Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. You remember the old TV show? Fred Rogers taught us about how to live as good neighbors. But it was a children’s show. It wasn’t a seminar full of ideas or theories or topics or statistics. He showed us how to do it by example. He didn’t talk about being a good neighbor; he went out and did it. Mister Rogers put it into action. He did not hesitate and question what he should do or send it to a committee or create a report or develop a program. He didn’t hesitate. He put it into action.
The apostle Peter strikes me as a guy who has A.D.D. Think about all the times he jumps into a situation without thinking first about what he’s doing. He just goes with his gut and he acts. It’s Peter who gets out of the boat and walks on water toward Jesus. After the resurrection, some of the disciples go out fishing. When they see Jesus on the shore it’s Peter who again jumps out of the boat and swims to shore. When confronted in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial, Peter quickly disowns even knowing Jesus. Yes, it’s Peter who jumps first and thinks later. And isn’t it interesting that it’s Peter who Jesus chooses to lead the disciples after he ascends to heaven—Peter, who consistently acts before thinking. Maybe there’s something to that; not Peter’s thoughtlessness or rush, but his seemingly built-in propensity for action. He’s not prudent, he’s not cautious, he’s not patient.
Check how that plays into the story of Jesus ascension.
Several things are going on in this passage. Let’s set up the context before we get into figuring out the message. This is a passage of scripture commonly known as the Great Commission. And biblical commentators rightly point to this very short speech of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s gospel as the culmination of Matthew’s entire message.
Matthew tells us that the eleven disciples are present. They worshipped Jesus, and Matthew tells us that some doubted. Let’s not pass over that too quickly. What does he mean that some doubted? If the gathering here is just the eleven—and the context gives us every reason to believe this is true—then these disciples have already seen Jesus since his resurrection. It’s not as though this is the first appearance Jesus is making to the eleven. That at least would be understandable as a cause for doubt. So what does Matthew mean that some doubt. To make sense of this passage and to make sense of the Great Commission we need to understand this. The greek work for doubt here is distadzo, which in this instance does not mean doubt in the sense of disbelief or unbelief. Doubt here has better defined as being hesitant about a particular course of action. So the disciples see Jesus and worship him. But some hesitate because they are not sure about what to do next. That’s the thrust of the context here. The disciples are wondering, what do we do now? And Jesus answers their question of hesitancy by giving them the great commission.
A Mission That Is Universal
Let’s break down a few things about the commission that Jesus gives. It is the mission for the church. But what can we say about that mission? First of all we can say that it is a mission that is universal. That is, Jesus did not give this as instructions just for those first eleven disciples and only them. It is a mission that encompasses all disciples from this point forward until Jesus comes again to make all things new. this means it is a mission that is just as real for us today as it was for those eleven guys back then. If those guys were hesitating and had questions about what to do next, Jesus gave them the answer right then and there. If we in the church today hesitate and have any question about what it is we should be doing as disciples, Jesus answers us right here and now about that. It is a universal mission that is both for all. Look in your outline how Jesus makes this certain by his repetition of the word “all.” I’ve reworded this in your outline to follow something closer to the original greek so that you see those repetitions. All authority, all nations, all things, all days. Jesus says that this mission does not have a narrow scope in who it is for and for how long it should last. It is a mission for every one of us.
Disciples Make Disciples
There is one main verb in this commission. Even though it seems like a lot of action is taking place, it all leans in as support for one main verb—one main point of action. That action is making disciples. This is not only the culmination of Matthew’s entire gospel message, it is the main answer that Jesus gives to the disciples’ hesitancy about what it is that they should be doing next.
In other words, the main job of a disciple is to be making other disciples. And just to be certain, the term “Christian” and “disciple” are interchangeable. If you go to church and you consider yourself a Christian, then you are a disciple. And if as a Christian you have to make a top ten list of what Christian’s do, or should do, even though your list includes things like Christians go to church, Christians pray—some things like that. Jesus makes clear here in Matthew 28 that the top of that list is this: Christians make other Christians. Disciples make disciples.
The disciples wondered, what do we do now? Jesus said above all else, make other disciples. That is the top of the list. It is the top priority above all others. If there is anything in the church that requires urgency, action, and no hesitation, this is it. Making disciples is what we are here for.
And one more thing we can say about this universal mission. It is a mission that is cooperative. This business in the church of disciple-making is not something that we do alone, we do this in cooperation—cooperation with one another, and cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
Please understand that this is not a cop-out excuse. This is not an excuse to say, “I’m a part of a church congregation that makes disciples, and so I regularly give an offering to pay the pastors so that they are actually the ones who are out there in the community making disciples.” Or, “I am a prayer warrior and I regularly pray for those in my congregation who are out there making disciples, and that’s my part in disciple-making is to pray for the others that are doing this work.” Those are attempts to justify being a disciple without doing the work that Jesus assigned for disciples to do. The universal nature of the Great Commission makes it clear that this is something we are all expected to do as followers of Jesus. We do this together.
But especially on this pentecost Sunday it is important to remember that this is a mission we do in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. And this is a source of comfort. This task of disciple-making is not something we do apart from God. Because at the end of the day you and I cannot change a person’s heart to repent and turn to God. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. We in the church have been given the great privilege of joining the Holy Spirit in God’s mission to have disciples from every tribe and nation—from every community, neighborhood, and block.
A Mission That Is Specific
Not only is this mission for the church a universal mission, but Jesus also explains it as a very specific mission. The mission for the church is a mission that is specific. Matthew 28 tells us three ways that this mission to make disciples is specific: going, baptizing, & teaching
I know the english translation of the Bible we are looking at says “therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” But the greek has the same nuance of continuance action as “baptizing” and “teaching.” It just doesn’t translate into proper english to say “therefore going and make disciples of all nations” but that’s more literal for how the greek would be rendered in english.
So let’s make no mistake about this mission for the church to make disciples. Jesus did not ever intend for people to come find the church. He very intentionally commissioned his disciples to go out from their huddled upper rooms and find other people to make disciples. If the disciples were hesitating about anything, I think this would have been it. They did not hesitate to bring worship to Jesus when they saw him. They certainly were not hesitating to remain together in their tight group—as they all travelled together from Jerusalem to Galilee. But in Luke’s version of the the ascension Jesus gives the additional instruction for the disciples to go back and stay in the city until they receive power from on high—pentecost. And when that happens, as Luke continues telling the story in the book of Acts, the disciples cannot help but go out to the people and engage the mission of making new disciples.
They had to take the steps. After the holy and mysterious events of pentecost, the disciples had to get up, walk out the door of the house where they were huddled, and take action. They had to get up and go. You know, the disciples could have started praying that God would open doors and work through the people in their immediate community so that many people would be brought to salvation. They could well have prayed that. But Jesus did not commission the church just to pray for lost people and then wait for them to come find the church. Prayer isn’t step one in this process of making disciples. Prayer is step zero. It’s assumed the prayer is already happening. And this is a prayer that we know from scripture God desires to answer. We know he want to draw people to himself. So we know he will answer that prayer. But because God has chosen in this righteous plan to use the people of his church as a part of his plan, it places a part of the action for this mission back in our hands.
I know there are people here who are praying that this church would grow. And I know from scripture that this is God’s desire as well. So then when we don’t see growth we might begin to wonder if God really wants to answer that prayer. But it’s almost as if God would say back to us, “I’m ready and willing to answer that prayer…so get up and start doing something about it!” God will be faithful to turn hearts toward himself. But it’s on us to be faithful to the mission and go from this place to bring the gospel to those people.
We have to go. In this way perhaps it’s more helpful to think of the church as an airport. No one goes to an airport just to stay at an airport. That’s not the purpose of an airport. People go to an airport with the intention of being sent back out again. The airport is the thing that helps them in the sending part of their journey. If their was an airport somewhere where people just came in but then never left, then their’s something wrong with that airport. It’s not doing what airports are meant to do. The church is like that. We are a place where people come with the intention of being sent back out again. If we come here as a disciples of Jesus, and then everything that we do as a disciples of Jesus takes place right here in the church, and then we never do anything to take that mission of discipleship out from this place and into our communities and neighborhoods, then we’ve missed our flight. We’re stuck at the airport.
The second way that our mission of making disciples is specific has to do with enfolding. Jesus gave the command to baptize believers as a part of that mission. But’s not enough just to say that we need the church to physically perform the sacrament of baptism. We need to also understand what baptism’s meaning is all about.
When we perform baptism in the church we mark at as a sign of God’s covenant faithfulness. And we also make a promise as a part of God’s covenant community to be faithful in responding with love, care, nurture, and support. In short, we promise to enfold those who are baptized into our family just as God—as signified in baptism—enfolds those he loves into his covenant family. Enfolding then is about more than plugging people into Bible studies and Sunday school programs and volunteer opportunities. Enfolding means that their lives become a part of our lives.
Sometimes in the church we use the term “fellowship” to describe our interaction. When I finally get done preaching here today we can let out, grab a cup of coffee and have some fellowship together. Usually what we mean by fellowship then is that we enjoy a pleasant chat with people we like—with people that we want to chat with. Sometimes with the same people we always chat with every Sunday. And sometimes—often maybe—that fellowship ends with something like, “have a good week. See you next Sunday.”
The Bible talks about fellowship too. In Greek the word for fellowship is koinonia, maybe you’ve herd that term before. Fellowship as it appears in the Bible means so much more than a pleasant social interaction. Koinonia is about sharing and giving of one’s own possessions and time for the interests of another in close relationship. Fellowship then is not 20 minutes of chat over coffee; it’s about what we do for and with each other outside of these walls. That’s the benchmark in the Great Commission for what it means to truly enfold others into the life of the church. I’ll say more about that in a bit.
The mission of the church is also specific in its call for complete obedience. Jesus said in the Great Commission that when we make new disciples we are to teach them to obey everything that he has commanded. This is a tall order. It’s not a tall order because Jesus instructed so many commands to follow—because he didn’t. It’s a tall order because in order for us to teach this to new disciples it means that we need to be doing this ourselves so that we are not hypocrites. So what did Jesus command? His summary of the law is actually quite a simple list. Love God and Love neighbors. That is the obedience that Jesus expects from his disciples. Love God above all else in this world; and love neighbors—those around us. And by far the best way for us to teach that as a pattern of obedience to new disciples is for us to be modeling that as a pattern ourselves.
And so part of what we do as a church is to offer Bible study classes and opportunities to leant about Jesus through scripture—and that’s important. But equally important is the way we teach others through the very actions of our own lives—lives that should be a living testimony of loving God and loving others.
But let’s not leave here today overwhelmed by this Great Commission for the church. I’ve thrown a lot at you this morning with this imperative command that as disciples of Jesus our primary mission is to make other disciples. The task can seem overwhelming—so overwhelming in fact that sometimes we wonder where we can even begin. Do I need to learn more about how to share the gospel message? Do I need to take an evangelism class? Do I need to volunteer more on the mission field? Today I want to break it down in to one very simple place that we all can begin—and it has to do with koinonia fellowship and loving our neighbors.
You know, I think there was a time when real koinonia fellowship existed in the church by automatic design. A few generations ago congregations in America tended to be much smaller, and tended to be geographically close. What I mean by that is the people in a congregation tended to all live in the neighborhood surrounding the church. In fact, the oldest Christian Reformed churches here in Denver have no parking lots. Why is that? Well because 60 years ago you didn’t need to drive to church on Sunday, you walked. And you could walk to church on Sunday because most people belonged to a local congregation right in their immediate neighborhood. Koinonia fellowship was sort of built in and joined together in our congregations and neighborhoods just because of how we used to live and structure our church congregations and neighborhood communities a few generations ago. We don't live like that anymore. The church no longer structures congregations like that either. We face a new culture and the church rightly structures itself to remain relevant in our culture.
So now days the church puts great effort into creating programs and structures to encourage koinonia fellowship where once it needed no structure at all—it just happened. Now we have small groups and missional communities created within the church to fill the void that was left when the church no longer was a neighborhood community. And again, it’s not a bad thing. Our culture has changed, so the church has adapted to keep koinonia fellowship within its mission.
But somewhere along the line we lost our neighborhoods. First and Second Christian Reformed Churches still exist in their original buildings with no parking lots in their original neighborhoods. But now on Sunday mornings the neighborhood streets there are lined with parked cars because most people who belong to those congregations don’t live in the immediate neighborhood, they drive in. And the same thing is true here too right? It’s true in congregations all around us. How many church buildings did you drive past to get here to Horizon today? It’s not just here, that happens everywhere. The day of the neighborhood church is over.
So today we go to a very basic very simple starting point. In fact, it’s so basic and so simple that a children’s TV show can communicate it. Today we need to take a lesson from Mister Rogers on how to love our neighbors. We’re not talking today about preparing the perfect gospel presentation or taking an evangelism class or going out on the mission field. We’re simply talking today about how to love our neighbors. That’s it. We have to start there because for us the Great Commission of the church to make disciples starts there—we start by loving other people; and we start with the people who are closest to us.
Today we are starting with step one in that process of loving our neighbors. In fact, we’re putting the bar so low that everyone can do this. So here’s what I want you to do now. Find that insert that is inside your order of worship today. It says The Art of Neighboring on top and has something that looks like a tic-tac-toe board on it. And find something to write with. Most of the chairs have pencils in the rack, and I know most of the tables back there have some pencils as well.
Now here’s what you do; and I want everybody here to do this. Write down the names of the people who live in the eight closest houses to you. Your house is in the middle and the map is laid out in a way that has your next-door neighbors, people across the street, and people who live behind you. I know many of you may not live in a place with a perfect grid layout like this, but that’s not an excuse; think of your neighborhood layout and take the eight closest houses or apartments to you. If you are in an apartment building or condo development, you still have the eight closest people to you—across the hall or whatever. Start there and do this right now; fill it in.
If there are neighbors you know are there but you don’t know their names, put a question mark’ don’t skip it for the next one. This is not about coming up with the first eight names I know. You cannot cheat and skip. Go with the eight closest neighbors and see how many of them you can name. If you don’t know their names put a question mark and admit you don’t know them.
Alright. Does anybody have it all filled in? you know all the names of the eight households that live closest to you? Let me be the first one here to admit that I don’t. I’ve lived here in Highlands Ranch in the same house for nearly four years and there are some neighbors I cannot name. I can tell you what they look like and what kind of cars they drive and what the kids look like. I’ve even waved and smiled and said hi when passing by, but I can’t name all of them. I’ve got some work to do. Maybe you do to.
Love Your Neighbors
If we are really going to be serious about reaching out to others as the primary mission of the church, then we’re going to have to make a decision to take action and start doing something about that. And we’re going to start with those who are closest in our neighborhoods. And we’re going to start that with Jesus’ simple command to love our neighbors. And we’re going to do that with the very simple step of knowing their names.
I can’t love you if I don't know what your name is. I can’t say “Hey I just want you to know that I really care about you, person who I can’t remember.” Yeah, you really care about me all right; you don't even know my name. Start there. We have to start there. There is no moving on to step two without first knowing names. I’ll say it again because this is so important. You cannot love your neighbors without knowing their names; that comes first. I’ve already admitted that I’ve got some work to do here. Maybe some of you do too. So this is where we are starting—with names. That’s all I want us to leave with today because we cannot move any further with loving our neighbors till we get past this; we have to do it.
Maybe you think “but I’m so busy I’m never home or my neighbors are never home or I’m just so bad a remembering names.” All excuses. We can come up with a million excuses why we can’t do this. At the end of the day that’s all they are, excuses. But today’s message boils down to one very simple idea. God’s mission for the church to make disciples starts with loving my neighbors; and I cannot love my neighbors unless I know their names. So stop the excuses right now.
And make a choice right now to start this week. Start looking for opportunities to connect with neighbors and fill in this block map. I’m going to have to do this too. There’s a few houses on my street where I’m going to have to make the priority of seizing the moment when I see them outside and walking over and saying, “Hey neighbor, you know I’ve lived here four years and I’m really sorry but can you tell me your name again?” And then, “I love what you’ve done with your yard, what kind of bushes or flowers are those?” Or, “Your kid is so full of energy running around out here, how old is she now?” I don't know, come up with something…anything. It’s not important. It’s just an excuse strike a conversation and learn your neighbors’ names and fill in the block map. So this is the one simple thing I’m leaving you with here today. Learn their names. That’s where we start.
Hang on to this map. Put it somewhere handy—on your fridge or something like that. We’re going to do more with this map over the next two weeks. So if you remember, tuck this in your Bible and bring this block map back with you next Sunday. If not, that’s okay; we’ll have plenty more here next week too. So we’ve got more to do with this. But today you’ve got a place to start. God knows the names of my neighbors. God loves my neighbors. Join with the Holy Spirit and start in the mission of the church in your own neighborhood.