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We are starting a new series, a new theme. Since Christmas, we have been looking at the gospel of Matthew and the Jesus that the gospel writer has been showing us. We have watched from the crowd as Jesus healed people. We kind of rushed past when he fed 5000 but that happened. We have heard stories of What the kingdom of God is like. We’ve heard him say: the poor will be blessed, the last will be first, that you are salt and light, and that God is embodied in those who have been marginalized.
What we heard today is the last time that the disciples meet with Jesus face-to-face. Jesus is giving them their very last instructions, what they needed to do with everything they have been learning in these years with him. They are embarked about to embark on a journey that Christians will be traveling on… well, we still are today: What do we do now? Who are we going to become? How do we live in this world with the teachings we have been given? How do we build the world Jesus described? So we for the next several weeks, this part of our journey is called: Directions to the Kingdom.
*We don’t see what happens as Mary Magdela and “the other Mary” arrive at where the disciples were staying. We don’t get to hear them tell the story of the earthquake (had the disciples felt it?), or the angel who rolled the stone away, or when Jesus stood before them. We don’t get to see the disciples’ responses: were they annoyed at the early hour “these women” woke them up? Were they surprised? Doubtful? Joy-filled? It is perfectly unreasonable that Jesus have risen, it’s unexpected, it’s impossible. And yet, they get up and they return to Galilee where it had all started, up a mountain, and Jesus met them there.
*They were filled with awe and wonder, doubt and hesitancy. Maybe some worshiped and some waited. Maybe they all worshiped but in their hearts, they held on to the feeling that this doesn’t make any sense. But worshiping or doubt or joy or hesitancy, all were given the same call and mission.
Jesus says: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.” This has become the call of all of those who claim Jesus.
But these verses haven’t always been used well. Over the centuries, as Christians have had to work out what this means to go and make disciples of all nations, and it hasn’t always been kind. There have been those who have forced baptism on folks and there have been wars waged upon people who were not interested. Some have even baptized graves in an attempt to save folks, usually Jewish folks, to heaven, as if the water or the prayers were all that mattered. We, Christianity, has a long history of misusing this text, this good news of Jesus, and turning it into a battering ram of right belief by force or choice, as if it doesn’t matter which.
But, of course, it matters.
It seems like there is a long history of folks lifting this text and holding it independent of everything else that our gospel writer has been going on about in the last 27 chapters. Our author seems to have been intelligent and strategic. We know all history is told with a perspective and he is focusing on some particular part of Jesus’ life–emphasizing some parts, not even addressing others.
He was making a very clear statement of who Jesus was and is, and why he matters in the world. We began where we ended, on a mountain: blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. He told them not to worry about tomorrow and not do judge each other. He told them when you pray, pray for this: for just want we need for each day and that God’s kingdom may be revealed on earth. Then, Jesus spent his time teaching them and showing them that God’s kin-dom is one of radical inclusion, where we don’t decide who is in and out but we all grow imperfectly and messily together. Jesus revealed again and again that you cannot serve the kin-dom of God and the empires of the world. The Empires, whether ancient Rome, medieval monarchies, or modern capitalism will always fall into scarcity, power, protectionism, extortion, violence, and death. The kin-dom of God is one where those who have need, have that need met–be it food when there had been hunger, clothing when there had been scraps, company when sick, conversation when imprisoned, health care for healing, community when there had been isolation, liberation where they had been oppression.
Jesus taught them that when they stood before the judgment throne, the distinction between whole and abundant living, and not, doesn’t come down to believing the “right things,” or saying the “right prayers,” or never doubting or convincing the most people into believing in the right things and saying the right prayers. No, eternal and whole and abundant living comes from caring for people. Did you act with compassion and kindness and generosity? Did you love abundantly? Did you offer food and a coat and compassion and conversation and community and welcome? Because that is what Jesus was teaching. That is what it is to obey. That is what it is to be his disciple.
A disciple is one who follows in the way of a teacher, to take the teachings and the lifestyle of the teacher, and put them into action in your own life. To be a disciple is to be a student of a rabbi, so that your life reflects the teachings of that rabbi. To be a disciple of Jesus is to take the kin-dom teachings that we have been given and live in the midst of and counter to the empires of the world, to put it into practice, to study, and to learn, and try and fail and try again.
And we, while not the big rabbi, become teachers of the way. By telling the stories of Jesus, by telling the stories of lives restored, by living our own seasoning into the world and being an un-hide-able light on a stand, we reveal who we are following. And we invite folks to join us. Not to save their souls, but because there is a better way of living in this world than the one the empire sells us. Because we are called to genuine and compassionate community. Because we are called be of a cause beyond ourselves and this moment
To baptize, then, is to initiate someone into this way of living, to publicly state that our allegiance is no longer to the powers of this world but to Christ. When we baptize infants, we are raising them up in the teachings of Jesus that counter the teachings of this world. And if someone is baptized on their deathbed they are choosing with every moment they have left to live the life of the teachings of Jesus. And I hope that’s true of us.
And it isn’t easy and it will require things of us, It requires us to live and grow and what means to live in the kingdom it requires us to be students and studies and builders of the kingdom of God on Earth. And it means that sometimes we hold the role of the rabbi not just me every single one of us is called to make all people in that our lives might be salt and light in the kingdom of the world that is full of so much darkness. Our lives living in the generosity and the love and the compassion and the radical welcome talk to us and the teachings and the life of Jesus are to be a light to everyone.
It is reaching out and taking a risk of love for our neighbor. It is taking a risk to give and trusting the community will care for you in your time of need. It is believing that there is whole and abundant living for all, regardless. Regardless of their beliefs or their prayers.
It is a way of life, not just a moment. But I have a moment thing. We talked a year ago now, when there were many refugee folks and families coming from Afghanistan about us joining with other congregations to support a family. Those families that came through were housed and settled and supported through that process… but not by us, mostly by communities that already had established support set up.
But, the need for refugee support remains. Our local Lutheran Social Services had hoped to resettle 300 people during 2023 and expect to meet that goal by the end of May. What is now called the Waukesha Count UCC Cluster for Refugees–rolls off the tongue that name–has been placed with a Rohingya family of eleven people, spanning 3 generations.
The Rohingya people primarily lived in Myanmar and were denied citizenship in the 1980’s setting up a system that allowed for abuse that was both state-sanctioned and just people being abusive. Five years ago they were in the news for the destruction of their villages, the genocide of the people, and their fleeing to neighboring countries seeking refuge. Today, there are more than 1 million Rohingya refugees, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and needing all of their needs met by others.
We have an opportunity to put some of our kin-dom learning into practice. It’s a little extra funds to support 2 families in Milwaukee–$2,500 across the whole Cluster. It’s a little more energy, there is help with finding employment, learning some English, and getting comfortable with the cultural differences. There might be some items they need. We’re doing this, we’re in, we have folks signed up to help as they can, we’ve given some portion of our share, and, for six months, we’re part of the works of caring for this family. How can we reveal the kin-dom living? To see the face of God in another? To be the disciples, to be a light.
Maybe you see a place where you can be the teacher, the disciple who reveals the way to those who might also follow. Maybe there is something or someone that calls to your heart, that draws your attention but you’re not sure: if you can, if you have what it takes, if there are enough people, enough time, enough money, enough support.
I know it’s hard. And I know it’s scary. Sometimes the church, even our church, fears that we don’t have enough, we aren’t enough people, enough energy, or enough resources to do anything new, risky, or challenging. We grieve who we once were when the pews of the chairs were full and remain in place until we are enough.
I want to take us back to the very beginning of what we read today: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee.” Well, that’s weird they’re always 12. And we like 12. Twelve is a good number. We can divide into 6 groups of 2, or 3 groups of 4, or divide in half.
Twelve is a number of completeness. There were 12 sons, 12 tribes, and so 12 disciples. But as they went from Jerusalem to Galilee and up the mountain they were only 11, a prime number, not divisible by anything, and not complete.
Judas had taken the money to turn in Jesus and was filled with regret. He had tried to give the money back and the leaders who had paid him and arranged for the execution wouldn’t take it. In his grief or shame or regret, Judas took his own life.
I wonder if as they walked they felt that hole and I wonder if before they left someone said: “We can’t go without Judas. We can’t go when we are only 11. We cannot go when we aren’t enough.”
Their confusion, uncertainty, and grief; in their anger, and incompleteness; they got up and they went anyway. They didn’t let the fear or the feeling of not enough keep them from their call.
And despite being outside and on a mountain, the air was probably heavy with their emotions, and before they had worked out what it would mean to take these teachings and bring them to the world Jesus looked at them and promised: “I will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
We are not alone. We are never in this work alone. Every day that we live in the midst of the empires of the world the teacher of the kin-dom of God is will us. Jesus’s teachings and way of being are with us. Jesus is with us, showing up in our grief and struggle, in our celebrations and joys, in the face of a stranger, those whom we serve, and, as his disciples, in our faces and loving service to others.
We are given the promises that we are already and we will have enough, that we have when we need to reveal, to build, to live in kin-dom of God in the midst of and counter to the empires, that we can give generously and trust that there is abundance, love extravagantly knowing that love only grows when we give it away,
You are not alone. You are called to follow in the ways of the storyteller, the healer of wounds, the bestower of food, the compassionate presence, the generous giver, the liberator of the oppressed, the justice seeker, denier of the empire’s power, practicer of non-violence in the face of power, and bringer of abundant life. That is who we are, that is the light we shine, that is the first way we teach what it is to be a disciple and invite folks into this way of living. That is what we are doing here. And that is an invitation to the good news of abundant and whole living, that is the way to the kin-dom.