So far, all of the first words of Jesus after his resurrection have been for his disciples. Jesus revealed himself to them and opened their hearts and minds to God’s truth. Jesus offered the disciples peace by giving them strength and courage to overcome their problems and by offering them forgiveness for the failures and sin. While all of these words had implications for the world around them, the words were really given for the benefit of the disciples and the reason was because they needed them. Their lives had been crushed and their worlds torn upside down by the death of Jesus and these first words helped to rebuild their lives and faith. They do the same for us. These words of Jesus help strengthen our lives and faith because Jesus still reveals himself to us, forgives our sin and gives us a peace which helps us overcome our problems, but Jesus also makes it clear that his mission and the work of the disciples was not finished.
In each of the 4 gospels and the book of Acts there is a common theme that appears. Jesus is clear that the mission and purpose of his disciples is not over and that they need to GO and continue the work God began. Let’s look at each of these passages.
John 20:17, 20
Jesus makes it clear that his followers are not to remain still or silent – they need to go and share what they have seen and heard and experienced in Jesus and that is still the mission of the church today. We are to go and share what we have learned, seen, heard and experienced of Jesus with the entire world.
This first word helps the disciples understand that in many ways, nothing has changed. The mission that Jesus called them to three years earlier had not changed. When Jesus first called Peter, Andrew, James and John he said to them, “come follow me and I will make you fishers of men and women.” In other words, Jesus was calling them to work with him to call people into the kingdom of God. They were going to go into their communities and talk about repentance and forgiveness and the values of God’s kingdom and together they were going to share God’s love and grace and call people to live their lives differently. That was the work Jesus called them to when he started and Jesus makes clear in this first word that their mission hasn’t changed. They were still called to go into their community and even beyond their community to carry on this work of Jesus – nothing changed. The death and resurrection of Jesus had not changed the mission and purpose of their lives.
Today we can’t let anything change this mission. It is still our purpose as followers of Jesus to go into our community and world to share the love of God and help people see and experience for themselves the power of God’s kingdom. We cannot change our mission – if we do, the church will die. When I was in Altoona, I was helping oversee a small church that was struggling with its future. They didn’t have a lot of people or money and they didn’t know what to do. One year the leaders came into their annual church conference with this mission statement: “We will keep our doors open as long as we can, and when we run out of money or people – we will close them.” I honestly could not believe what I was reading. They had forgotten this first word of Jesus. They lost their sense of mission to go into the community and into the world with the love of God. They had no sense being the church for anyone other than themselves. Within the year, their doors were closed. When we stop hearing this word of Jesus to go, we are finished because this is our primary mission.
Compare that church with another one I worked with in Altoona. They were also struggling to keep their doors open. They were also an older congregation and didn’t have a lot of money or people and they didn’t know what the future held for them. Unlike the church that lost their sense of mission and purpose, this church did not. They clearly heard God tell them to go into their community with the love of God and help bring God’s kingdom into this world. They sold their church building and as the church – the body of Christ – those faithful people joined another congregation so that together the church was stronger, more unified and better equipped to meet the needs of their community. The church they helped to strengthen and revive was Second Avenue and they have made a significant impact in the Altoona community and beyond. Young people from that church are currently in seminary, mission teams have been all over the world and none of that would have happened if a small group of disciples had not obeyed the call of God to go.
As a church we can never lose sight of our primary purpose, which is to go into our community and world and share the truth, love, power and grace of God. Whether it is in our personal life or together in the life of the church, there are three primary questions we need to answer when we hear this call from God. They are the three questions that I am sure the disciples asked when they heard this first word.
1. Where do we need to go?
2. Who do we need to go to?
3. What are we supposed to do when we get there?
Let’s answer the last question first. What are we supposed to do when we get there? In Matthew we are told our mission is to go and make disciples. In Mark we are to proclaim the good news, in Luke and Acts we are to be witnesses to all God has done and in John we to forgive and bring God’s peace. In other words we are to go and in whatever way we can we are to share with others the kingdom of God. We are to live in such a way that people see Jesus in us. We are to love and forgive in such powerful ways that people stop and say, “Wow, there is something different about that person!” We are to give and reach out to people in ways that inspire and call others to God. We are to teach and share with others all that Jesus said and did in hopes that they will want to learn more and experience more of God. We are to invite people to come and experience the fullness of God and the fullness of life by opening themselves up to God and the presence and person of Jesus.
How each of us will do this will be radically different and depend on the gifts and graces God has given us. Some people are outstanding teachers so God will use you one way while others might be really good with their hands and God will use you a different way. After Hurricane Katrina, I helped organize a trip of 100 people from the Lewisburg area to go to Mississippi to clean up and help people begin to rebuild. While I was there the only real physical labor I did was cut one piece of dry wall into two pieces. That was it. My job was to organize all the transportation and logistics for our teams. I spent most of my time making sure people got to the job sites and had the resources they needed to do their jobs. How I served that week was very different than those who put on roofs, rewired homes, plastered walls and painted. We were all part of the same mission, sharing God’s love and power with others, but we all served in different ways.
Last week during Serving Our Seniors, I saw a picture of Rex Mattern working on a porch.
If I had been there, I would have been no help at all. I can’t nail things very straight, but I can clean and as Paul Neff found out when we went to South Dakota, I can paint, but that’s about it. The work we will do will be different, but the mission we have is the same – share God’s love and grace with others.
There is one part of this mission of making disciples that we all have to take part in and that is to invite people to check out Jesus. In our own we way we have to invite people to at least think about God and take time to consider Jesus Christ. Maybe that means inviting people to worship with us, or inviting our family and friends to Sunday School and their children to VBS. Maybe it means just sharing with others all that God has done to make a difference in our lives with the hopes that they might consider what God can do to help improve their lives. We can all invite and give witness to God in those ways and it is something we need to learn to do.
Now let’s look at the second questions, who do we need to go to? Jesus helps answer this for us in Luke 24:47, repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed. If repentance and forgiveness is to be proclaimed then some of the people we need to go to must be sinners. We need to be bold and share God’s love and grace with those who need it. When the church only focuses on the people of the church, when we only reach out to our members and people like us who already believe – we have lost the mission and purpose of Jesus. Jesus was criticized because he spent too much time with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus associated and socialized with non-religious people and notorious sinners, and we need to as well, but it’s not just sinners we need to go to, Jesus takes it further.
Look at Acts 1:8b. What Jesus is saying here is that we have to be willing to reach out not only to sinners, but to our enemies and those we might really dislike. In Jesus day, good religious people avoided Samaria at all costs. Take a look at this map.
Good Jewish people would take an extra day to avoid travelling through Samaria on their way from Galilee to Jerusalem because the people of Israel had a long standing feud with the people who lived in Samaria. When Jesus says that his followers were to go to Samaria he was saying that they needed to go to their enemy, to those people they really struggled with and might really dislike.
We need to do the same thing today. We need to not only forgive, love, give witness to, invite and inspire people who are like us, but we need to move beyond what is comfortable and reach out to sinners, our enemies and all those people who challenge our comfort zones. So that is who we go to, now let’s look at the first question. Where do we need to go? Again, Jesus helps answer this for us.
Let’s go back to the map for a second. Here is Jerusalem and here is the region known as Samaria. When Jesus calls his disciples to go to all nations and to all people he gives them a strategic plan on how to do this – look at Acts 1:8b.
Jesus says go first to Jerusalem, then to Samaria and then to all nations or the ends of the earth. Where were the disciples when they got these instructions? They were in Jerusalem. What Jesus is saying is that we need to start our mission and live out our purpose right where we are. We need to start living for God and sharing the love of Jesus with our family and friends. We need to be forgiving and invite people to experience the grace of God where we work and in our neighborhoods. We need to reach out proclaim that God’s kingdom is available here and now in our own community and county. It starts here, but it doesn’t end here – it moves out – from Jerusalem to Samaria.
Now Samaria wasn’t just the region where many of their enemies lived, it was also just the next larger region. So when Jesus says we have to go to Samaria he isn’t just saying need to go to people we struggle with, he is also saying we have to geographically move beyond our own communities. How can we have an impact in our region or state? One of the blessings we have at Faith Church are connections to our state through people like Kerry Benninghoff and Jake Corman. They connect us to a larger region. If we hear God calling us to go to Samaria – they can help us because they are already there.
I have to say that both Kerry and Jake have helped support us when we have needed it, but we need to think about how to help and support them as well. As part of the church, we send them out and we need to support then as they go. They don’t know I’m going to do this, but I want to ask you to commit to praying for them this week. What I’d really love to do is ask different people to partner to pray for them so that they are being prayed for each and every week. Maybe that is your next step in putting this sermon into action.
From Samaria we need to go to the world. For some of us, this might mean actually going to different parts of the world to serve God. For a while I thought this was God’s plan for my life. After college I thought a lot about being in overseas missions and even applied to a ministry in Far East Asia, but that wasn’t God’s plan. After the tsunami about 5 years ago I really wanted to go and help the relief efforts and again seriously thought about going when one Sunday morning as I was getting ready for worship I heard on the radio a mission worker say, “please don’t come here. We can’t take care of you, instead just send us resources, particularly money.” Again, God made it clear to me that I was not to go myself, but to help the church send resources and a times people to go.
That is part of what it means for me to go – to raise resources of both money and people to go to all the world. As we try to answer this questions of where do we need to go, I want to share with you a vision and desire I have for us at Faith Church. Through our connection as the United Methodist Church we have the opportunity to partner with other UM church around the world. We have been looking at a partnership with the UMC in Sierra Leone.
I have to be honest and say that we have hit some road blocks along the way, but I still believe God is calling us to go. I would love to see us not only partner with a church but with a community in Sierra Leone and begin to make a significance difference there.
We have heard about a community called Pa Loko in the freetown area of Sierra Leone.
We would start going there by partnering with a church but then we might have the opportunity to help them build a fish hatchery. Think about what a great partnership this could be. We have a fish hatchery here and we could help build and support a fish hatchery there. I love the idea and the sense of connection, but here is why I am really passionate about it.
When this first came up as an idea I talked to a member of our church who worked at the fish hatchery – Chris Ramish – and asked him if he would be interested in going to Sierra Leone to help them with the fish hatchery. His response was that he would be terrified to go, but maybe that was part of what God wanted him to do. Chris died unexpected last year and never got a chance to go, but I still hear this first word of Jesus saying “GO” and I wonder if this is where we are supposed to go. We can make disciples, help proclaim the kingdom of God by building churches, schools and fish hatchery. What an awesome thing for us do since we are part of a thriving church whose members are active in schools, a universities and even a fish hatchery.
I would like to ask you to pray as we ask God to give direction to this vision. It has not been easy to establish this partnership and sometimes it seems like God might want us to look in other directions, but this week I thought about the disciples in these days and weeks after the resurrection. It wasn’t easy for them to figure things out and they also didn’t know where to go when Jesus said go and everywhere they turned there were obstacles in their way. But Jesus made it clear that the mission hadn’t changed and that they needed to work through the struggles and go. We cannot let road blocks and obstacles stand in our way. God has called us to go. Go to Jerusalem and Samaria and all nations and make disciples. So we need to go. We need to go to our homes in Bellefonte and Zion and make disciples. We need to go to our jobs in State College and Harrisburg and work for and proclaim the good news of Jesus. We need to go to Pa Loko and all nations to work for and give witness to the power of God’s kingdom, a power that will flow in us and through us as we go.
First Words from an Empty Tomb ~ Go
1. What can you do this week to serve and love God
In the Community:
Around the world:
2. Pray for our church members who serve the people of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg? Contact the church office if you are willing to be part of this ongoing ministry.
3. Pray for the ministry of Faith Church around the world. This week include the Heffners and McCurdy School.
4. Where and how is God calling you to go into the world?