Where are We Heading?

Reading: Philippians 3.12-21, Matthew 28.16-20

One Sunday, a minister began his sermon: "I'd like to make three points today. First, there are millions of people around the world who are going to hell. Second, most of us sitting here today do not give a damn about it." After a lengthy pause he continued: "My third point is that you are more concerned that I, your pastor, said the word 'damn' than you are about the millions of people going to hell." From that point he had their undivided attention!

The Great Commission

Jesus gave his people a last word of commission - "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciplesof all nations, baptising 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 will be with you always, to the very end of the age" (Mt.28.18b-20).

That commission, given to the eleven disciples, was not just for them. Clearly he meant it to be passed on - "teach them to obey everything I have commanded you..." It has never been withdrawn!

The strong operative word in the commission is "make disciples". The urgent passion of the Church is to bring people to put their trust in Jesus Christ as their Saviour, to respond to him in a life transformed and empowered by his Spirit and to express in daily action their acknowledgment of him as Lord. The original Greek has three participles. "Going" is to be the basic direction and outlook of the Church. "Baptising" and "teaching" are the means by which disciples are declared to be part of the family and nurtured in their growth in faith and grace.

Do we see this as our Lord's commission to us today? Then what are we doing about it? Too often we have wanted the personal blessing of the Lord's presence and his promised Spirit, but have lacked a real longing - a real passion - to obey the commission!

The Lord has told us to go - to get out where people are. Their language may be uncouth, their moral principles different from ours. Some of them may, in fact, be actively antagonistic to the Christian faith - and to us, if we give them a chance! Do we love them? Do we reach out to them? Do we want to welcome them - warts and all at first - into our fellowship? Is our love as wide as the love of Jesus himself - who even prayed forgiveness on those who had conspired to have him crucified?

Or have we somehow changed the call to "come"? Of course, we argue, Jesus said that too - "Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…" (Mt.11.28). But Jesus didn't say that "in the church"! He said it "out there"! He could only say it meaningfully and effectively because he had already "gone"!

In the last chapter of Hebrews we read, "And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate, to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore" (Heb.13.12-13). Too often, as individual Christians and as a Church, we have failed to grasp the significance and importance of our life "outside the camp". And we have had little urgency about going out there to make disciples!

The Commitment to Go!

Recently I read a fable about a dog who loved to chase other animals. He bragged about his great running skill and said he could catch anything. Well, it wasn't long before his boastful claims were put to the test by a certain rabbit. With ease the little creature outran his barking pursuer. The other animals, watching with glee, began to laugh. The dog excused himself, however, by saying, "You forget, I was only running for fun. He was running for his life!" That does make a difference!

It needs to be asked how committed we are, really, to fulfilling the commission of our Lord. How much of a life-and-death issue do we see it to be?

Douglas Hyde was a member of the Communist Party for twenty years. For a significant part of that time he was news editor of the London Daily Worker. Then, on March 14th 1948 he handed in his resignation as news editor and a week later announced that he had renounced Communism and was joining the Catholic Church. Why did Communism advance at a rate which far outstripped any branch of the Christian Church? Here is some of what he has written in a book, Dedication and Leadership.

When I first went to work on the British Communist Party's daily paper, I was proud that I had been chosen for the work, proud to make whatever sacrifice was asked of me, but I was nonetheless conscious of the fact that I had willingly accepted a ludicrously small wage. I will admit that I felt slightly virtuous about this - until I met other members of the staff. Most of them were older than I was at that time, they had gone further in their careers (and some had gone very far indeed) and had had to make far bigger sacrifices than I. Some of them were earning one-tenth of what had been their salary when they had worked for the 'capitalist' press. There were times when, small as our salaries were, these could not be paid at all.

Even when the paper became slightly more prosperous and the staff were technically given the union rate for the job, the sacrifices still continued. We got our pay packets, opened them and immediately gave eight fourteenths of their contents to the Party and the paper - before it burned our fingers. Since everyone did this, it became something of a meaningless ritual after a while and so we did not bother even to receive the cash, it just went direct to the cause. And so it continues to this day.

Among the Party's leaders are many very able men, some of whom could command very high salaries if they were in industry or commerce. Instead, they accept the wage of a moderately-paid, skilled artisan.

This is not some peculiarity of the British Communist Party. The same is true of others. The French Communist Party, for example, was confronted with a financial crisis as a consequence of General de Gaulle's coming to power. Overnight the Party lost almost the whole of its large parliamentary group. They, like Communist Members of Parliament in Britain - when there were any - and elsewhere, had received their salaries from the State in the usual way and then, as is also the usual way with Communist M.P.s, passed them direct to the Party, who in return paid them an artisan's wage. The sudden loss of so many Deputies and their salaries led to the closing down of many a Communist Party local headquarters. (pp.18-19)

When we focus on stewardship, we are inclined to quibble about tithing, or at least we calculate our tithe in a way that minimises what we give. And we wonder, not just about the advance of Communism - until the break-down began - but about the progress of the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons! Not many years ago, the JWs in one area reported a 400% increase in the number of enquirers in home study groups - and we have the idea that Australians have no interest in spiritual things! The real question is whether we have truly responded to the call of Jesus to be our Saviour and whether we are wholeheartedly committed to him as our Lord. Do we - as individuals and as a Church - have a real longing - a real passion - to obey the Great Commission?

Running towards the Goal

Where are we heading? The question turns now from the goals and directions of the Church as a whole or the Burdekin Uniting Church in particular. In our reading from Philippians, we hear Paul talking about running towards his personal goal.

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yetto have taken hold of it. But one thing I do; Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Phil.3.12-14).

Have you put your trust in Jesus as your Saviour and Lord? Then you're in the race! Keep yourself spiritually fit and keep running! Remember where you are heading - to be more like Jesus in your character and to do more of his will in and through your life. Run, not out of fear, but to bring life!

Someone has set some personal goals like this, "Like Paul, forget those things which are behind and press forward. Like David, lift up my eyes to the hills from which my help comes. Like Abraham, trust my God implicitly. Like Enoch, walk in daily fellowship with my heavenly Father. Like Moses, suffer rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a time. Like Job, be patient and faithful in all circumstances. Like Joseph, turn my back on all evil advances. Like Gideon, advance even when my friends are few. Like Andrew, strive to lead my brother to Christ."

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill & Ayr Uniting Churches, 7 March 2004
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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