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August 9, 2015 - Matthew 28.16-20

“Eyes on the Future”

Matthew 28:16-20

August 9, 2015

 

16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

In the news a few years back, we have heard a lot about the church of the nativity in Bethlehem.  I am hoping that if there was any damage done to the inside of the church that it was limited.  They have something there.  It is a symbol, widely used by the early church, and still used by the Christian churches in and around the Mediterranean.  Hanging in a basket or mesh net, usually from the foot of the cross, you would find an ostrich egg.  Seriously.  The ostrich egg served as a symbol of several things to the early Christians, and is still in use today.  It is a resurrection symbol, but also served as a symbol of their future. 

The egg serves as a symbol for their purpose to exist – to be stewards of the future of God’s Kingdom.  The future.  It is what we are charged with protecting as God’s church.  But the ostrich egg is a two fold symbol – with a double meaning.  The egg represents the future of the church, but it also represents the cruelty of the ostrich.

Lamentations 4:3   “My people have become cruel, like the ostriches in the desert.”

Job 39:13-18  13“The ostrich’s wings flap wildly, though its pinions lack plumage. 14For it leaves its eggs to the earth, and lets them be warmed on the ground, 15forgetting that a foot may crush them, and that a wild animal may trample them. 16It deals cruelly with its young, as if they were not its own; though its labor should be in vain, yet it has no fear; 17because God has made it forget wisdom, and given it no share in understanding.

 

The ostrich buries its eggs.  To remember where the eggs are buried, the ostrich has to give it a landmark, such as a tree or bush.  What happens in the desert, where there are no landmarks?  The ostrich has to keep one eye on the egg or it will lose track of where it is.  The egg will be abandoned.  The problem – and the reason the writer of Lamentations and Job calls them so cruel – is that the ostrich is a dumb animal; it is easily distracted, and it eggs quickly become a feast for the predators. The ostrich egg is a good meal for a predator; a great meal in fact.  Because the ostrich does not sit on her eggs to incubate them, she has become the symbol of the bad or careless mother.  If she takes her eye off of the egg, she loses her future.

The eggs represent the future – progeny – one of the reasons that the eggs hung in the early church.  If we take our eyes off of what is most important, then we lose our future.  If we take our eyes off of Christ then our future is gone.

 

This text from Matthew is very familiar to us.  It is called the Great Commission.  It is the universal mission of the church.  These are the parting words of Christ to his church, his followers, and Matthew concludes his gospel with Jesus telling his disciples – commanding his disciples – to go into the world, making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all of the things He taught them.

 

The things that Jesus tells us to do can be boiled down to the action word in the command.  Teach.  Jesus spent a great deal of time trying to get his message through the thick heads of his disciples.  Teaching is much more than just stuffing information into a reluctant noggin.  A good teacher is one that invests herself in the life and future of her student.  A good teacher will risk getting too involved with a difficult student so that the student might actually survive in this world and beat the odds.  Teaching is about the student – others.

 

Jesus says we are to baptize.  The waters rush over us in our baptism as a symbol of the cleaning blood of Jesus, washing away our sins.  The thing is, you can’t baptize yourself. (Even though John Smyth did – to his regret.)  You have to be baptized by someone else.  I was baptized by Elwood Orr on Easter Sunday 1974.  This powerful, public act of symbolism can only occur if a group of Christians cares enough about the life of others to reach out to them, share their story with them, and open their fellowship up to them.  Baptism says, “You are now one of us because of what Jesus has done.  Welcome to the family.”

 

Make Disciples.  Please notice that Jesus did not say that we are to make believers.  He said to make disciples.  People are not called to be believers; we are called to be disciples.  The Bible says that the demons believe – and tremble.  Some of us aren’t even trembling.  There were men there on the day of resurrection that saw the empty tomb, believed, but never became disciples.  For the guards and Roman officials, even though they knew the truth, they did not have faith – because faith means responding to belief.  Having real faith means becoming not just a believer, but also a disciple – one the follows Jesus into any territory.  Making disciples means that we must invest ourselves in each other with enough commitment that we are able to take those people beyond mere belief, beyond and intellectual assent to the gospel, and into the realm where belief becomes action in every day of life.  Making disciples means that we must be more concerned with others more than ourselves.

 

I need 5 volunteers.  (Make a circle – Get 5 volunteers and tell them to make a circle – then tell them to make a circle until they make one facing outward.)

 

If a church is facing inward, all it sees is itself.  Then, at some point, it notices its circle is getting smaller.  Churches are not supposed to face inward, toward themselves.  Churches are to face outward.  Teach others.  Baptize others.  Make disciples of others.  Go, Jesus says.  That is his first action word of this Great Commission.  Go!  That means breaking the huddle.  It means you can’t stay where you are.  It means that a church must have a greater desire to reach the lost than simply unlocking the front door of the church and expecting people to rush into the pew.  They will not know if we will not go.  Their salvation depends upon our willingness not to be infatuated with ourselves.  The first death sound of a church rings out when one member looks at another member and says, “What we really need around here is…”is an inward statement.  “What we need,” is a statement about us.  If we are focused on the main thing, keeping our eye on the egg, then we really don’t have time to worry about what we need.  “What we need around here is…” is more often than not a thinly veiled euphemism for “what I want.”  The church that faces outward will live, but only if it does not turn inward on itself.

 

This is the culmination of Matthew’s gospel.  He is wrapping up the story here.  He is tying all his lines of thought together, and like any good orator he is getting down to the nitty gritty.  He is applying what God is telling him to the lives of every reader.  “Go. Disciple.  Baptize.  Teach.”  They will tell you in Public Speaking class that your conclusion is the most important part of your speech.  People remember it the most.  The most important thing Matthew wanted us to remember is that we have a responsibility to others – to our future – to act for others on God’s behalf.

 

Jesus said for us to “GO!”  He did not say, “Build a church and let others come in.”  The church is to be a sending force into the world, not an oasis in the desert for those lucky enough to find it.  Jesus said to GO!  We must go.  We have to go.  If we don’t, then we have taken our eyes off the future.

 

Remember the ostrich?  As long as the eye is one the egg, the future is safe.  As long as “the main thing stays the main thing,” as the old pastor Chester Molpus used put it, the future of the church is secure.  But what happens if our eye strays away from the main thing? The familiar image of an ostrich burying its head in the sand to avoid danger illustrates its usual place in symbolism. It represents stupidity and the reluctance to "face" or accept unavoidable truths.  Are we a bunch of spiritual ostriches?  Have we left the future of the church up for grabs?  Is the future of the church in danger because we have taken our eye off of the main thing, or is it in danger because we have chosen to bury our heads in the sand and live in denial?

 

We have to be honest, and sometimes that hurts.  We North American Christians sometimes live like it’s 50-60 years ago.  In the 1950’s and 60’s, every single church was bursting at its seams, and them were the good ol’ days.  It seems.  But what actually happened, and this might make you mad but it is the truth, was that the church got fed by the culture, because it was a predominantly Christian culture.  The church did not have to actively pursue its purpose of reaching people because people just came to church.  Sure, there were active and effective programs going on, but the culture understood that you were supposed to go to church.  It seemed that the predators no longer lived around us, so the mother church slowly and unintentionally took her eye off the egg.

 

Now we live in a different world.

 

Only one in ten of people born after 1980 are going to church.  Are we keeping he main thing the main thing, or have we become as unreliable as a mother ostrich in the desert?  We in North Dakota live in the most religious and un-churched place in North America.  Oh, most people think they are religious, but they don’t actually attend church, or pray regularly, or read their bible, or actually have a relationship with God.  It’s like that girl in college I knew, when I asked her if she was a Christian, she answered, “I’m Lutheran, I think.”  We have lost sight of something, folks.

But like the ostrich, rather ironically, and in spite of all this bad mothering, the ostrich lays the largest, most beautiful, and most perfect egg of all.  There is no future that anyone has like the future of the church.  The question is whether or not we will take care of it and keep watch over it.  If the mother ostrich takes her eye off of the egg, she loses her future.  If the church takes her eye off of the egg, she will lose her future as well.

 

God the Father made us, Jesus his Son saved us, and the Holy Spirit empowers us.  We have not been made, saved and given power to become enamored with ourselves.  We must go to the world sharing the message in every way we can.  Simply knowing all of this does no good if we do not go.  We must go.  We have to go.  God has trusted us with His future.  Go.