I wonder what it was like- to see Jesus this way, appearing here in Galilee where you came to meet him after his resurrection. I wonder what it was like to be given this charge, to be sent in this way. Make disciples of all nations. To all nations literally meant to all foreigners – the most unknown and least understood peoples, the ones not like you, not from where you’re from, not looking like you or talking like you or thinking like you, to be sent from your home to the unfathomable reaches of the earth at time when that was almost inconceivable.
How befuddling this must have been, how overwhelming.
To think that this is now their job, this monumental and incomprehensible task. One scholar said that today, it might feel like being told to go and cure cancer throughout the world, go and save the bees and stop the polar ice caps melting, go and bring world peace between warring countries.
It doesn’t surprise me that it sounds like that to us.
We continue to hear this through the voice of the way of fear that has always taunted and misled us – that lie that it is about you and me. That it is up to you and me. That it belongs to you and me. That we are the authority. That we are separate from each other, and competing for the same things.
If this is true then we’re sent to all the earth to recruit for our side. We’re sent to enlighten to our superior perspective. We’re sent not to join or be changed, but to rescue or correct. We’re sent to distribute the Jesus commodity that we possess to those who are without. The great commission.
The great omission, perhaps - because we really just have a dead Jesus then.
A Jesus idea, a Jesus religion, a Jesus cure or talisman, but not a living Jesus. Not a present Jesus. Not God with us and always with us.
But maybe the disciple weren’t overwhelmed with this great commission at all. Maybe they trusted that Jesus was alive, and they wouldn’t be going out to bring Jesus but to meet him who would be with them always.
Because somehow, this is true. Amazingly, this is a fact about us today. You and I are sitting here today, reading this message that was given to the disciples on that day as though it has something to do with us, as though it makes a claim on us.
Two thousands years later and six thousand miles from that mountaintop in Galilee, we sit here as baptized disciples of love incarnate. It happened. This thing they were told to go do, to go share; they were sent and they went, and it happened- through them and alongside them, without them and in spite of them, within and around them. Because the reality of love is God’s strong inner chord singing throughout all of life, and enduring despite death’s fiercest blows, drawing people to it, filling people with it, sending people in it to love and love and love.
No one has ever seen God, if we love one another God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us. What is it to abide in this reality, to remain in this truth? What is it to truly trust in this love? this love that casts out fear and makes us brave and honest and real. Not exempt, not perfect, and not safe, but with and for each other as he is with and for us. Participants, collaborators, beloved, beside one another.
To have been made a disciple means to belong to this whole other way from the way of fear, it means we can say, “we have known and trust in the love God has for us.”
It is never only for you or about you.
It is never over or against anyone else. Love draws us in deeper and opens us up wider, binding us to those around us and all over the world, sisters and brothers, beloved of God.
It’s a big thing, yes, this great commission, but it’s the smallest of things- the most focused and present and now and real of all things.
Love this person in front of you. See them. Let yourself be loved.
Receive forgiveness that is offered. Offer forgiveness undeserved. Uphold one another. See each other’s humanity even when, especially when, the other person can’t see it in themselves, when they are living from shame, or hate, or despair or anger, love means you can see them still as beloved and treat them that way.
You can witness the real reality in the face of the lie.
Recognize that we all belong to each other, that we all belong to God.
Share that truth in every way you can in any moment you have.
Live and breathe and move from your belovedness – baptize others in love, claim them beloved and name them beloved, teach them to obey this command of love, this life-giving, filling up, breaking open truth that they were made for, that we are all made for.
We are not peddlers of a message, we don’t get to own it or spread it or deliver it or recruit for it; it is not ours to distribute or withhold or convince people of.
Fear does that, and there is no fear in love; perfect love casts out fear.
This has been a week with lots of fear.
As the death toll in Nepal continued to rise and the intensity in Baltimore continued to climb, this week I watched a lot of footage online.
I saw the story of a teenage boy, who had been away in college but had come back to visit the orphanage he was raised in when the earthquake struck, leaving no adults around, he pulled child after child out of the building and helped them erect temporary shelter and find food and care for each other as they await rescue.
I saw a group of shouting men whose words I could not understand dig frantically at grey crushed rubble with their bare hands, clawing at it for a half hour and gradually, so slowly, a limb at a time, free a baby who had been completely buried, and weep and holler with joy as they held him up, alive and breathing.
I saw a young boy whose dad took him to the streets of Baltimore with a broom and a camera, to share in and record history in the making, and many, many stories of neighbors cleaning up together, or marching side by side, people who had never spoken before, saying how this is changing their city- neighbors connecting in the streets, joining in purpose and frustration, yes, but also in truth and hope as evil and brokenness is revealed in the light of day and confronted out loud.
And when you pay attention to these stories it feels like death is being beaten – as big and horrible and ongoing as it is, it feels exposed this week, ugly and wretched in the face of so much vigorous with-you-ness, so much love casting out fear.
Whenever something big and tragic happens far away, this little lie begins to creep in again, the way of fear, dead Jesus kind of lie, that it is up to us, that somehow only we have what is needed, and that if we don’t act nothing will change, so we send money, and forward or write, compelling articles, and we pray, but in the face of something so huge we feel largely unable to make a significant difference – like we’re facing down the assignment to cure world wide cancer or “make disciples of all nations” – it is befuddling and overwhelming, so we gorge ourselves on 24 hour news, ingesting the fear, perhaps figuring that feeding on the heartbreak is almost like helping in some way.
And we forget the living Jesus.
We forget the love that has no opposite that pulses through it all claiming each one of us. We forget that we act freely, instinctively, of course we act, and we pray, and we send money, and we write articles, and we stand alongside, because we all belong to each other, but it’s not up to you and me. It doesn’t depend on you and me; we are not the only people on the planet God has called.
In fact, God has called every single one of us.
There is no one who is not sent, no one who is not called beloved and called to love. And in any given moment, any single human can be, and is, responding to that love, from that love, standing alongside another, lifting up another, offering or receiving forgiveness, or hope, or tears of grief, or shrieks of joy. In every single moment, this is happening, through us and alongside us, without us and in spite of us, within and around us, and even far away from us, because love is moving, brothers and sisters, because Jesus is alive, God is with us all.
You can witness the real reality in the face of the lie.
Live the truth doggedly alongside those around you, and don’t consume the lies of fear, instead, like Mr. Rogers says, look for the helpers… Perhaps the most faithful and needful of all things to do in the midst of any kind of far away crisis or national struggle, is to bear witness to the love- watch for and share about the places the real reality is breaking through. Because it is; it always is.
As Frederick Buechner said, “Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.” All authority in heaven and on earth is now in the hands of love incarnate, so go therefore into all the world, wherever you are, however you find yourself, and make disciples of love –people who know themselves first and foremost as beloved, and who are compelled irreversibly to see others that way as well.
That is what it is to be a disciple. That is what it is to be a human being who knows God.
Trust, then, that God with us is with us all, in every time and place, because, as human beings love one another they meet Jesus, who is, right now, and always, with and for us all, to the end of the age.