Matthew 28: 16-20
June 7, 2020
Lincoln Street UMC, Portland, Oregon
Here we are at the end of the gospel. We have seen Jesus through birth and magi, through baptism and ministry, through crucifixion and resurrection. Twenty-eight chapters and we have now arrived at the conclusion in our verses just read. It’s a closing clip to the movie. They are back on a mountain-top and Jesus offers these parting words. There is poetry and poignancy about it.
And there is also doubt. Did you catch that in the reading? There they are in a literal mountain-top experience with Jesus, resurrected from the dead, and some disciples still doubt. The disciples – the ones who, incidentally have been with Jesus since chapter four. These disciples have seen any number of miracles. They have heard countless parables and teachings. They have been sent out and brought back in. They have traversed the countryside back and forth, spreading the good news. These eleven have breathed, eaten, walked, lived this gospel life with Jesus. And yet, here in the last five verses of the gospel, the author mentions that some doubt.
Fabulous! Isn’t it? Just before Jesus gives what is termed his GreatCommission, his ultimate teaching, the disciples fall on their knees before him – and some still know doubt.
Jesus asks the disciples to go and teach, heal, proclaim good news so that other disciples might be born and grow like them. He doesn’t actually say, I want you to go and make new Messiah’s. Or go and be just like me. Instead, Jesus implicitly acknowledges their doubt and he embraces all of who they are in this commission.
We are a church community familiar with doubt. In fact, in many ways we embrace doubt. For sure, it often makes our lives more complicated. But history has shown that we’re okay with that. We are willing to do the extra work that doubt means.
Doubt doesn’t mean that you aren’t willing to show up. It just means that you show up with a lot of questions. And that you are willing to walk into some ambiguity, even some ambivalence. Doubt has been part of what has defined our walk of faith, and we have felt welcome here in our journey – “where our questions are respected and our unique search for God will be encouraged.” (To quote our church sign.) Rachel Naomi Remen says it well when she wrote, “Perhaps the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.” That is what we have here together.
Especially at this table where we gather regularly – in good company. Where I know many arrive trying to make sense of what feels like the intricate theologies of communion. But where instead of that, Jesus offers an invitation to us simply to show up, bring our hearts and who we fully are, and he promises to work with that. And so we do that, we try. We show up and we try.
The gospel writer did not need to add this unglamorous detail about the disciples here in the penultimate moment, but they did. And I am grateful for it. So that we can find ourselves in this story. Here on the mountain-top.
We do not need certainty in order to minister. We do not need a complete set of personal doctrines in order to be present in the world with God’s grace and love. We do not need to be sure on any given day about the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection of Jesus or any other piece of Christian theology in order to do exactly what Jesus has commissioned the original eleven and each of us to do.
Go and make disciples. Go and create community in my name – community that engages all of who you are, your doubt, your certainty, your grace and your struggle. Do so in my name, and I – and God – will be with you. Always. In every form. In every moment.
This sermon was written by Elizabeth Winslea and delivered on June 7, 2020, via Zoom to the Lincoln Street United Methodist Church. It is published here with the permission of the author. Please link back to this post and credit the author if you reprint or use any portion of it.