Go into the World: a sermon on Matthew 28

by the Rev. Anna Doherty

Today’s lesson from Matthew, is an often left out part of the resurrection account from that gospel.

To give you a sense of the context of today’s gospel, it takes place immediately after the two Marys meet the resurrected Jesus at the tomb.

Jesus, you may remember, tells the two Marys: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Today’s gospel is that moment.

When the eleven remaining disciples go to Galilee and see the risen Christ for the first time.

This is the moment when they witness the resurrection, when their lives of faith change forever.

What is startling about this gospel, is its description of the disciples’ reaction when they see Jesus.

“When they saw him,” the gospel says, “they worshipped him; but some doubted.”

When faced with the risen Christ, the disciples worship him, but even then, some of them have doubts.

The gospel doesn’t tell us what some of the disciples’ doubts were.

Did they doubt the resurrection, that this risen Christ was the same Jesus they knew and loved?

Did they doubt, in their hearts, some of the full magnitude of what had happened?

That death had indeed been defeated?

That Christ was indeed the Messiah, but in a way that they had never imagined or conceived of?

In a way, it doesn’t really matter what the disciples’ doubts were.

They worshipped Jesus anyway.

And Jesus doesn’t seem to mind either, that some of the disciples had doubts, or what they were.

Jesus says to his disciples, to the worshipful and the doubtful alike, “Go.”

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father

and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

The mark of discipleship, it seems, in the eyes of the risen Christ, is not whether or not his disciples sometimes have doubts.

Or questions, or wonderments about the life of faith.

No, according to the resurrected Jesus, what matters most for his disciples is that they worship, and that they go.

Out into the world, in spite of their doubts.

The mark of discipleship is that we do what we promise to do in faith, to love and serve the Lord . . .

Even when we sometimes don’t have a clear idea of why we do it . . .

Or what we are supposed to do, or how even we are supposed to go about doing it.

Think about it for a moment.

Jesus’ commission to his disciples in today’s gospel is to “Go make disciples of all

nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hear those words, I tend to hear them in a variety of ways.

First, perhaps, I hear the Great Commission with a little bit of guilt. “Oh my gosh, have I made enough disciples lately?

Or then, perhaps, there is a sense of being overwhelmed: “All nations, Jesus? Teach them everything?”

Or maybe confusion, a lack of direction “Exactly how, Jesus, are we supposed to go about doing all that?”

Sound familiar?

The mix of emotions and questions, doubts and confusion, that accompany our response to the Great Commission . . .

. . . is probably pretty similar to what the disciples experienced too, on that mountain in Galilee.

What, they probably asked themselves is this all about? Why do it? And what would that kind of discipleship look like?

The Gospel of Matthew doesn’t attempt to answer those questions in any kind of followup.

This is the last chapter of that gospel, there’s no more to read than what is already there.

We don’t know, for certain, what the disciples came up with.

And we are still, generations from those disciples, trying to figure out those same questions.

Trying to gain wisdom and understanding about why we do the work we do.

Trying to figure out what discipleship looks like in our own time and place.

At Christ Episcopal Church, in our community, across our nation, around the world.

We still sometimes have our questions, our doubts, our confusion about the life of faith.

How do we do worship?

How do we invite people in to the life of faith?

How do we continue to live and grow, and make disciples?

But we do know that those eleven disciples, all those years of go, in spite of their questions, their doubts, must have done something.

We would not be here worshipping today if they had not.

And we, generations later, in spite of the fact that we wrestle with the same kinds of questions . . .

We do it anyway, this discipleship thing.

We worship. We go out, we give it a try, we do the best we can.

And we keep doing it, even in our doubtful, confused moments.

We sometimes start things we cannot finish.

We have startling successes, along with disappointing failures.

We lose direction sometimes, only to gain focus again.

Jesus asks nothing more, nothing less of his disciples than this:

Just go and do it.

To the best of your ability.

In Matthew’s gospel, the final words of Jesus. . .

The last line of that gospel, in fact, is the ending line of today’s gospel reading.

This is what we are left with, as we prepare to make our way in the world.

“And remember”, Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

There is profound reassurance, comfort, and strength in those words.

We may not always know exactly what we are doing.

We may even sometimes question why we do it.

But Jesus is with us, always.

Jesus is not just with us in those moments when we are filled with purpose, with confidence, a passion for discipleship.

Jesus is also with us when we are doubtful, confused, wandering, uncertain.

Jesus is with us always, to the end of the age.

Until Jesus returns, until God’s kingdom has come, until our work as disciples is finally and utterly accomplished . . .

In this generation and in generations to come.

Jesus is with us.

Always, every step of the way, to the end of the age.

All we have to do is worship and to be disciples, as best we can, in the service of God.

Just go out and do it.