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But Makes the Disciple



A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe

Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, June 19, 2011

Text:  Matthew 28:16-20 – “Going, therefore, teach ye all nations….”



     Poreuthentes.  Ah!  I love the smell of Greek aorist participles in the morning….They smell like…victory!  Once more – poreuthentes.  Great word.  But before I get ahead of myself, let’s surround this with some context.  It’s the last chapter of Matthew, where the Risen Jesus is giving his followers his Prime Directive:  “As you are going, therefore, make disciples of all nations….” 


     Most of the time, it’s translated:  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”  But “go” is an imperative and it implies, “Go, right now, with the mission of making disciples.”  So what’s the difference between “as you are going” and “go”?  Well, in the first place, if Jesus tells you to go out there and convert people, that’s one thing.  But if Jesus is telling you that as you go through life, making disciples is what you are to do, that’s another.  Let me explain.


     I remember, in my Baptist days, that Tuesday nights in Oklahoma were Witnessing Nights.  Those were the nights when we went out, knocked on doors, gave people the four spiritual laws and asked them to invite Jesus into their hearts as their personal Lord and Savior. 


     It didn’t occur to me till later that “witnessing for Jesus” is not something that you can turn on on Tuesday nights, then turn off for a week.  It occurred to me that I was always witnessing, through everything I did.  Unfortunately, most of it would have been good fodder for the prosecution, not the defense.


     It also occurred to me that I was giving them a pitch.  Like I wanted them to buy something.  And, in the best case scenario, if they thought like me, they were saved.  Thought like me.  Funny, I don’t recall Jesus demanding an ideology.  Besides, if they were thinking like me, then these were still my thoughts, not theirs.  There had to be more to it than that….



     Well, there isFirst, this approach assumes that Christianity is superior to Judaism and has replaced it.  This is called the “supercessionist theory” and it says that Judaism was good while it lasted, but turns out to be based on hollow good works.  Accordingly, Judaism has been replaced by a superior way of thinking, believing and being in the world called Christianity. 


     Usually, ignorant positions like this are based both on a lack of heart and a lack of study.  Paul is a first century Jew.  He says so.  He insists on it.  He says that God has not replaced Judaism; that God never reneges on a covenant He has made.  And God will never turn his back on the Jews.  Paul was not the first Christian – Christianity didn’t even exist in Paul’s time.  Nor did Jesus preach a different religion.  Jesus, an observant Jew, actually intensified the Jewish Law.


     So there we are – at the feet of the Risen Christ, listening to him tell us to make the nations his disciples.  Well, it certainly doesn’t mean making Christians out of Jews.  So what does it mean? 


     MathayTUsatay.  Ah!  I love the smell of Greek transitive verbs in the morning.  They smell like…victory.  MathayTUsatay.  To make disciples.  In the American evangelical madrassa model, making disciples means giving folks the four spiritual laws and having them invite Jesus into their hearts as their personal Lord and Savior.


     But “disciple” means “learner”:  “Make learners of all nations.”  But how can you make somebody learn?  Well, one way is from the outside in.  That’s when you beat your child senseless for his whole childhood.  The lesson he learns from this is that people are to be deeply mistrusted.  But is that learning?  Or is that simply conditioning? 


     I think that learning takes place from the inside out.  Real life lessons – things that make a difference in how I live my life in this world – are a function of what I, myself, find out.  Sometimes it’s through the School of Hard Knocks, but most of the time its because of my native curiosity.  I remember, after seeing the movie, Amadeus, running right home and looking up Mozart to find out about his life.  I was curious….


     It turns out that curiosity isn’t so much a thinking activity as an emotion.  Scientists have confirmed that people who are curious activate two parts of their brain – that part that comprehends and the part that anticipates information.  So curiosity is both a reward and a reinforcer.  That’s why it’s so powerful. 




     So our job, as we go through our lives, is to help people combat the twin demons of boredom and convention.  We are called to pique their interest.  We are called to arrest their attention.  We are called to encourage them to explore their own spirituality, all the while being as articulate as we can in our own.  We are called to pay attention.


     It’s been said that there’s such a thing as “the problem of evil,” that we have to justify the love and mercy of God in light of everything bad that happens in the world.   I think that’s way overblown.  That there’s a lot of evil going on in the world is an empirical no-brainer.  Of course there is.  Lots of suffering. 


     The problem occurs when you see something good happening.  For no apparent reason, somebody inexplicably and with no thoughts about his own welfare, does something altruistic.  For no apparent reason, someone suffers quietly and without retribution.  Someone forgives an egregious act.  It’s “the problem of good.”  So we’re also called to give people a problem.  Make them wonder.  Make them agonize…over why someone would do something so selfless.  For so disciples are made.


     But disciples are not made so they can be card-carrying members of St. Patrick’s Church.  Or any church, for that matter.  One of the progressive things Billy Graham did as an evangelist was not to insist that his converts become members of the Billy Graham Crusade.  In fact, he would have folks on his staff who could hook people up with local churches and parishes.


     But that’s still not good enough.  So to what “place” should these new disciples be referred?  Well, they still could find their way into churches and parishes, but there is only one needful thing.  One Methodist minister remembers a class taught by Rabbi Silberman at Vanderbilt University.  Rabbi Silberman never used the word “God” – before, during or after the class.


     So one day, after class, the seminarian asked him what his favorite expression for the almighty (for God) was.  Rabbi Silberman looked at him and quickly said, without hesitation, “Of all the names, my favorite is one of the oldest – ‘the Place.’”  God is “the Place.” 


It is the Place where all the disciples go to school….