I reject the connotation that make is about forcing my faith upon others. I don’t see any biblical evidence for it. In my reading of the gospels and epistles, I don’t perceive guilt, fear, or harassment as tools for spreading the Good News of abundant love. Watch or read Make, Dunk, Teach, & Doubt and the discussion that followed below.
It’s that word that always gets me. Make. Make sounds so very aggressive.
Therefore, go and make disciples Matthew 28:19a CEB
It doesn’t always bother me. Make a lasagna, Yum. Make love, a normal part of human relationships. Make a cup of tea, sophisticated and Brit. Make the bed, not fun but practical. Make a deck, can I point you to my house?
None of these uses bother me. So why do I bristle at that phrase?
Therefore, go and make disciples Matthew 28:19a CEB
I think I bristle at it because of the way I’ve seen, “Go and make disciples” too often play out. Evangelism — which really simply means to share the Good News — has for some become about forcing a particular point of view upon others.
I have experienced this firsthand when other Christians have shown up on my doorstep. I’ve experienced it when I was told, in this very building by someone from another church, that neither I nor the United Church of Christ meets their narrow definition of Christian.
You don’t get to be fifty something as I am without having been accosted once or twice or twenty times by zealous Christians over the years. This is especially true if you’ve spent anytime, as I have, in the Bible Belt.
So this is the way I choose to think about it.
I reject the connotation that make is about forcing my faith upon others. I don’t see any biblical evidence for it. In my reading of the gospels and epistles, I don’t perceive guilt, fear, or harassment as tools for spreading the Good News of abundant love.
Make, strictly speaking, is not about forcing anything on anyone. Though some of our Christian brothers and sisters seem to do that, intentionally or unintentionally, I do not hear Jesus calling us to force feed a particular set of doctrines or dogmas that way.
It certainly doesn’t seem to me to be a very effective way of helping others perceive and practice the love that Jesus manifest in his life.
What I do hear Jesus telling his disciples, and by extension us, is to be the extravagant love throughout the world.
Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations…baptizing them…[and] teaching them Matthew 28:19a, 20a CEB
There are three key phrases here: make disciples; baptize them; and teach them. Let me touch on each of these one at a time.
First, Make. We are to make disciples…not force people into our way of thinking but befriend and love them. Like the phrase make friends [pause] make disciples is about building relationship with others.
Relationship by its very nature implies a certain give and take. It implies loving respect and compassion.
Jesus tells the eleven to make disciples of all the nations, that means everyone. All the nations is a wider mission than we’ve even seen in Jesus’ earthly life.
Second, Baptize. Jesus calls us to baptize others in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28: 19b CEB).
If we take this literally we need to dunk people in a whole lot of water. Real water. Wet water. Not just sprinkles.
Consider, however, that baptism is about the love of God coming over us.
Baptism is about a metaphorical re-birth. I like to think about the baptism here being a baptism not in literal water but in extravagant love. I think of it as a baptism into the loving ways of God.
Third, Teach. We are to teach about Jesus. We are to share what we’ve learned. This also, I think, implies that we are to listen and learn from one another.
Perhaps it is because I’m a former teacher but I wonder if this is the most critical word in all of this passage. Looking back over Jesus’ ministry, his most effective disciple making came from teaching folks about how to live as God calls.
So, now let’s look at a fourth key word in our reading from Matthew describing the risen Lord’s encounter with the eleven disciples on the mountaintop.
When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. Matthew 28: 17 CEB
Even some of the eleven doubted. This tells me that we can continue to make friends, to make disciples, to baptize one another in love, and teach and learn in the midst of our own doubt.
Doubt is an essential part of faith and right here, even after the resurrection, Matthew tells us that some of the eleven doubted. In the words of theologian Frederick Buechner,
“…If you don’t have doubts you’re either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants-in-the-pants of faith. They keep it alive and moving.” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC)
I don’t know about you but I find this reassuring. I can doubt while I build relationships with others. I can doubt while I tell others the stories of my faith and my own personal journey.
I can doubt whether I have the whole truth, while I listen to the stories of others’ spiritual journeys.
Together as one human family — as all the nations — we can learn what it means to baptize one another in the divine love that Jesus manifest in his life.
The Good News is we aren’t alone. We have one another and as the risen Jesus reminds us at the very end of Matthew,
Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” Matthew 28:20 CEB
This sermon and discussion took place at the Condon United Church of Christ on Sunday morning, April 12, 2015.