All throughout the Bible we find God calling His people out of one place on a journey to another, out of their comfort zones and the pre-set scripts that others have prepared for their lives and into the adventure of faith, into the type of life that really makes a difference.

I believe that there are all kinds of reasons that God sends. One is the many needs “over there”. The idea of a calling is a funny thing, and some people just can’t understand why we moved to Mexico. Like the well-meaning family member who once said to me, only half-jokingly, “If you guys like Mexicans so much, why didn’t you just move to Gainesville?” We are both very close to our families and our hearts ache – especially now with Elsa in the picture – when we part ways and say “See you in six months.” But the main reason we are in Mexico and not closer to home and family is that there is an incredible need there for campus ministry! At Georgia Tech there were probably 15 campus ministries, and that’s the case at most universities here in the USA. But in Mexico, if you say “campus ministry” people will look at you funny. There’s not even the concept of it in most places. So we were sent there partially because of the need in that place. But God also sends for OUR sake. In addition to whatever help we can be to young people in Mexico, Erin and I also believe that we’ve been sent to Mexico because of what God wants to teach us and how He wants to change us. I smile through gritted teeth in the direction of heaven sometimes when I picture God giggling at the fact that he sent me, the guy born without the patience gene, to Latin America, where patience is an absolute necessity on a daily basis. And guess what? I’ve learned a lot of patience. Our loving God, the God of the OT prophets who spoke of Jesus hundreds of years before the first Christmas, is also always preparing each of us for what we will face not only today and tomorrow but also far in the future. Our sending God is interested in accomplishing His work both through us and IN us.

Really grasping the idea of being “sent” cranks up the intensity on our faith from merely “believing”. It’s easy to “believe” and remain comfortable, but when we really own up to being SENT by Almighty God, by Jesus who gave everything that we might live – that really ups the ante. So whether you are 14 or 64 today I pray that you will reflect on what this means for your life.

Next word: “YOU”. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending YOU.” I just want to make one simple point here. Other than the “me” that Jesus uses to refer to himself, ALL of the personal pronouns in this text are PLURAL. As all of you know, we Southerners have improved upon the English language and taken it to new heights. And probably the single best improvement we made (even better than words like “jeetyet?” and “yoostacould”) is to simply add the “you plural” to the vocabulary – Y’ALL. Spanish has a you plural, as does Greek, and that’s what John is using here. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending … Y’ALL.” We live in a very individualistic society, and we are often tempted and even taught to think of our faith in terms of “Jesus and me”. I would remind you today, though, that biblical faith is mostly about “Jesus and US”. The community of faith. Notice that the resurrected Jesus appeared to the gathered disciples – right in the middle of their fear, confusion, and sadness – to restore and empower and send them. It’s not either/or – it’s both/and. It’s a command of Jesus to the plurality of his followers, but it has an individual application. YOU and I have to each accept our mission as disciples of Jesus, but WE have to do the work and go on the journey TOGETHER. And this is a good time to once again say THANK YOU for your partnership in our ministry in Puebla. We always hope and pray that it’s a two-way street of blessing.

The other key word I want to look at here – and I think it may be the word to really focus on in this text – is “AS”. “AS the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends those original disciples, and Jesus also sends us, his followers today… It is a linear, continual sending, and we are sent IN THE SAME WAY. What does this mean? It means that Jesus’ mission is our mission. What was Jesus’ mission? Well he announced it when he stood up in a synagogue in his hometown at the beginning of his ministry and read from Isaiah (Luke 4):
18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
At the beginning of the book of Acts, Luke calls his gospel what he “wrote about all that Jesus BEGAN to do and teach”. Jesus set it in motion, but it continues through his followers today. So our mission today is to be filled with God’s Spirit – and read Galatians 5 if you need a reminder of what a Spirit-filled person looks like; to be bringers of good news – as you probably know that is what “gospel” means – good news!; to reach out to the poor – both the materially poor and the SPIRITUALLY poor – like our ministry – wells and Casas and orphanages etc. but primarily college kids who have food but are LOST…; to proclaim freedom – to help set people free from whatever sin or addiction or situation has them enslaved and keeps walls between them and God, keeps them from knowing that He is GOOD; to be people of PEACE – not just peace-lovers but peace-MAKERS; to be people of forgiveness – healers of bodies and relationships and families and societies, with God’s help and His power showing through in our weakness; and there will be a cross – sacrifice – pain – selflessness involved; and yes, to go to all nations and baptize and teach and make disciples.

I love how Jesus summed it all up one time when he told his followers that they – we – are to be “salt and light”. This is the essence of being sent as he was sent. We should bring flavor and preserve the goodness of life. We should shine and invade the darkness. At a leadership conference this week I heard a great illustration in which a little girl wanted a flashlight, so her mom bought her one at Wal-Mart, but the lights were so bright inside that the flashlight was useless and the girl, impatient at the checkout counter, said “Mommy can we please go find some darkness?!?!” Maybe you are in a dark place today, in which case you need to seek help and others here need to shine that light into your life and be Christ for you. But my suspicion is that there are many here today like the flashlight in the Wal-Mart. What light we shine is mostly wasted because we’re in bright, safe places. Another question for you today: Do you ever enter any dark places? Are you going where God is sending you, where your light will shine brightest?

Let me tell you a couple of stories about people who are shining brightly – or rather reflecting God’s light – in their lives.

1) Burnetta. Burnetta is the lady that cleans our teeth once a year when we’re in town. I have always hated going to the dentist but Erin makes me go and I actually don’t mind so much because Burnetta and the other folks are so nice and care so much about our lives. They love on us and ask about our ministry. Last week Erin asked Burnetta when we should start bringing Elsa (and her two teeth) to the dentist and she said probably around age three – and they pulled Erin’s file and sure enough her first visit there was at age three. Burnetta has been cleaning Erin’s teeth for over … several years. Pretty cool. Anyway, Burnetta was talking to me while cleaning my teeth and I asked her how much longer she planned to work and she said “Longer than I had originally planned” because, as she proceeded to tell me, she’s currently raising three teenagers – children of her niece, I think – that she had never planned to raise. But – and she told me this matter-of-factly without a hint of complaining – their parents had bailed on them and they needed a loving home, so she was providing it. Simple as that. Burnetta told me about how when she was little she’d met a girl her own age who was growing up in a foster home and she couldn’t believe that some kids didn’t have parents to love them, and she made a promise to God that if she ever needed to provide a loving home for some kids, she would. As the Father sent Jesus, Jesus sends Burnetta into these young people’s lives, and it’s making a huge impact.

2) Tammy. Tammy is a friend of mine who lives near here. Recently, on family vacation, her eight-year-old daughter complained of stomach pain. A couple of days later they found themselves in the hospital, dealing with the fact that their little girl had cancer, as a three-pound cyst was removed from her tummy. They think they have all of the cancer contained inside, but this sweet little girl still had to have surgery to put a port in her chest and is currently undergoing several rounds of chemo just in case they missed some of the cancer cells. So Tammy and her family have spent a lot of time at Scottish Rite recently. I recently stopped in on them. Their house looked like a tornado had come through and they were shaken but strong, on solid ground thanks to their great faith in Jesus and the way that their church and their friends have rallied around them. But here’s the #1 thing I noticed: In the midst of all this chaos, with calls from doctors coming in every five minutes and two other kids to look after, Tammy’s husband was talking about how they want to start volunteering at the hospital a.s.a.p. and Tammy was diligently sowing colorful hospital gowns not only for her own little girl but for the OTHER KIDS at the hospital who didn’t have one! Tammy and her family, thanks to difficult circumstances, found themselves in a dark place, and rather than turning inward, they are serving as conduits for the light of Christ. They are living out that mission of Jesus – as the Father sent him to this world, so he sends Tammy into the hope-deprived hallways of a children’s hospital.

El Pozo is young, not even six years old – and trust me we will talk your ears off all day if you’d like about all that God is doing in our students’ lives down in Puebla – but I tell you the stories of Burnetta and Tammy today because these are the kinds of mature Christ-followers that we hope for our students to someday BECOME. I’ve heard it said that “The effects of campus ministry are seen 20 years from now when these kids are raising their families in the Church.” So we sow seeds of faith and mentor and challenge and teach with the hope of someday seeing folks like Burnetta and Tammy who came through our ministry and point to their days in the Casa Verde as a milestone in their faith journey. But even more than what we do, say, and teach, it’s about what we model. It’s about who we ARE. “You teach what you know but you reproduce what you ARE.” We are, more than anything, trying to BE this kind of Christian. Model a Christian marriage, be Christian parents, Christian friends, CHRISTIANS, every day.

Here’s one more story that happened just before we moved to Mexico back in 2004. A friend of mine who is a few years older than me and worked in ministry sat me down and asked me this question: “What’s the goal?” I said, “Huh?” He said, “You’re moving to Mexico – What is the goal?” I said, “Well, the goal is to go and start a great campus ministry – something like what we’ve experienced here at GTCCF – a welcoming and Christ-centered community where students will find a home.” My friend said, “Nope. That’s not the goal. What is the goal?” I thought for a second and said, “Well, okay, yeah I guess the reason for having that community is to produce great Christian leaders and change the world and all that, so yeah I guess that’s really the goal.” My friend said, “Nope. Wrong again. What is the goal?” I thought for another second and said, “Well, okay, I guess the goal really is that those kids would know the Lord and follow Him fully and spend eternity in heaven and not hell”, etc. etc. etc. To which my friend replied, “Nope. Still wrong. That’s not the goal. What is the goal?” At this point I gave up and said, “Well I don’t know – what is the goal?!?!” My friend answered: “The goal is for you to be more like Jesus each day that you spend there. If you do that, all the rest of that stuff will take care of itself. That’s THE goal – to be more like Christ every day.” I have never forgotten that conversation, because my friend was exactly right.

“God needs a body” on this planet – its the way He set it up – first the people of Israel, then Jesus as he walked among us for a short time, and now you and me as His Spirit lives inside us. We are, as Paul said, co-laborers with God in His mission to seek and save the lost. We are also – quite literally; it’s more than a cute metaphor – the body of Christ – inside the church building and outside of it, in our homes and in our offices, in Tyrone, GA and in Puebla, MX.

So how are YOU more like Jesus today than you were yesterday? And how are you – and Y’ALL – and WE – going to be more like Jesus tomorrow than today?

Carry these words of Jesus with you into this week and the rest of your days – “the other Great Commission” of Christ: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

No comments:

Post a Comment