The Great Commission

Good morning, Friends!

If you ever come to Wednesday night Bible study, you know I often start out by giving people a little quiz. Some of you probably learned these in Sunday school.

  1. What’s the shortest verse in the Bible?
  2. What are the two Great Commandments?
  3. What is the Golden Rule?
  4. What is the Great Commission?

That last one is what we’re going to be looking at today.

There are actually five different versions of the Great Commission, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts. This is something the Bible thinks is pretty important. I’m going to ask several people in the meeting to read our scripture this morning.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

-Matthew 28:16-20

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

– Mark 16:14-18

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

– Luke 24:44-49

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

– John 20:19-21

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

– Acts 1:8

Even though these Scriptures are all different, can you hear a kind of a common voice in all of them?

  • “Go and make disciples of all nations. . .”
  • “Preach the good news to all creation. . .”
  • “Forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations. . .you are witnesses. . .”
  • “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you . . .”
  • “You will be my witnesses. . .to the ends of the earth. . .”

That’s Jesus speaking to us.

One of our biggest challenges is remembering that Jesus gave us a job to do. He didn’t just come to make us feel good about ourselves. Jesus sends us out, to tell other people about God’s love and forgiveness. We do a lot of things here at worship on Sunday, but Sunday morning is only half our work. The other half is when we leave here.

A lot of people get kind of uncomfortable with Scriptures like the ones we heard this morning. People say, “I’m not an evangelist! I don’t want to go around the neighborhood, knocking on doors! I don’t want to stand out there preaching on street corners. That’s not my job!”

But is that what Jesus said? Maybe that kind of evangelism isn’t your job. But there are lots of ways to spread the kingdom. There are lots of ways to reach out to people. Everybody has a different job.

I’ve spent a lot of time during my life working with missions – helping people who feel called to go and spend time in other parts of the world. I was the head of the Missions committee in two different yearly meetings before I came here – in New York and Indiana.

I helped to raise the money for their travel and support. I helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Quaker teachers and medical workers and ministers, so that they could follow their call in other parts of the world.

I prayed with people who were trying to make up their minds and get clear about what God was calling them to do. That’s a big decision – they left jobs and families and security to go and spend years of their lives in places that weren’t safe or comfortable. Listening to those people and praying with them was a privilege.

My wife and I have hosted dozens of visiting Quakers who came to the U.S. for board meetings and educational opportunities. Helping them to adjust to a strange culture, looking out for their many needs, helping them deal with officials, interpreting and explaining – that’s something we were able to do.

Years ago, we hosted a young Quaker from Kenya, just our age, who was here in the U.S. to study. When he went back home, we stayed in touch, and we exchanged letters for many years, encouraging and praying for each other.

When I went to Africa myself, I carried two suitcases – one suitcase for my own clothing and for things I was taking to Friends Theological College, and one suitcase filled with clothing and books for my friend Emmanuel and his wife and children. He passed away a few years ago from a heart attack, but we still remember him and his family.

For six months, my wife and I hosted a Quaker student from Bolivia in South America. She needed extra time and a place to stay while she finished up her seminary degree. So Emma stayed with us, and we learned a lot from each other.

Emma introduced us to a family from her home village. They had a little girl who was born with a very difficult physical problem – she had enormous growths on her arm and her chest. Couldn’t even lift her arm. Here in the U.S. that kind of thing would be taken care of when she was a baby, but in Bolivia they don’t have that kind of medical facility available.

My wife and I worked for months to get little Imogene here to the U.S. for treatment. We found a Shriner’s hospital in Philadelphia that would treat her. We found a special program through the airline that would pay for her and her mother to come here. We found families to host her mother while little Imogene was in the hospital and while she was recovering.

We raised money to pay for everything, and we found translators who carefully converted all of Imogene’s paperwork from Spanish into English. We negotiated with the State Department for their visas. We bought books and toys and activities to keep Imogene amused and help her to learn a little English.

All that is mission work. It’s helping other people to know that God loves them, that Christians care, that the Bible isn’t just empty words but a faith that makes us reach out and do what we can.

Years ago, my wife and I met a man who was working with Native Americans down in rural Alabama. This was a group of people whose ancestors hid out in the swamps when the rest of the Native American population was deported to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.

These people didn’t qualify for federal assistance because their ancestors had resisted deportation and intermarried with escaped slaves who were also hiding out in the swamps. They weren’t considered a tribe any more.

In that part of Alabama, there are three levels of poverty. There’s white poverty, there’s African-American poverty, and then there’s Native American poverty. Most of the Native American children had never had a pencil or a notebook to call their own in school. They had no books to read at home. They had nothing.

Well, we got our Circle together and rounded up several big boxes of school supplies. Our friend told us he really wanted to start a library and an after-school program to help make up for what these kids weren’t getting in school.

So, for six months we collected books. We went to garage sales, and to the library book sale. We donated books, and we collected books. By the time our friend Bud came back to see us the next spring, we had more than 1,500 pounds of books. We loaded his pickup truck down till the body rested on the springs, and he built a library for those kids.

Native Americans have a great sense of humor. They were negotiating with some federal program for help, and the officials said they couldn’t go any further unless they had an address for the county seat.

Well, that part of rural Alabama is so poor that they didn’t have any county office. They have a sheriff and that’s about it. The people in Washington had never been there. So, to satisfy the people in Washington, they got an old outhouse and they dragged it down from where they lived to the state highway.

They got an old rusty mailbox, and they nailed it to the side of the outhouse. Then they got some paint and wrote on it in big capital letters, “County Seat”. The mail carrier laughed and started delivering mail there, the people in Washington didn’t know any better, and the Native Americans finally got the help they needed.

What’s my point?

My point is that mission work is a lot broader and more imaginative than most people realize. It’s anything which helps people. It’s anything which feeds the body and feeds the spirit. It’s whatever brings people the good news that God is real, that God’s love means something, and that there are Christians who care about them.

Some mission work is in distant parts of the world or in other parts of the country. A lot of mission work is actually close to home.

It’s food and clothing and money we give to COAT. It’s helping kids get to Quaker Lake Camp. It’s the snacks the Circle takes every month to Hospice, so that families who are staying there with their loved ones and don’t want to leave can have something to eat.

Every Wednesday, a group of people from 10 or 12 different Quaker meetings gets together across the street at the Allen Jay house. When I went to visit them this week, they were busy packing kits for migrant workers who come here to North Carolina to work the crops each year.

They live in shacks and tents and trailers, and they move back and forth across the country as they follow the planting and the harvest. They don’t make very much, and it’s hard for them to keep clean and decent.

Inside each kit is a bar of soap, a washcloth, a container of shampoo, toothpaste, a toothbrush, a comb and deodorant, a pair of work gloves and some Tylenol. Migrant work is hard, and these little things make a big difference.

Other times during the year, they pack kits for newborn babies of poor families, and kits for prisoners in the state and local jails and prisons.

That’s a mission that’s literally right across the street, and they always need help. My point is that mission work isn’t always far away. Sometimes it’s right on your own doorstep.

And my point is that Jesus said, “As you did it to the least of these, my brothers and my sisters, you did it also to me.”

And mostly, it’s fun! I have done some crazy things over the years in the name of mission work. I once collected typewriters, to help a Quaker woman named Sadie Vernon start a secretarial school for teen-aged girls who had failed out of school and needed a second chance.

One time a Quaker doctor at a mission hospital in Africa wrote to me, just talking about the conditions there, and he told me that things were so desperate there that they were washing and re-using catheters 8 or 10 times in the hospital.

Well, one of our new attenders at meeting was a salesman for a medical supply company. I told him about the problem and he said, “Hey, our company sells those! Let me see what we can do.” He called the head office, and soon 4 huge boxes of catheters were on their way to Africa from their warehouse in Germany.

A lot of mission work is prayer. A lot of mission work is listening. A lot of it is caring. And a lot of it is making connections – bringing people together to help each other.

So many times, a need has been brought together with an answer, in ways which I never could have predicted and which only God could have engineered. Like people say sometimes, “It’s a God thing.”

And in there, with the feeding and the helping and the doing and the building, there’s always an opportunity to tell people about God’s love and forgiveness. Sometimes the practical assistance opens the door for a deeper conversation. That’s what it’s all about.

I would like to see Springfield become a more mission-minded place. Don’t get me wrong – the things we do are good, and they are helping. But there is so much opportunity around us.

We need to take care of ourselves, and we need to build up our meeting. But one good way to build ourselves up, I believe, is to turn a little more of our focus outside ourselves.

We’re here for a purpose. God keeps us here for a reason. And part of that purpose and that reason, is to see what good we can do to help other people and see what work God has given us to do in our generation.

It doesn’t matter how young or old we are. We need to stretch ourselves! I know young people who are old, and old people who are amazingly young. Young or old, it doesn’t matter, it’s all a part of the kingdom. God wants to reach more people. And there are a thousand doors open in front of us, right now.

I knew a couple one time at a meeting I was serving. Their mission was to visit teen-aged boys at the state mental hospital. Not a real popular place for most people, and not a real popular group to serve.

This couple went every month, for forty years, to the mental hospital. They brought books, and games, and every month they brought a big birthday cake. The boys who had a birthday that month got to cut it up and serve it and share it with everyone else. It meant they had something to give.

I’ll bet, when the prizes get handed out up in Heaven, that couple will be at the front of the line. Chelmer and Mary Cain.

There are just so many places for special things to be done. There are some projects where the whole meeting can get involved, or even several congregations. But there are other projects where the “right size” is just one person, or a person and a friend, or a family. The size doesn’t matter; what matters is that we are trying to do things to help in the name of Jesus.

“Go and make disciples of all nations. . .Preach the good news to all creation. . .As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you . . .You will be my witnesses. . .to the ends of the earth. . .”

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