In last week’s gospel for Trinity Sunday, we heard Christ’s last words (according to Matthew) as he gave his disciples ‘The Great Commission:’
Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Jesus did NOT tell his disciples to go out and be nice to everyone, making sure that they always feel good about themselves, although to see the church in action sometimes you might think that. Some people may say that the church is just about telling people that God loves them. While God’s love for us may be a great truth, frankly, I have always found myself needing more. Specifically, I want to know why we think God loves us; I want to know what that love has compelled God to do for us in the past; I want to know what significance that love has for my life here and now. In short, I need God’s love to be more than some abstract sentiment that passed about like an insincere compliment or a “have a nice day.” I need God’s love to be a real story, that really affects me.
Christ’s command is to make more disciples; to go out into the whole world telling people his story. We exist as disciples of Christ, not for our own sake, not for making ourselves feel good, but for the sake of telling the story of Christ to the world. The story of Christ is indeed the story of God’s love, but it isn’t some vague idea, it is a flesh and bone history of what God’s love has done in the world, not just in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, but in each and every disciple that has been baptized into his body.
Throughout history the story of Christ has transformed people. It transforms people by making God’s love a concrete reality, not just an abstract sentiment. If we want to teach people the importance of Christ’s commandments, perhaps we should start by teaching them first the importance of Christ. Making disciples is about more than people learning the power of Christ’s commandments; it is about people learning the power of the one giving the commandments. We are here to convert people to a life lived in Christ, which is more about making them holy than it is about making them nice.
We are the guardians of the sacred story. We are here to make sure that this story is transmitted to those who have not received it yet. In this sense the primary task of the church, the entire church, is youth ministry, but not (I hasten to add) youth ministry as we normally conceive of it. We are here for the sake of those who are young in the faith (regardless of their age). Our mission is to raise up people to be lovers and followers of Christ. We do this, first and foremost, by telling people the sacred story of Christ. The fact that we are able to speak of Christ’s commandments, or that we have sacred scriptures, or that we even talk about Jesus at all, we owe completely to our ancestors in the faith, who found in Christ’s story something sacred and precious that needed to be preserved and handed down.
We are guardians of the sacred story, not because it belongs to us, but specifically because it doesn’t. The story of Christ is always more for those who haven’t received it yet, than it is for those who have. We are not here for ourselves, we are here for those who are young in the faith. The ‘Great Commission’ of our Lord to go out and make disciples, to baptize and to teach, should be a reminder to us that the church exists solely to tell his story.
What are we doing to make sure that Christ’s story is told to those who have not heard it yet? I am not just referring to our children or non-Christians; I am referring to future generations. It isn’t about whether our children will have faith; it is about whether our children’s children’s children will have faith. What are we doing to ensure that the sacred story of Christ will be alive and well for them? Are we effectively teaching Christ’s story to our own children? Are we creating adult disciples of Christ that understand how God’s love has manifested itself in the world? As older adults are we being faithful stewards of the facilities and resources that we have? Does our liturgy serve to help people increase in holiness, or does it merely congratulate them for being nice?
We are entering into Ordinary Time, the time of the church year when much of the pomp and circumstance of the big liturgies take a back seat, and we go about the day-in day out business of the church, but as our Lord reminds us: the day-in day-out business of the church is making disciples. Now is the time for us to take that sacred story of Christ which we have just retold from Christmas to Pentecost, out into the world and to share it with those who either have not received it, or who are as yet, young in the faith. Now is the time for each and every one of us to evaluate how we are serving Christ as guardians of his story: are we carrying it out into the world? Are we making sure that it will be told to future generations?
The future of the church is not in any one ministry to any one demographic: it isn’t in Sunday school or pastoral care to the elderly; it won’t be found by merely changing the liturgy or moving the furniture; nor does the secret lie in starting up new community service organizations. The future of the church lies in reclaiming its original raison d’être: telling the story of Christ to everyone, everywhere, all the time. It may not seem like a very easy task, but at least we have our Lord’s added promise that he will be with us as we try to undertake it…even to the end of the ages.