It would have been easy for the disciples to assume that everything was over. The call, the commitment, the commission could have all ended on that fateful Friday, when the one to whom they had committed their lives was murdered. Even in the face of the resurrection, there did not have to be an understanding that what began three years earlier would continue. The trauma of the crucifixion of their teacher, friend, messiah had sent them scattering in fear and grief. And as much as Jesus had tried to prepare them, they really weren't ready for life and work without him. It could have been over.
But something happened after they received the testimony of the women. "He's not dead. He's alive!" they said. "Go and meet him in Galilee." And when the disciples gathered at the Mountain of Galilee, the resurrected Christ, the living Lord, Jesus, met them there.
God has a way of showing up and showing out in mountains. God met Moses at the back side of a mountain--Mt. Horeb--where God gave Moses the message and mission of liberation of his people. God met Moses at the back side of Mt. Horeb, where God revealed God's self to him and God's purpose for Moses' life. God met Elijah at Mt. Carmel, where God declared once again that God was God, and God's people believed, because God showed up and God showed out.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the Mount of Transfiguration where once again they were given an epiphany, a glimpse of the eternity and glory of Jesus. Yes, there's something special about God and mountains. Other Gospel writers did not necessarily mention a mountain. Mark and Luke had Jesus meeting the disciples around the dinner table. John had them locked up in a room and Jesus coming through the door, but Matthew, Matthew, the one who wrote to a people who understood the power of mountains, Matthew, the one who wanted to connect the Jesus of his day with the Hebrew scriptures, Matthew mentioned that the disciples met him at a mountain in Galilee. The Galilean mountain signified that something new and powerful was to be initiated. It's not over.
As Jesus greets them and they're worshipping him and even in the midst of their worship, there is still some question, there is still some uncertainty, Jesus declares to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." Jesus, the one who taught with authority, Jesus, the one who healed with authority, Jesus, the one who confronted power with authority-he declares to his scared and frightened followers, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me," authority in the realm of our living and authority in the realm beyond our understanding and comprehension. There is nothing outside of the authority of Jesus, and it is based upon this authority that Jesus commissions the disciples, that he gives them their job description. He gives them their purpose. He gives them their mission statement. It was Jesus' way of saying to the disciples, "It's not over. I know you don't understand what's happened. I know you don't understand what's going to happen, but just remember this: It's not over! Go, and make disciples!"
Jesus commanded the disciples to move, to move beyond where they were standing. Don't get stuck in where you've been. Don't get stuck in where you think you are, but dare to move out! Too often, the church of Jesus Christ has been willing to settle for the status quo. We've got stuck in where we've been or we think that what God is doing in our midst is all that God is ever going to do. But Jesus comes and he says, "Go! Move from where you are. Go out and be about the business of making disciples."
Making disciples is not synonymous with recruitment for the church rolls. It is not the same thing as building up membership. It is not a numbers game of who has how many, but it's taking time to enter into relationship with others that is deeper than superficial friendship. It is daring to share with others the life-giving, life-liberating, death-defying relationship of God in Jesus Christ. It is inviting others into this relationship. And go to all nations.
Sometimes we like to get to this point where we simply say, "It's OK. Jesus has come to me and mine and that's enough." But on that mountain in Galilee, we hear Jesus telling the disciples, we hear Jesus telling us, "Even though you know me, even though you've entered into relationship with me, even though you've journeyed with me, it's not over. There's still more work to be done."
And let me say parenthetically, this is not an invitation for imperialistic evangelism. Yes, the church has a history of believing that we're carrying the gospel of Jesus Christ and what we are really doing is carrying our own political and cultural proclivities, and we lead a people into cultural alienation and destruction. If we think of what has been done to aboriginal peoples around the world in the name of evangelism, we've missed the boat of truly understanding that God does not call us to make others just like us but calls us to extend an invitation that others might know who they are in Jesus Christ and become fully liberated in that knowledge. It is an invitation to move beyond our own narrow world view and to encounter a whole world that Jesus came that they might have life.
Earlier, in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus commissions the disciples, he sends them out, but he says only go to the lost sheep of Israel, only go to a select few, only go to you and yours. But in this commission, Jesus is saying to the disciples,
You can't stop with you and yours. God's love, liberation, and favor is not to be limited; it must be made available to the world. For I am a God who understands that the world is my dominion and I love the world enough to want the world to be set free. Go! Beyond what you know. Encounter me in other places and carry my love there, baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And when you go, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Initiate your sisters and brothers throughout the world into unity with the Divine. It is a unity that can only be reflected in the unity that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit hold as one. Baptism is an immersion into a new identity, no longer defined by human standards and characteristics, but defined by the One who gives life, redeems life, sustains life. And this Trinitarian formula was never meant to be a battle cry for future generations to fight, but the awareness of the fullness of God's being welcomes us into relationship. There is no aspect of God that God has withheld from us and through baptism, God welcomes us into God's self.
But it's not over. It's not over in that welcoming process, for Jesus says to the disciples, "Teach. Teach all that I have commanded you."
* Jesus, who was a master teacher, who began his ministry liberating the law and life from the bondage of ignorance;
* Jesus, the one who took the law and brought it to its fullest expression;
* Jesus, who taught what the kingdom, what the realm of God was like;
* Jesus, who was always saying that your understanding is not enough, but there are deeper truths that must be revealed. Don't stop! But keep teaching all that I have commanded you.
You have work to do. It's not over. It's not over! It's not complete, and it will not be completed in one generation. The magnitude of the work to which we are called is bigger than we can imagine. It is bigger than our own understanding. The magnitude of the work to which we are called is a work that is bigger than what has been given to generations that preceded us and that will go to generations after us. But in the midst of this awesome challenge, in the midst of Jesus saying, "It's not over," there comes a promise. "I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age."
Unlike Mark, Luke, and John, Matthew does not report the ascension of Jesus into heaven. He does not have the disciples looking up and seeing Jesus separated from them once again, but Matthew concludes his Gospel with a promise, "I will be with you, always, even unto the end of the age." Jesus' presence with the disciples, Jesus' presence with us is a reminder-it's not over-the work of God continues in us and through us.
Gracious and loving God, you continue to challenge us and push us. And whenever we would become settled, we would want to just accept what is, remind us that the work to which you have called us is not over. And as we seek to minister in your name, remind us that you are with us. You will never leave us, even unto the end of time. For that, O God, we give you praise, and we commit ourselves to working for your realm on earth even as it is in heaven. In the name of Jesus Christ, the resurrected and liberator, we pray. Amen.