Pastoral Prayer: Lord God Almighty, Jesus revealed in flesh and blood the power of your self-giving love. Your Spirit makes us alive to that love in Jesus. Immerse us in your self-giving love so that our lives may be a means whereby all people may learn of and live in your deep love for all, in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And all God’s people say . . . Amen.
These are no ordinary times. Listening and reading those who are trying to locate our current social, political, economic and physical upheaval, related to the past toss around years like 1918 and 1968. Maybe they are looking for comparisons to other days in hopes we may discern a way forward. No, these are no ordinary times. But, when it comes to our Text today, Jesus’ resurrection meant time since then is anything but ordinary.
Jesus found himself on a very high mountain just fourteen chapters earlier. There, the Tempter offered Jesus all the kingdoms he could see if only he would bow down and worship the Tempter. He rejected the offer. Right after that series of temptations, Matthew, the Gospel writer, tells us Jesus is on another mountain giving what we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount.
Many of us would not have been able to resist the siren song of power. After all, Rome was the reigning superpower and it had its historians that ensured the myth of its greatness could be traced backward and retold for future generations. Take Livy, who wrote, Founding of the City, maybe the first history of Rome. He lived in the century before Jesus’ birth and died when Jesus would have been about to leave his teenage years.
Livy wrote of Proculus Julius’s announcement that Romulus “the father of the Roman city” descended from heaven to command, “Go and declare to the Romans the will of Heaven that my Rome shall be the capital of the world so let them cherish the art of war, and let them know and teach their children that no human strength can resist Roman arms.”
From its inception, at least according to its myths, Rome was wired for power, for authority. By the time Livy was living there had been civil wars but Augustus would emerge as the one to assume power. When we talk about institutions, systems, as the framework for how things work in our world, Rome would be an appropriate illustration as it serves as the backdrop for not only the story of Jesus, but also the agenda for Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus is Lord and not Caesar.
Why is this important? The vision of power that characterized Rome is the same vision that has carried throughout history until this very day. Power is the goal and those who seek it are willing to go to war over anything and everything to keep the power. So when we wonder how it is that Jesus resisted the forms of power in his day, it is hard to imagine, for there are so many illustrations, and impulses, wired into our very existence. From that perspective of power there are too many illustrations for us to think we may avoid its temptation.
We have lost the plot line that the Tempter represents the Powers that make war with God for the welfare of the world and all its inhabitants. All of Creation. It is too unfashionable to believe such. But, if we are to take the Scriptures seriously, we can’t help but come to terms with the Powers that always work against human beings – Sin, Death, Grave, Tempter, Satan. Hostile power is a trademark of our baser human nature and it is the preferred type of power of human institutions.
We arrive at our Text for today, the familiar discipleship passage,
As you are going, make disciples.
That is a better translation. But before we get there the setting may help. We find Jesus on a mountain. It may be the same one from which Matthew, the Gospel writer, had him giving the sermon on the shape of the Kingdom of God. Not once in that sermon did Jesus suggest taking up arms to enforce the kingdom. His Kingdom would not be of this world. Which, if it meant anything, it would be that Jesus Kingdom did not follow the pattern of other human institutions where power over people was the goal, the aim.
Do you see the connection with Jesus’ first encounter on a mountain? There, in Matthew 4 the Tempter took Jesus to a high mountain. Here, fourteen chapters later, after a beating, death on a cross and the resurrection, Jesus is on a mountain again. Only this time, this time, he tells the disciples,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
The way to authority for Jesus came in faithfulness to the way of the Father. Instead of taking up battlespace against the people, Jesus suffered at their hands to the point of death. The offer the Tempter made, if Jesus would only bow down and worship the Tempter, was now Jesus’ upon his resurrection as vindication for his faithfulness. And, that is my first point. Jesus’ faithfulness to the way of the Father points us to God’s power as self-giving love.
Christians, Jesus’ disciples, it is not enough to acknowledge the way of Jesus as self-giving love, but following Jesus’ instructions to make disciples from all nations will insist that we are grounded by the Spirit in God’s self-giving love. More to the point, we cannot make disciples of others if we are not disciples of Jesus’ way ourselves.
Bringing peace in the midst of social upheaval will not come as we choose a side. If we want to know how to bring peace, then we will need to look at what Jesus did to know if there is a side to choose or what reconciling position in faithfulness to Jesus we may take. Too often we have been so discipled by the powers of this world that we let a lesser politic, the way of hostile power, be our guide when the politics of Jesus calls us to live out the same deep love for the world revealed to us in Jesus.
And, that is my second point. Jesus brought us a way and a vision from a new center. Here in our Text we find Jesus on a mountain, again. But, he and his disciples are in Galilee, not Jerusalem. Too often we view these details as throw away bits of information. Take it or leave it. But, given that the religious powerful in Jerusalem had taken up with Rome the height of which is illustrated in their pursuit to kill Jesus, their means of maintaining power is clear. Under the power and influence of Rome, there was nothing self-giving in Jerusalem save Jesus on the Cross.
Jesus gathered his disciples in Galilee, not Jerusalem. One more time Jesus disrupted expectations for the Messiah. He called the disciples back to where it all began, and it was not in the expected place. It was the place much of his ministry occurred so it would be that when we hear Jesus say,
teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,
memories of Jesus’ life work would be useful in the hands of the Spirit. God’s Spirit would remind them all that he said and did. The center of God’s power would not be in a city but instead it would be given to Jesus’ followers by the Spirit. They would not take up the power to wield the sword but to persuade with self-giving, other directed love revealed in Jesus.
We trust the Spirit of God to remind us of all that Jesus said and did. Not so that we may qualify for Heaven’s entrance exam, but that we might fulfill the mission Jesus gave his early followers. We who have arrived late on the scene have been met by that same Jesus and given that same mission. We have been given the mission of living in such a way that our lives and our words may be a means where others hear about and take up the way of the Father. It follows the same pattern where Jesus faithfully lived by the Spirit for the good of the world, the good of all from all nations.
And that is my final point. The shape of our mission would be formed by what Jesus taught and did. The means by which we would participate in Jesus’ mission to and for the world would look the same as we hear in Jesus’ words,
Obey all I have commanded you.
Jesus’ life attracted followers for his faithfulness to the Way of the Father. Given the mission of teaching others would include living as Jesus did.
How do we do that? We do what Jesus taught and did. Our obedience is in response to mercy and grace. It is not a ladder we build to God. For in Jesus, the Christ, God has come to us and that same God indwells us by His Spirit.
The gift of the Scriptures, Jesus reminded his critics, is that they testify to Jesus’ life and way. Some of the things we find in Jesus’ teaching and illustrated in his life include:
We need a new mind, a new way of relating to God and the world so he called for us to repent.
Jesus aimed to give the Good News to all and so said Follow Me, him, and we would find schools of people with whom to share the Bread of Heaven.
Not interested in some secret society, Jesus knew well the darkness needed overthrown. He called on us to follow his lead and let our light, the light God gives us in Jesus, to shine revealing the good God does through people.
Knowing conflict is in our nature Jesus outlined a way with others rooted in his reconciling us to himself and so calls on us to be reconciled to each other.
Given our tendency to look for loopholes by reducing laws to the ones we keep, Jesus pressed deeper into his call for new realities, new life, so he spoke to our hearts with revealing precision – You have heard it said, but I say to you.
Not only do we look for loopholes but we tend to divide up into us vs them camps. Them are generally regarded as our enemies. What did Jesus do? He commanded us to love our enemies, even pray for them.
All of these and more we receive as an indication that all obstacles to reconciled lives with God and others have been removed, even defeated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. By God’s Spirit we go about living, making disciples from all nations, immersing others in the realities of the Kingdom of God by teaching and doing, all that Jesus taught and did for the blessing of the world in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit for Jesus is with us to the end of the age with self-giving love.
I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here. You may listen or watch here.