Okay, yes, I’m posting this sermon nine days late. But cut me some slack here – since I preached this sermon, I’ve gotten MARRIED!
Sunday, May 25th, 2014 – Sixth Sunday of Easter
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-6, Matthew 28:16-20
Hymns: “Open My Eyes, That I May See”, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”, “All Creatures of Our God and King”
Special Music: “Hands and Feet”, by Audio Adrenaline
“The Call: Going”
How many of you are familiar with the children’s song “Children, Go Where I Send Thee?”
I was first introduced to that song my first summer of Chi-Rho Camp, in 1994. At first, I was shocked at the ferocity of the song – in Arizona, at least, we split the group up into two halves and do the song as a back-and-forth, with one half taking the odd numbers, and the other half taking the even numbers. By the end of the song, you end up roaring your verses at the other side as loud as you can, in the hopes of being declared the winner.
And if you think that my experiences with that song ended twenty years ago with Chi-Rho, you’d be quite mistaken. No, I’ve bellowed that song at poor hapless souls as recently as last June, when I was a Chi-Rho camp COUNSELOR in Arizona, alongside somebody who had been one of my OWN Chi-Rho counselors twenty years prior. You see, these days in Arizona, CYF, Chi-Rho, and JYF all have their camps at the same time, at one massive camp facility in Prescott. Chi-Rho and CYF generally have meals at the same time, and after five years as an Arizona CYF counselor and one as a Chi-Rho counselor, I can tell you that you’re lucky if you make it to Tuesday afternoon before one of the groups decides to most foolishly issue the other a challenge.
I say “most foolishly” because there’s a good chance they’ve already done the song amongst themselves, which means their voices are already a bit worn out, whereas the other group has fresh vocal cords and is ready to be heard in New Mexico.
No matter how you break the song down, however, the older I got, the more it began to amuse me. When I got to a point where I understood that the theme of the song was based on Christ’s great commission from the end of the Gospel of Matthew, I would, every time we did the song, start to have these mental images of Jesus standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and yelling, “CHILDREN, GO WHERE I SEND THEE!” at the Apostles.
The thing is… that’s exactly what the Great Commission is. We are the children of God, and in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is telling us where to go. He is calling us to be his hands and feet – his feet to go into the world, his hands to do his will. But what does that look like, though?
The interpretation of the Great Commission by the children of God has taken various forms over the last two millennia. Take Paul, for example. After Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road and knocked some sense into him, Paul took very literally the precepts of the Great Commission, going into all the known world and making disciples of as many people as he could, baptizing them in the name of the Holy Spirit and instructing them in the ways of Christ. The effects of Paul’s ministry in Asia Minor and southern Europe cannot be overstated – indeed, his influence more than any other may have been responsible for the spread of Christianity across Europe. Don’t believe me?
Galatians 3:1, in the oldest Greek manuscripts of which we are aware: “O aventoi Keltoi!” – you foolish Celts. Yes, indeed, most archaeologists and European historians believe that the Galatian people, the church to which Paul wrote the Epistle of Galatians, were the earliest representation of the Celtic people, who would, over the following five hundred years, move across Europe, colonizing as they went, leaving behind a mix of Christian and pagan practices, until they finally settled in the British Isles. And who exposed them to Christianity initially?
Playing a major role in the establishment of historical European Christianity is pretty good work for somebody who started off his career trying to wipe out the church entirely.
And then there are those who may get the Great Commission a little bit… well, wrong, shall we say.
Take, for example, a certain series of military events undertaken by the Byzantine Empire at the behest of Pope Urban II beginning in the eleventh century. You may have heard about these – they were known as “The Crusades”. The goal of the Crusades wasn’t the worst idea ever – the Pope wanted Christians to have easier access to the Holy Land. Noble goal, right?
Unfortunately, what ACTUALLY happened is that the first crusade set off four hundred years of warfare against whatever Jewish and Muslim people happened to be unfortunate enough to be in the paths of the crusades. Thousands of innocent people were put to death across Europe and Asia Minor in the name of Christ – an activity of which Jesus no doubt would have strongly disapproved.
I say strongly disapproved; I should say he would’ve “outright condemned”. After all, Matthew 25 – “whatever you do unto the least of these, you do also unto me.”
Blessedly, the Crusades came to an end in the fifteenth century; however, lest we fool ourselves into thinking that sort of thing didn’t happen again, we need look no further back than 1995, when largely Christian Serbian forces carried out a campaign of genocide against ethnic Bosnian Muslims. And let’s be real, no matter what you think of Islam, first of all, the vast majority of Muslims have no quarrel with the rest of the world, and secondly, there is never an excuse for genocide – not in the eleventh century, not in the twentieth century. And certainly, putting thousands of people to death for the simple fact that they are not Christian is not only a complete failure of Christ’s commission, but it is a direct affront to God – the murder of individuals made in God’s own image for no other reason than they have a different system of belief.
“Teach them and baptize them,” Jesus said. Not murder.
But then, there are those who took that Great Commission and have put it to work in a most practical and good fashion. Indeed, there are those who have taken that word – Crusade – and repurposed it in a much more positive fashion. I speak specifically of one Reverend William F. Graham, Jr., better known to you and me as “Billy”. Billy Graham marches to the beat of NO man’s drum. He is a Southern Baptist minister. He is one of the most well-known evangelical preachers of all time. And yet… he has been a registered Democrat since he was old enough to vote. He holds some views that would be considered conservative; he holds some views that would be considered quite liberal. He has been considered a spiritual advisor for every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, and has shown nothing but respect and God’s love for ALL people.
Billy Graham has only ever sought to teach people the ways of Christ and baptize them in the name of the Holy Spirit. He has never really cared for politics, and doesn’t really care about the shortcomings of a human person. If he encountered you, he would treat you as a fellow child of God, doing unto you as he would do unto Christ. He has inspired generations of ministers, from Martin Luther King Jr. and Fred Rogers, to Rick Warren and Fred Craddock, serving as an example for how to bring the message of Christ to the people of God in a positive manner.
But what, then, can we do? None of us is the apostle Paul. None of us is Billy Graham. I may have delusions of grandeur, but I recognize that while y’all may enjoy my sermonizing, I am not exactly on their level. But that’s okay.
You see, as Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians, some are apostles, some are prophets, some are evangelists, some are pastors, some are teachers, and so on and so forth. And yet – all of them are part of the ONE body of Christ. Each of us has a different role to play in carrying out the Great Commission. Some will preach. Others will cook. Others will teach. Others will drive the bus. Others will fix things that go wrong. Each of us has a part to play in living out Christ’s commission to teach each person His word and baptize them in the name of the Holy Spirit.
But each of our parts is carried out with the same intent – to show others that we are Christians by our love. Without that, as is said in I Corinthians 13, all is useless. Indeed, the love of Christ is our unifying factor, our polar star, the impetus behind our daily mission to be Christ’s own disciples.
And so now, let us go forth to be the hands and feet of Christ to the world. Let us remember that we are the children of God, and to carry out this Great Commission, children, go where I send thee. How shall I send thee? I’m gonna send thee one by one, one for the little bitty baby that was born, born, born in Bethlehem.