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    May 21, 2017

    Pomp and Circumstance

    Passage: Matthew 24:13-35

    Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

    Series: God

    Category: Faith

    Sermon Delivered at Central Christian Church May 21, 2017 Rev. Michael E. Karunas Text: Matthew 24:13-35 Pomp and Circumstance

    On the morning of the first Easter, as we know, some women go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.  Angels who are there give them 2 messages: 1) that he is not there because he has been raised (that’s the part that’s familiar to us); and 2) (the part that is more easily overlooked) that the disciples are to go to Galilee because Jesus has gone on to meet them there.  Jerusalem, where this all taking place, is in the south-central part of the land.  Galilee is way up in the north.  It’s where Jesus is from and where much of his ministry took place.  That’s where we find things at the beginning of our scripture today from Matthew – up north in Galilee. (Read MT 28:16-20).

    The disciples do what they’re told.  They show up at the place in Galilee where they’re supposed to be.  Jesus also shows up and their meeting with Jesus changed them.  Which is the theme of our current sermon series – Easter Changes Everything.  Each week, during this series, we are looking at how Jesus appeared to many people after he rose from the tomb.  Though he appeared to each one differently, this changed them all.  They were not the same people after meeting the risen Jesus Christ as they were before.  And, here in Galilee, Jesus changed his disciples by coming to them in the form of a commencement address.

    Today is an End of the Year celebration at Central.  We think of it as Graduation Sunday.  Some of our students are already home from college and starting summer jobs.  Our local students will be finishing exams this week.  Some were awarded scholarships for next year.  But everyone is ready to graduate from this school year.  And graduation is a good way to think about our scripture today.  Because graduation marks the culmination of something, and everything the disciples have experienced in their 3 years with Jesus has been leading up to this point.  Their time with Jesus on that mountain in Galilee was their graduation ceremony – and his words to them were his commencement address to them.

    The word “commence” has Latin roots which mean “to begin with” or “to initiate with.”  Jesus is initiating the church with his disciples.  Another name for what’s happening here is The Great Commission.  That word “commission” means the same thing – to be in mission with…  Jesus is giving the disciples their mission as leaders of his church.  And it’s a partnership.  They will do it with each other.  He needs them to continue what he’s started and he will not abandon them because he knows they will need his ongoing presence and support.

    And what does Jesus say in his commencement address?  He begins with “All authority is given to you.”  He starts with words of encouragement and empowerment.  This is important because the last time he saw them, they ran way in fear and failure.  So he builds them up.  He wants them to be confident that they are up to the job, which is something he said to them earlier – in Jn 14:12 (“the one who believes in me will be able to do the same works I do”).  He’s telling them, “Yes you’ve made mistakes in the past, but what makes you able to do the works I do is not your past success, but your faith!  I have faith in you because I will be with you.  And that means I’m not sending you out to do a job you can’t do.”  All of my authority I’m giving to you.

    Next, he says “Therefore.”  Therefore is a transition word.  It stands between what has already happened and what will happen next.  A bridge.  It also implies purpose.  “You have been given all of my authority,” Jesus says, “not for your own enjoyment and comfort, but for a purpose greater than yourself.”  That’s what the word “therefore” means to Jesus – and he used it often.  “You have been given much,” he said, “therefore you should also give.  You have been forgiven, therefore you should also forgive.”  Or as Uncle Ben said to a young Peter Parker, who would become Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Or as Jesus might put it: You have been given great power, therefore, take on the responsibility that comes with it.”

    And what is that responsibility that the disciples have?  It is to Go!!!  That’s the next thing Jesus says in his commencement address.  “Go, therefore…” because the ministry of Jesus Christ is active.  It’s on the move; constantly in motion.  His message is, “Don’t wait for others to come to you, go out and actively seek ways and places to love God and love your neighbor.”  Jesus himself was continually on the move – among villages and towns, across fields, on mountains, crossing the sea, because for him, the focus of ministry is outward.  God is always greater than the places we’ve already found God.  And if we don’t “go” and look in new places, we may miss the very revelation God is desiring to give us.

    And where are the disciples to go?  To all the nations.  This means more than just all the countries of the world – to every nation, tribe and tongue.  That phrase “the nations” meant specifically the non-Jews.  Remember, at this time Christianity was still a movement within Judaism.  And all of these first “Christians” were Jews.  There were strict rules about Jews not associating with non-Jews.  But here Jesus is saying “Go precisely to the people you’ve been avoiding.”  I think about how important those words are today; how we are so dug into trenches with those who think like we do.  If I were to say “We should listen to Trump when he says…” half of my friends on Facebook will say “You’re a moron!”  If I post that Hillary was right when she said this or that, the other half of my friends will say “No we shouldn’t” – as though simply listening is the rarest form of currency in circulation today.  So it is very compelling to hear Jesus say, “Go intentionally to those you would rather seek to avoid.”

    And what do we do when we get there?  We make disciples.  Making disciples is about more than getting someone to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.  That’s not what Jesus cared about.  In fact, when Peter confessed those very words to Jesus – You are the Christ – the next thing Jesus did was order him not to tell anyone.  For Jesus, making disciples is helping them become followers – by investing in them; inviting (not forcing) them into a relationship; by coming alongside them where they are; spending time with them; and mostly… relating to them as people and not as labels.  Once Jesus’ followers became his followers, we have no indication that he cared that they once were fishermen or tax collectors.  Not even gender mattered.  Jesus said in MK 3 – anyone who does the will of God is my mother, brother, and sister.  What mattered to Jesus is not the societal category someone occupied, but that they were following him.

    What also mattered to Jesus was that we teach them.  That’s the last thing he said in his commencement address: Teach them.  Teaching, as Jesus did it, involved two things: 1) setting an example to follow, and 2) sharing what he knew about God.  These are two things we also can do.  Granted, Jesus knew a lot more than we ever will about God.  But teaching is about sharing what you do know and not what you don’t.  And every one of us knows something about God – the God in whom we believe.  That’s what we are expected to share – nothing more.

    I think that with teaching there’s also a sense that the teacher isn’t responsible for the outcome of the student.  The teacher is called to do everything he/she can to give the students what they need to be successful.  But it’s up to the student to do something with it.  That’s why teachers love seeing students come back years later – to see what they’ve become in life.  In the same way, making disciples isn’t about numbers – the number of people who join the church or the number of dollars in the offering plate.  It’s about living your life in such a way that helps others grow into the potential that God planted in them.  At Central Christian, if you become a member, that’s wonderful.  But it’s more important that years from now – wherever you are in life – you can say, “I wouldn’t be the person I am without the way Central Christian helped my faith grow.”

    So as we prepare to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations because Christ has given us the authority to do so,” I invite you to reflect on these 2 questions:

    1. Who is the person who was your most important teacher in your faith development?  Give thanks for them.  And if possible, write to them and let them know that. 
    1. How has the Good News of Jesus Christ been a source of encouragement for you? How might God be desiring to use you to share that Good News with others?