The Commissioning of the Disciples
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What is a disciple?
Miriam Webster defines disciple as this:
– one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another: such as Christianity : one of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ’s followers according to the Gospel accounts
– a convinced adherent of a school or individual
a disciple of Freud
That’s always an interesting question isn’t it. What is a disciple? We have these definitions, but I think there is much to say about what it means to be a disciple in the lectionary passage this morning. Especially as we come to this time in the readings after Easter, and for us in this time pandemic and so much social upheaval.
Remember, the disciples, Jesus’ followers are in a state of transition. A laminal or threshold time where they have been following Jesus, listening to him, seeing his example of listening, loving, and including others. Hearing him talk about community and being in union with God, which brings everyone into restored communion with God. Into deep friendship. Remember the words that Paul shares, “become friends with God, God is already of friend of yours”. So, Jesus followers had been attracted to this message both spoken and lived out by Jesus.
Then we come to the farewell discourses in John where Jesus is preparing the disciples for a time of violence being inflicted upon Jesus and for them to remember his words and actions and to stay unified and in friendship.
Then there’s Jesus’ death, the disciples flee and hide in rooms with barricaded doors. Jesus appears to them, resurrected. These appearances are wondrous, but the disciples, the followers, still are consumed with doubt. They want to go back to “normal”, but know that they cannot, and that “normal” was not working anyway for them.
But, they stuck together, even though they were hiding.
Then, we come to this passage where Jesus is physically taken up to be with God. In essence, saying that he is with the disciples always through his spirit which will empower them to have agency and encouragement.
When we read this passage, we see that the disciples to the mountain where Jesus tells them to congregate for this occasion. When they saw Jesus, they worshipped him, but some still doubted. In other words, as Richard Rohr says, they were a mess! Like us. So many times, we give God lip service, but, inside, if you are like me and most humans, and honest, they still had some doubts, some fears, some concerns. Yet, they stood there. Watching. There’s something in that, I would encourage you to look at that messiness in the disciples and our lives, and know that it’s a sign of being spiritual. Heck, even Jesus struggled. Yet, there is a power in sticking with it, and even when you can’t stick with it, staying put on the mountain and waiting.
Jesus then reminds them that he has authority, he has agency, and that this agency also resides in us. GO! Don’t be immobilized forever, move! Go is an imperative, a command. If you want to grow, get off the couch, get out of the pew, and get into relationship with those around you. One thing that this pandemic has taught us is that as great as our building is, as much as we love Sunday mornings, our faith is much more than those things…we have an active faith that compels us to connect with others.
And, when we do connect, what does Jesus say? Don’t try to win arguments, don’t try to make converts, but make disciples! In other words, show others how to live through word and actions of loving and listening. The best teachers I’ve ever had are ones that won me over if you will by how well they listened to me and showed concern.
I never will forget when Peter Block told me he wasn’t interested in being my mentor, but he’d be my friend. And, what does Jesus say to his disciples before this moment, in the upper room? I no longer call you disciples, but friends! In that moment, it is is a discipling moment, a teaching moment. Because, in friendship, in making disciples, we experience growth and presence…especially when we enter those friendships with an open heart.
Finally, Jesus says to us, stick it out. You need each other, you can’t do this life thing on your own. And, that he is with us through the power of Christ living inside of us…the presence of Christ through God’s connective tissue, nature, spirit is with us…teaching us each moment if we are paying attention, on how to love and live. Now, and to the end of the age.
So, friends, disciples, Jesus followers: we have been with Jesus, we have been given instructions, we were more prepared for this pandemic that we are still living in than we could have ever imagined. And, now, we are living in two pandemics, a pandemic of racism that has been with us for over 400 years. We can’t go back to “normal”, because “normal” wasn’t working well for all peoples…certainly not for our black and brown brothers and sisters. We can have all sorts of opinions of the unrest, but we know that we have to listen, have to love, and in so doing, know that we are making disciples, being discipled, and that we in this together.