This has gotten me thinking, once again, about what it means for us to be Church. Church with a capital "C." Church that spans denominations and Church that extends over time. Two sets of passages have been impacting the way that I think about this:
The first is the passage from John 11 that was our focus in worship last Sunday. In it, John tells the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. There are a lot of directions that you can take this passage, but we focused on two.
The first is that when Jesus told them to roll away the stone, even Lazarus' sister Martha warned Jesus against it because there would be a bad odor. We asked ourselves whether there have been times when we have been reluctant to join Jesus' action of giving new life in the world because we feared it would cause a stink. Do we sometimes shy away from the risky life of being God's people in this time and place because we fear the smell of failure?
The second was the remarkable moment when Lazarus comes hopping out of the tomb, bound hand and foot. Jesus tells those gathered around Lazarus to cut him loose. Now it's always seemed to me that if you're powerful enough to raises the dead, you can say to grave clothes, "fall off," and they'll fall off. But Jesus gave the job of freeing Lazarus to the community around him. All too often I think we expect that people Jesus has called into this new and abundant life are supposed to arrive at the church's door "grave cloth free." But the truth is that we all have grave clothes. And we'll all need help with them til the day we're called into the Kingdom. Part of the job of the community of faith is cutting each other loose. One of the jobs (and one I find very difficult) is to stand still so that you can help me be free. I tend to be afraid of what will happen if you unwrap me and exclaim, "OH YUCK!"
Then there are the passages for this Sunday. They're Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 1:6-11. They're Matthew and Luke's pictures of what we've come to call the Great Commission. The command that Jesus gave to His disciples (and to us) to go out into the world and share the Good News of who Jesus is and how He taught us to live.
There's this strange moment in the Matthew passage (v. 16) in which Matthew tells us that the disciples "worshipped Him, but some doubted."
The word that Matthew for doubt is only used one other time in his gospel. In fact,, it is only used one other time in the New Testament, in Matthew 14:22-33. That is when Peter, walking on the water, takes his eyes off of Jesus and begins sink. As Jesus lifts him from the water He asks, "why did you doubt?" Peter didn't doubt who Jesus was, what he struggled with was whether he could actually do what Jesus was inviting him to do. Whether it was actually possible.
When Jesus say, "teach them to live out what I have commanded/taught you," this is an invitation for us to go back through the Gospels and to rediscover what that actually is. What would happen if we went back through the Gospel of Matthew with a blank slate, with a few preconceptions as we could muster, and listed the things that Jesus actually taught and commanded? How might that alter the way in which we look at our life of faith?