“Getting Called Out”
We, Not Me
Matthew 16:13-18; Matthew 28:16-20
Rev. Tasha Blackburn
January 13, 2019
A few years ago the church Session read a book together that asked lots of thought-provoking and, at times, difficult questions. One of them was this: “When you consider your church, would you say it is more like a fortress or a frontier?” Well, this was not one of the difficult questions! Just look at our building and try not to think of a fortress. The Family Center looks like it could have a moat around it!
Of course, churches can do more than look like fortresses. They can act like them too. They can close themselves off from anything outside themselves. They can turn inward and never reach out their front door, much less seek out any frontier. Fortress or frontier? Churches can be both. But know this: the gospel writer Matthew, he only knew the church as frontier.
Matthew is the only one of the four gospel writers who mentions the church. The first time is in the first passage we read when Jesus says he will build his church on the rock of Peter. Matthew mentions the church two other times in his writing and, when he does, he uses the same word each time. He calls the church “the ekklesia.” He calls the church “those who are called out.”
There are other words he could have chosen. Other early Christian authors used different words. They called the church the Way or even, sometimes, the Christian synagogue. But not Matthew. He only knows frontier. He only knows the church as those who are called out beyond themselves, as the ekklesia.
One of the earliest symbols of the church—one that Matthew knew about—was of a boat. We have talked about this before. It told the people that inside the boat, inside the church, you would be safe from rocky seas; you would have help through storms. It is a beautiful and comforting image. We can take it too far though. We can think that the church is completely about the inside of that boat, that we close the hatch and raise the anchor and cut ourselves off from anything outside us. We can do this in the church and we can do this in our own lives.
Except we are the ekklesia. We are the ones who are called out. Perhaps instead of this place being our boat, let’s think of it differently. Let’s think of it more as our marina. All week long, all life long, we are out there in our dingys reaching into the world. And then we come back here, to the marina to get refueled and fresh supplies. We come back to the safety and the help but then we go out again: we can call ourselves the First Marina Church of Fort Smith. It is less comfortable to be in the dingy than it is to hang out at the marina. It’s true. Except that the marina is only for refueling.
We have work to do, work that cannot happen at the marina. When Jesus announced his church for the first time to Peter he said that what the church does here on earth changes even heaven. He said that we would be such good ekklesiers, we would share the gospel to the world with such power and faithfulness that even hell would be no match. Gulp. That sounds too difficult, too beyond our abilities, too impossible. It does sound that way, doesn’t it? And there are probably 93 people in this room. Even with 93 it feels outlandish. Imagine if there were only 11 of us!?
That’s what happens at the end of Matthew’s gospel. The 11 remaining disciples have gathered at a mountain to see Jesus again. The moment offers a mixture of emotions. They are glad and overwhelmed and some are even still doubting. And Jesus’ final words to them are these: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them.” This first ekklesia, this first church of 11 members, is called to go out to all the world and teach everyone a new way to live.
No way. Not possible. The 93 of us would throw in the towel, much less if there were only 11. The ekklesia doesn’t have a chance. And that’s right, it doesn’t have a chance. No chance at all except for one small thing. Jesus tells them to do all of these things but before he does, he says, “therefore.” “Therefore, go and make disciples. Therefore. And before the “therefore” is what changes everything. We read that Jesus came to them. Which doesn’t sound like much. Except that when the 11 were flagging and doubting and overwhelmed, Jesus stepped forward. He came near to them. He only does that twice in the gospel. At the transfiguration and now.
When he could have looked at his new church and turned away or stepped back, or repeated the cynical joke: I came to bring the kingdom of God and instead I got this church! But he didn’t. He didn’t do any of those things. Instead, he stepped forward. He came to them. And he told them the new truth about the world and his standing in it. He said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” All authority…therefore. All authority…therefore.
Jesus stepped forward, toward us, into power and authority. Therefore we can go out. There is no ekklesia without that therefore. But with such a therefore, the frontier is boundless. We don’t need to be afraid to go out. The marina is always nearby and full of everything we need so we can go out with confidence that we won’t drift and flounder.
We have to go out, have to leave the marina, there is no doubt about that, but we are to be careful in the way we go. Jesus tells us to do particular things. He tells us to go out and make disciples, baptize, and teach. I want you to hear what he did not say we should do. He did not say we should go out and convert, or win, or save. No, he said, go out and disciple, baptize, and teach.
I think he said this for two reasons. First, he has the other words handled. Jesus will do the saving and the converting. That is not our job. I will say that again because it is pretty counter-cultural. Jesus does the saving and the converting. That is not our job. And second, he has given us these things because they are the slower things to do. To make a disciple is to mentor and guide. It takes time; it is not something that can happen in a traveling revival. To teach is the same way. Anyone who has ever tried to teach anyone anything knows that it will not happen immediately. Teaching takes time and trust. And baptizing, baptizing is adopting someone into a whole new family! It is a commitment that can only be kept together over a lifetime.
Jesus gave the ekklesia jobs that would create community, a close family of faith. He is building his church with converts of people from all stripes. But he wants them to have a home to go to. That is our job. That is what we are called to go out and do. We reach out to offer community, and mentoring in the faith, and a new family. Matthew only knew the church as the ones who would go out to do this, as the ekklesia. It is the only church he knew. And it is the only church Jesus knows too.
“Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God and what he got instead was the church.” It is not a nice joke. And if we stay at the marina, it sadly becomes a true joke. But if we can be brave, if we can trust that he has all authority and get into the dingy, then it becomes a nonsense joke. For, when we are the ekklesia, when we answer Jesus’ call to go out, he can’t tell the difference between the two: between the church he got and the kingdom of God he brings. And we won’t be able to tell the difference either. Amen.