This sermon, shared on Mother’s Day, is part four of a sermon series called Go preached virtually at Southeast- a church for the community.
This past week had the dual designation of Teacher Appreciation and Nurse Appreciation Week. If you’re a teacher or a nurse, I hope you felt appreciated and honored by the people in your life, and by society as a whole. The overtures of appreciation any of us could do will never match the respect and honor you deserve for what you do. If we all failed to recognize that in the past, our present reality makes it easier to see this truth.
How many stories have we heard of nurses who go each day to care for patients, while risking getting sick from the illness themselves? While we all hope they have the protection they need to stay safe, they still put themselves at a higher risk than any of us ever will during this pandemic.
How many parents who find ourselves helping our children through their e-learning, have gained an entirely new respect for the teachers who show an incredible amount of patience, expertise, and care as they teach our kids? And now, every grade level entering Zoom meetings in place of classrooms. I don’t like to Zoom with adults. I can’t imagine the grace and patience it takes to try to keep the attention of 30 kids logged into a computer in the middle of a pandemic.
The reality we find ourselves in today has given us a whole new level of appreciation for the women and men who find their profession in these fields. As someone who feels called to their work, I believe you are not merely doing a job, but fulfilling a calling on your life. For that, we are grateful and appreciate all that means for you and for the people you love and serve. Thank you.
These words of appreciation feel especially significant today, as we also celebrate Mother’s Day. Many of the words of appreciation given to teachers and nurses feel equally appropriate on Mother’s Day. In the same way, as I’ve already said, our expressions of appreciation, flowers, breakfast, gifts, and thanks never add up to the specialness of the mothers in our lives. Whether maternal or not, we have all had mothers who showed a love for us and for whom we give thanks.
Now, in looking at these three roles that we honored over these past seven days, we can find a lot in common between them. When I think about my mom, I see someone who served on more than one occasion as my teacher and as my nurse. We can also see the sacrifice of these roles, and the love that is at the center of everything they do. Teachers, nurses, and mothers show an incredible amount of empathy, patience, and love for the people in their care.
But there is one word that I think connects these roles that also connects to the sermon today. It’s not a word we might automatically think of, but it’s one I was drawn to as I reflected on the intersection of this passage and these roles we are honoring. That word is the word wholeness.
A powerful image has been watching doctors and nurses cheer as recovered patients are released from the hospital. Their cheers aren’t focused only on the recovery process, but a return to life for that person, beyond their illness. Teachers don’t simply teach concepts and information. The teachers I know want to see their students grow up and make a positive impact on the world. And mothers nurture, love, and discipline, so their children leave the nest, ready to take on the world with everything they taught them.
This focus on wholeness is what I hear in the word of Jesus in Matthew 28:16-20, a set of verses that have come to be called the great commission.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
In these verses, Jesus gave a command to his disciples to prioritize their lives to share the good news of Jesus.
As we look closer at these verses, we discover there is only one verb found in this command. That verb gets translated to make disciples. And when we look closer at that verb, we find that the nuance in it informs the posture that we are to take as we share the good news of Jesus.
We are called as learners exploring the way of Jesus, to invite others into the incredible community of fellow learners exploring the way of Jesus together. And we are to invite everyone. The nuance isn’t going into the world fixing people, but inviting them into a journey of faith where we need each other as we all learn from Jesus together.
This posture and nuance impacts everything about this passage and what it means to go and make disciples. I think it also speaks into our present reality, because the emphasis of the language is not going somewhere in particular, but that sharing and inviting others to explore the way of Jesus is something you do as part of your life, even as you practice social distancing and social solidarity.
It also informs the heart of sharing that good news, because what our motivation should be to invite people on a journey to explore the way of Jesus. And that way brings life and wholeness. Jesus described this reality with the picture of a shepherd and used these words.
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. 11 “I am the good shepherd…
And while those words sound like beautiful words of comfort, when they were spoken they were spoken as a warning about and to the religious teachers in the time of Jesus. These religious leaders, Pharisees, refused to celebrate the healing of a blind man by Jesus. Instead, they insulted the blind man, judged and shamed him. The Pharisees only saw brokenness as their focus, while Jesus taught the way of wholeness that was a gift available to every person who ever lived, including you and me. And we find this truth in this command Jesus gave his disciples.
19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
It’s easy to pass over this passage and fail to recognize this connection to wholeness. It’s found in verse 20. The reason we pass over it is because of the first word and all the nuance we’ve attached to it, but if we look closer at the words in it, we will see what’s happening here and what it means as we go and make disciples. So, let’s take a closer look at verse 20 and peel back some layers.
When I read this passage, I’m initially overwhelmed by it. Even as a pastor, to teach everything Jesus commanded feels like an overwhelming responsibility. And then I think about teaching my families, friends, and neighbors. I wonder what that would even look like. Am I supposed to set up a socially distanced classroom in my yard? I could invite them to participate in our church, even in this strange new reality, and I think that’s a good idea, but I don’t think that’s the focus here.
We get thrown off by words like teach, obey, everything, and command create because they create all kinds of pictures in our minds. But these are translations of Greek words, and that translation process can lead us to attach ideas that make sense in our language that aren’t necessarily at the heart of the passage itself. And I want you to see there’s so much more when you peel back the layers of language. So, another way to translate this passage would be like this:
20…instructing and guiding them to observe, watch over, and keep all the things of eternal significance that I told you to focus on.
That changes things a bit, doesn’t it? But the context drives us toward something closer to that. And this matters so much, because like we talked about last week: when it comes to sharing Jesus with the world around us, our posture matters, how we carry Jesus into our world matters.
The last time the followers of Jesus found themselves on a mountain, Jesus described to them the Kingdom of Heaven, the goodness of heaven breaking into earth. We’ve talked about this at Southeast so much, but it’s so significant. The invitation you’ve been given is to explore and live out the way of Jesus in the here and now, dragging the eternal goodness of God into the present.
The Kingdom of Heaven Jesus described wasn’t one of brokenness or shame, but of wholeness and life and the reality that it wasn’t something far off. I can’t think of a more needed reality than goodness, grace, love, mercy, at a time where suffering, pain, and anger are becoming the norm.
What does it look like for you to share the good news of Jesus with the people around you? How can you point others to wholeness and eternal life found in Jesus, ready for us to live out today? What does it look like to guide your friends, family, and neighbors to those realities of eternal significance, grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness, because you know it would change their lives?