The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - May 8, 2016
Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:16-20
Sermon Title:
The Great Commission

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     Today’s reading comes from the very end of the book of Matthew, the last words of that gospel.  This is after Jesus is crucified, after they find the empty tomb.  Since each of the gospels tells a slightly different story, in Matthew there are no appearances of Jesus in the upper room or fishing at the lakeshore.  We have the empty tomb, then a little story about the guards going into the city to tell what had happened, they are paid off for their silence.  And then the 11 disciples, remember Judas killed himself by this point, go up to the mountain as Jesus directed, and he gives them the great commission. “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.”

     We all tend to take the Bible and work to interpret those words for our own time and place.  Clearly in the old testament we are told that we cannot eat pig.  I have a problem with that because I love bacon.  But we are Christians, so we are called to follow Jesus and don’t have to worry about those dietary laws.  And after Jesus we have Paul.  Good old Paul.  Women cover your heads and don’t speak in church.  Well, Paul was living in a very different time and place, and he had no Bible, had never met Jesus when Jesus was alive as a human on earth, so he made up a lot of things as he went along.  Now there are some really good things that Paul said, so don’t want to say that what he wrote was not valuable, it gives us insight into the early church, and a lot of what Paul did say still guides us today.  But when he was asked about certain things, had no record of what Jesus said so he said what he thought was best for the early church. 

     But there are very few who will question what Jesus is said to have said in the Gospels.  There was a group a few years ago called The Jesus Seminar.  They actually took every word that is attributed to Jesus, looked back at the Greek, thought about what that might have been in Aramaic, which was what Jesus probably spoke in, and how that fits in with other things that Jesus said.  So if you find something written in the same words in all 3 synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, plus some gospels that are not in our Bible, maybe some outside stories, and it fits in with everything else that Jesus said and taught, it is more likely that he actually said it.  But if it is only in one gospel, does not really fit into other things that Jesus is likely to have said, or even addresses something that may have been happening in the community for who that gospel was written, it may not be 100% accurate.  We do have to remember that the gospels were written after Jesus was killed, probably by people who never even met Jesus.  They may have had little things written, they had oral stories, we think that some of the gospels may have been written earlier and available to the later gospel writers.  Nobody was sitting with Jesus writing down everything he said, many in that time could not read or write, and even if Jesus could read and write, he never wrote down anything to our knowledge.

     But apart from all that, the words that the gospel writers said that Jesus said are the best that we have.  When the Bible, as we know it, was put together, there were more than the 4 gospels we have today.  They took the ones that they felt best represented Jesus.  While academically it is interesting to study that, for our faith we look to the Bible as what Jesus is said to have said.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, even if not exactly what he said, it is close enough to be considered truth. 

     We also question what Jesus really meant.  “Sell everything you have and follow me.”  Great, if I sell everything I have, I am going to be that guy on the street corner preaching.  We live in New Hampshire, if I want to follow Jesus, I need a house to take shelter in, I need a car to get to a church I am serving, while maybe I don’t need books or the internet, they are helpful in being a better minister.

     But Jesus words this morning are hard to argue.  “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.” 

     As adults I believe that we are hardwired.  When we feel competent in something, it is no big deal to do that thing.  When I was growing up, my father tried to be handy, and in many ways he was.  I remember when I was little he put in an outlet in our basement.  He showed me how to shut off the power and then we wired in a little extension, put in a new box, new outlet, turned back on the power and it worked.  From that I have the knowledge of how to replace an outlet.  That is basically the same as a light switch, so when it came time to install some new spotlights on the back of my house, I ran the wires, put in a box and switch, and we had lights in our backyard.  Ceiling fans are not that different, so now we have ceiling fans in our den and bedroom.  Working at camps, I have gained a fair amount of knowledge about plumbing.  When I went home about a year ago my father told me that a toilet was leaking.  Ok, lets fix it.  We went to the store, got the part we needed and I put it in.  It was a very simple repair, getting the parts took longer than it took to put them in.  But apparently he had never done it before, so he was unsure of where to start or what the problem might have been.


     And we all have areas of competence.  Some of you know accounting.  I don’t.  That whole credit and debit thing.  I used to have to fill out forms for our accountant at camp, and although they tried to explain it to me many times, I learned I was correct more when I checked the opposite of what I thought it was.  OK, this sounds like a credit to me, so I will check the debit box.  Bring it down to the accountant’s office, they look at and say “Yes, it looks like you are understanding this, it is a debit.” 

     Cathy and some others of you know music.  You look at a piece of music and see those little sharps or flats, with the time signature at the start of a song, and know what it all means.  I know just enough to try to follow along once the song starts. 

     And anytime we don’t feel competent it makes us nervous.  I used to never sleep before I had to preach.  That Saturday night, even though I had everything done, I still was not comfortable.  I will admit that I often do not sleep well on Saturday night, but it is getting better.  Peaching for a few years now, and I am starting to feel like it might touch someone.  Someone might understand what I am trying to say.  But I still get nervous.

     And the passage this morning makes us nervous.  We, as a group, don’t have a lot of experience or competence in talking about our faith.  In today’s world, I think that if asked, many of us, myself included, would start with “I am not that kind of Christian.”  You know, the ones we are not like.  And unfortunately much of our national discourse over the past few years have been guided by people who claim the title of Christian.  They have defined what a Christian is for much of the population, and for those, you must believe these things in order to call yourself a Christian.

     How many of us can start with what we believe, rather than what we are not?  And it is a skill that we don’t practice a lot.  When the Jehovah’s Witnesses come to your door, if you listen to them, they know how to quickly tell you, not necessarily who they are, but a lot of what they believe in a very short time.  It sounds like a canned speech because, it is.  It is also very technical now, rather than going to every house on a street, they can bring up a cell phone app that shows them the reaction the last time someone knocked on that door.  I would guess that it even has a place to show what pamphlets they were able to leave with you.  I often will take those pamphlets just to be polite, are very short and conscious.  Here is what we believe about Jesus, come on this date to find out more.

     We are not nearly as good, we are not competent, we have not practiced it.  Now I don’t suggest that you walk down your street and knock on all your neighbor’s doors, but what do we do then with Jesus’ great commission.  To be honest, it makes me a little nervous.  As a minister you do pay me to baptize people, to teach people to follow what Jesus has commanded us, and to make disciples.  But I still feel like I could be doing more.  It makes me nervous because, even though I do talk about my faith, I don’t have as much experience or competence as I think I should have.

     One thing I have started to do recently is really try to appreciate every day.  On the radio the other day, driving to church that song, ”Summer of 69” by Bryan Adams came on.  Written in 1984, one of the lines says “Those were the best days of my life.”  I got thinking about the best days of my life.  Certainly the day I got married, and the days that Glenn and Collin were born jump to the top of the “best days of my life.”  But you know, while the actual marriage was great, had fun at the reception, but there was a lot going on.  I had graduated but not found work yet, so I had been couch hopping, visiting Keri, my parents, my sister and brother in law.  When we were officially married and I moved in with her, we would be sharing a tiny, one bedroom, first floor apartment outside of Washington DC.  I would be looking for work, picking up part time work as I could.  That was all a memorable time, and there were good times mixed in, but really looking back, those were not the best days of my life.  Both my boys were born when the sun was down.  Glenn arrived around 9:00 at night, and Collin was about 4:00 in the morning.  The day before Glenn was born, Keri went into the hospital and they told me that it would be at least 14-16 hours, minimum, so I could go home and get a good night of sleep.  I went back to the house, my fire pager went off, so I went out on a fire call, came back late, could not fall asleep.  Next morning I was up at 6:00, calling the hospital to see if I needed to rush in.  I took a shower and then went in to spend the day there.  After Glenn was born, I did go home to sleep for a few hours, set up a playpen for him to sleep in, we didn’t do that whole nesting thing, setting up a nursery or anything, and then back and forth to the hospital.  Few hours of sleep here, few there.  When Glenn came home, we put him in our bedroom, big mistake.  Sleeping like a baby must mean that someone is really loud.  Was there joy, of course, but not the best days of my life.  With Collin we were more prepared, he had a crib to sleep in, in a separate room, on the far side of the house, with a baby monitor.  But now we had a little boy in preschool, and a baby.  Not the best days of my life either.

     I have always thought that maybe after retirement would be the best days of my life, but in talking to, at least some retired folks.  Sometimes your health is not as good as when you were in your 40’s or 50’s.  You probably are living on a fixed income, so any larger purchases must be budgeted and can eat into any nest egg you have been able to build.  I do know people who are enjoying their retirement, but for many it is not the best days of their lives either.

     So what about today.  Did God create today to be the best day of my life?  I am alive, I am breathing, I can feel the weather on my skin, I can talk to people. I can make connections between faith and daily life, I can be generous, I can talk about our faith, I can point to where we see God active in my life and our world.  I can invite others to church.

     And maybe that is where I can start living into the great commission.  Just realizing that God created this day, which could be the best day of my life, until tomorrow. And I can share that joy that I feel with those around me, and not be afraid to tell others why I believe this is a very good day, God created it, God created me.  And maybe by seeing that joy it will open up opportunities to share my faith, which might just touch someone.

     I don’t know if I will ever fully live into the great commission, but maybe today will be the day that I can start.  And Jesus said “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.”  God, I don’t know if I will ever be able to do this as fully as you would like, but I can try.