Our gospel lesson this morning recounts how Jesus commissioned his disciples, how he sent them forth to be in the world. His instructions come at the very end of the chapter of Matthew, with the final words “…I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
When the Bible Study Group I used to meet with read this passage out loud, and we came to the line “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted”, there arose a loud and hearty laugh. The idea that Christ’s closest disciples, the ones who knew him the best, the ones who received his most fervent instructions, the ones who broke bread with him, and hung on almost every word he said, doubted, made as all laugh.
If that isn’t permission for modern Christians to question and challenge and discern anew what Jesus meant by his instructions, I don’t know what is! Doubt, even as we are worshiping him, even as we are trying to share him with our neighbors.
In the last 20 years, a kinder, gentler way of introducing Jesus to those who do not know him has come about: building hospitals and schools, providing pumps and filters for clean water, sharing hard earned resources with others so that they might have some basic items for living and growing. If we take some time to contemplate that the disciples still doubted, even as Jesus was about to leave them, then we can understand how others, who have little experience with Christ, might have some serious questions about who this Jesus is. But we know from our own experience that actions speak louder than words. And actions that help others who are in need speak much louder than words that proclaim traditions and faiths. That just makes sense to me. I hope it makes sense to you.
Because the Gospels are full of examples of Jesus reminding us that we aren’t the ones who get to judge others, not on their way of life, not on their choice of faith or their choice of no faith. We are the ones who are called to love our neighbors by offering them help when we can, by offering them prayers always, and by offering them a voice if they would like us to…
Every example I find in our gospels shows Jesus to be kind, patient, and respectful of those whom he helped. Not one shred of disdain, impatience, judgement, irritation or exasperation. With the disciples, yes. He had high expectations, and he showed his frustrations with them occasionally, but with those whom he healed, or helped, Jesus had only patience and loving kindness.
How many disciples will we make if we judge and dismiss our neighbors in need? How many will listen or know about Jesus if they feel judged and disrespected? How many might we reach with patience and loving kindness?
Of course, I’m preaching to the proverbial choir: our One Worshiping Community puts our money where our hearts are: with those in need. We may not have much, but what we have is dedicated to reaching those in need.
The irony is that as churches struggle with financial resources, as we struggle to stay alive, the call to love our neighbor, the call to serve our neighbor is no less strong: and Jesus is with us always, to the end of the age. Which means we continue to help others, even as we are challenged to help ourselves. Which means we can question, and doubt, and find new ways to express our love of neighbor, even if it flies in the face of the way things used to be done.
As this congregation prepares to head out into the wilderness, prepares to take a new path toward what it means to be a congregation in the 21st century, we will have the tradition of sharing the proceeds from our Endowment fund with organizations that are founded on the principles of helping those in need. Diverse organizations, diverse neighbors, receiving resources even when we may not have a building of our own. Even if we are technically homeless for a while.
If our actions are grounded in respect, founded on love, abounding in the gentle impulse to be non-judgmental, we are earnestly answering the call and the commission of our faith. If our focus is on those in need, and not on meeting our own needs, then we are faithfully carrying out what Jesus has called us to do.
Jesus commissioned the disciples, and in a way, commissioned us to make disciples of all nations. But in the world in which we live, many nations already have a faith, are already disciples of another religion. Modern Christianity has begun to find ways to partner with our brothers and sisters of other faiths, and with our sisters and brothers of no faith, to find ways to try and make the world a better place. I feel honored to be a part of that tradition.
We can worship God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and we can question, and doubt. That much is clear. I believe we should be questioning and doubting any action from any faith community or person of faith that is not based on love and respect, any intention that is not patient, gentle, or kind. It may be harder, but it’s the only way I know how to make disciples of the nations. Amen.
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