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Edward F. Markquart

Go, Go, Go, Go, Go 

Matthew 28:16-20

From the last verse of the Book of Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and I will be with you as you do this, to the end of the age.”

Today, I am thinking about football season. I am thinking about going to a Washington Husky college football game and standing in the bleachers hollering “go, go, go, go, go.” We wanted to get our Husky football team up and going for their battles on the field with the Oregon Ducks. Or I am thinking of Pacific Lutheran University in their double overtime game for a national championship and the fans were going wild and crazy, shouting at the top of their lungs, “Go, go, go, go, go.” This chant was to inspire the Lute football players into action, to further motivate them in their running, blocking, and tackling. Or I think of those years standing in the well and drizzly colder weather at the Federal Way high school football stadium. There were eight little young cheerleaders in front us with eight pairs of skinny legs and eight pairs of skinny arms, each pair of arms and legs beat red with cold as the snow fell along with the icy rain and those freezing cheerleaders shouted passionately, “Go, go, go, go, go” and all I wanted to do was to go home. And so did the other parents, the parents of the band members, cheerleaders and football players. I think we parents were all sufficiently miserable in the cold and wet weather that we would have preferred to be home in front of a fireplace. But the shouts of the cheerleaders surged on, “go, go, go, go, go,” to inspire the football players into action.

The word “go” is an action word, an energy word, a motivating word, a “get up and move” word.

For example, if you are out at the horse races and you have money on a particular horse, you are shouting “go, go, go” along with all the other people who are also shouting “go, go, go” to their horse. Or you may have a car and you say about your car, “This car has get up and go.”  Or, you may have been confined to a hospital bed too long and the doctor says that you have to get out of the bed and “get up and go.” Or you may say, “That is a going church. That is a going restaurant. That is a going shop.” That is, there always seem to be people there and there is action going on in that church, restaurant or shop; it is a moving place.”

The word “go” is an action word, an energy word, a motivating word, a “get up and move” word that gets us going.

It is with this mood that we approach the story for today. Jesus was at the end of his ministry.  He had been teaching his disciples for three years. For three years, he had been teaching them about God and the kingdom of God. His first disciples were ordinary and common people and he was teaching them to bring ordinary and common people to know Jesus Christ. It had come down to the last week of Jesus’ life. Together, Jesus and the twelve disciples had gone through the Palm Sunday, the last supper, Good Friday, the miracle of Easter. Then Jesus appeared with them for forty days and forty nights. And in the text for today, Jesus was preparing to say his final goodbyes to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. Jesus came to the very last words with his disciples, his parting remarks, his farewell address. And what did he say? He said, “Go, go, go, go, go…and make disciples of all people, baptizing them in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe my commandments of love. Remember, I will be with you wherever you go.”  And there was Jesus, even though he had spent three years with his disciples, even though he had taught them over and over again, he wanted to tell them one more time what they needed to do. One more time to “Go, go, go, go, go and make disciples of all people, baptizing, teaching, and remember, I shall be with you.”

The word, go, is an action word, an energy word, a motivating word,  and Jesus wanted his disciples to move into action, both then and now.

To church was and is to go and make disciples. This was the command, go and make disciples.

Which reminds me of a story about Wurmbrand. It is an old story. Years ago, many people from our church went to the Holy Land together. The trip was called, “The Land of Jesus and the Cities of Paul.” We were to travel by land and experience the places where Jesus walked and talked on the Holy Land of Israel. Then we were to get on a cruise ship and visit the cities of the Apostle Paul in the Mediterranean Sea. There were five hundred people on that ship, from all over the United States, and there was only one person of the whole five hundred that I knew that I didn’t like. I normally like all people, but instinctively I did not like him. Perhaps it was his beady eyes that looked right past you. Perhaps it was his long gaunt face that never smiled. Perhaps it was his tall and hunched over body that always tilted away from you to avoid encounter. But all these things did not bother me as much as the clergy collar that he wore above his beady eyes that looked right past you, and his clerical collar that gave him an aura of smelly sanctimoniousness. Not all clergy collars do, but it did on him. Well, three days later I found out who he was. His last name was Wurmbrand, from Romania. I knew about Wurmbrand from Romania. Wurmbrand who had been a victim of Communist torture in Romania, Wurmbrand who seemed to secretly relish reliving and retelling horror stories of being tortured for Christ in Communist camps. I had heard about these stories, of how he liked to corner people in small groups where they couldn’t get away and then he would share his ugly tales that would make people feel squeamish. So I didn’t like this Wurmbrand, even though I never met him, and I had successfully avoided an encounter with him until one night my wife and I found ourselves together with him at an evening dinner table. Orlie and LaVonne Sorenson of our congregation were also at the dinner table that night. Much to my surprise, I found Wurmbrand to be witty, charming and intelligent as he told delightful stories that were not so squeamish after all. He was delightful until at the end of the dinner, he learned over to Orlie Sorenson and asked, “Is that pastor over there (referring to me) a good pastor?” It bothered me that Orlie paused before his answer. Orlie answered “yes.” Wurmbrand asked another question, “Why is he a good pastor?” Orlie responded, “Well, he makes good sermons.”  Wurmbrand focused his steely beady eyes on me and asked Orlie, not looking at Orlie but looking directly at me, he commented,  “Yes, but does he make good disciples?” In that moment, there was a pause, a flash of embarrassment, and a little dagger went into my soul. He didn’t say it but he could have said that the purpose of the church is not to make good sermons or good music or good youth programs or good sanctuaries, but the purpose of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Through the power of that Holy Spirit, does he make disciples? … In that moment, Wurmbrand was the angel of the Lord to me, with his beady evasive eyes and his long frowning face. He was still God’s messenger to me. The purpose of God for all pastors and in all sermons is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. People who love Jesus Christ, who follow Jesus Christ, who call Jesus Christ their Lord. That is what we are all called to be: to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Not make church members. Not make Sunday schools. Not make buildings. These can all become ends in themselves. We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ. That is what it is all about. Wurmbrand understood.

On a deeper level, I know that it is the Spirit of Christ who makes disciples even though Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples. It is the Holy Spirit who actually does the discipleship making.  We human beings don’t make disciples; the Holy Spirit works through us as human beings.. We human beings are to plant seeds of Christ in people’s lives and pray that these peoples’ lives will be planted in a good and healthy soil or garden. It is always the miracle of God that creates growth in a person. As the Bible says so clearly and as a gardener knows so deeply, it is the gardener who plants the seed but it is a miracle of the seed that gives the growth. It is God who gives the growth. It is God who makes disciples. We don’t. Even so, Jesus said to his disciples: go and make more disciples. The Holy Spirit will work through you.

In today’s sermon, I would like to focus on four questions: Who, where, why, and how?

Who is to make disciples? “Who” is the first question?

When I was growing up, I knew the answer. It was the super religious people from our local church. The Aamots, the Watlands, the Paulsons. It was also the missionaries in Brazil and China, Jack Aamot or Paul Martinson. Also, it was pastors of our church like Pastors Sommers or Torvik. So it was the pastors, the missionaries and the real religious elite of our parish who were entrusted with the privilege of evangelism and making disciples.

Then I finally heard the word of Jesus. You go. You go. You go. You go. You go. And you go was not a car from old Yugoslavia. You go means that you and me are called to make disciples. Jesus called common and ordinary fishermen and tax collectors like you and me, and today Jesus does the same. God calls common and ordinary people like you and me to be God’s mouthpieces and talk to others about Jesus Christ. God works through people like us.

I understand that the laity will always be more effective at making disciples than the pastors or the paid professionals. The laity are always much more effective that we the paid professionals. For example, let me tell you about the thirty-six hour principle. If a stranger visits the church, and the church returns their visit within thirty-six hours, 86% of those visitors will return to the church the next week. If a new visitor gets personally called on by a lay person, 86% will return to worship the next week. But how about if a pastor calls on them after the stranger has come to the church one Sunday? Only 43% return to worship next week. The percentage dropped by half, from 86% to 43%. In other words, the lay person was twice as effective as a pastor. Why? Because the pastor is paid to do it and the visitor knows that. The pastor is a paid professional and everybody knows it. The visitor would appreciate more a call from a layperson because the layperson is more authentic, more dedicated, and more down to earth than the pastor. No wonder the laity are always more effective at witnessing than the pastor. Another example. Sometimes, a layperson gives a testimony at church, a shared heart filled message, and often people in the pew are glued to what is being said. There is often an authenticity, a credibility, a down to earthness of a lay person that is often not found in a professionally religious pastor. Or yesterday, at the Saturday morning discussion group with a group of men, we came to the end of the Bible study and we men joined hands and I asked if someone would lead us in closing prayer. (I silently prayed fervently that someone would pray.) A man by the name of Jim volunteered to pray. I am not sure if he has ever prayed publicly before, and when he got done praying, all the men thanked him. “Thanks Jim. That was a great prayer. Thanks Jim. It was really super.” They never say anything like that to me after a prayer. They would simply say, “Time to go home.” But when a lay person prays, someone who has not become a professional at public prayer, people are genuinely appreciative of their authenticity.

What I am suggesting to you is that God always uses common and ordinary Christians to do his work in the world, and non-professional religious people are usually more authentic and real than professional pastors like myself.

Who is to go? You go. You go. You go. You go. You go. Common and ordinary people go with the gospel and when that happens, the church begins to sparkle with life. That is why Jesus picked twelve fishermen to be his first disciples; he did not pick twelve rabbis.  Jesus wanted to change the world and God changed the world through common and ordinary non-professional Christians. That is the way it always works.

Where? Where are we to go? That is the second question. Jesus said, “Go into the world and make disciples of all peoples.”  God didn’t say, “Go to the church. Go to your adult Bible class. Go to your Sunday School. Go to your youth group. Rather, go out into the world and bring your friends to Jesus Christ.

All the research of unchurched people who join the church say that 75-80% of them were brought into the church by their friends and personal acquaintances. Only 9% were brought by pastors and only 2% by Sunday school teachers. It is always through the power of friends and friendship.

Last Sunday was Friendship Sunday and many of you brought friends, many friends, to worship. And how many friends do you think Pastor John O’Neal and I could have brought?. Two or three? The power is when all of you bring your friends to church, people who may or may not know Jesus Christ, people who may not belong to a church. The power is when all of you bring some of your friends, a few of your friends, even one of your friends to church. That is where the power is.

The person who wrote the book, THE GREATEST SALESMAN WHO EVER WAS, said that an average person knows about 250 people. Every human being knows about 250 people, some more, some less. And if each of you brought at least one person to the worship, this congregation would be filled with visitors. The potential of our congregation is so much greater when each of you invites a friend, rather than relying on one or two pastors. The potential is numerically so much greater when you laity take seriously that each of you know 250 people.

One day I spoke with a pastor whose Lutheran church is the fastest growing Lutheran church in the country. I asked him how this happened. He said that his congregational members caught the vision that they were each to bring at least one friend to church a year, all of them, no exceptions. He told me that the most important thing that happened in his parish was the miracle of people catching the vision of bringing at least one friend to church during the year. No hassle. No arm twisting. No false bribes. No TV sets for the person who brought the most. He, the pastor, was like all the laity; he too would bring at least one friend. But when the members of the congregation each brought at least one friend, the result was overwhelming. These people in this parish have gone through the paradigm shift; they now see themselves as being evangelists; they have caught the vision of Jesus Christ. I asked this pastor how long it took for his congregation to learn this crucial behavior of inviting their friends to church and worship? He said, “About seven years.” It took a while but they learned this crucial form of discipleship.

“Where” is the second question? Into the world. Into your friendships. Into the people you know and like. Into the world of your friendships.

Why? That is the third question. Why would one do such a thing?

On one level, we do this because Christ commanded us to do this. He said, “Go and make disciples of all people.” It is in the imperative mood; it is a commandment for Christians to go and make disciples.

But on a deeper level, why do we do this? Because we know it is good. Christ is good. The Christian life is good. The Christian values are good. Knowing God is good for a person’s life and health. People who come into the Christian faith have the seed of Christ planted in them, the seed of Christ grows, and those people become more loving and more kind. They actually have better marriages, better kids, and better self images. They have a better spiritual life, a better prayer life, and a better walk with God. Why? Because life is much better when you know Christ and walk with Christ. Being part of a church community helps you to know Christ more intimately and walk with Christ more often.

Why do we reach out so people will know Jesus Christ? Because so many kids and young people in our society are growing up with mixed up values and they truly need Jesus Christ in their lives, as we all do. Some kids from the neighboring school drifted by church the other night and wrote graffiti on the school bus: “We belong to the devil.” And we are concerned about this, not simply because the bus was vandalized, but more importantly because there are kids in our neighborhood who have been warped by the power of evil and they need to know the power of a healthy life ruled by Jesus Christ.

Why? Why do we ask people to come to church? A poor reason some members invite people to church is because we know that we need to keep our membership numbers up so we can keep our finances up and have enough money to pay all the bills. How sad, but how true. To get members to get the growth charts going up. To pay all the bills.

If you see the growth trends of the mainline denominational churches such as the Catholics, the Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Congregationalists, the Lutherans, you will discover that all these mainline denominations are slowly dying as we lose membership. You often hear the cliché that “the mainline” will become “the old line” will find themselves on “the sideline.” To be honest, in these mainline churches, almost no one is asking anyone to come to their church anymore, and this is the primary reason that these churches are dying. These denominations are composed of congregations that have lost the vision that we are to be a missionary people, that we are to be an inviting people, inviting our family and friends into discipleship and fellowship with Jesus Christ. Their vision of discipleship has been reduced to attending worship, bringing their kids to Sunday School, and going home to watch the football game after church and perhaps attending a church potluck in the evening. They want more members simply to keep the numbers up and to pay the bills of the church. That is why they want more members.

Why? Why do we do this? So more people will know Jesus Christ and the fullness of God on a personal level. Christ. So people will know the love of Christ living inside of them. The love of Christ is the most powerful and personal force in the world.

How do you go about making disciples? The question, how, is the last question. How? By the Spirit of the Risen Christ. By the Holy Spirit. By the miracle of God who works into our lives in such a way that our lives are transformed. We, as human beings, cannot force or make anyone to be disciples of Jesus Christ. It is our prayer that God will enter in such as way as to convert a person to Jesus Christ. Often such people become involved in some form of our community life: worshipping, conversing, working in helping ministry, doing a Bible study, singing in a choir, somehow and somewhere finding a place and niche in our community. And perhaps, the Spirit of Jesus Christ will transform that person into being a disciple of Jesus Christ. How? We leave it up to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The time finally came to the end of Jesus’ life. They had spent three years together. They had heard it for three years but Jesus needed to say it one more time. “Go, go, go, go, go…into the world and make disciples of all people, baptizing them, teaching them my commandment of love and I will be with you as you do this. Amen.”

Go is an action word, an energy word, a “get up and go” word. Jesus wants us to move into action and get up and go with the Gospel. Amen.

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