The Ascension of the Lord
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." Matthew 28:16-20
WWJD. Remember those bracelets, bumper stickers and t-shirts we all paraded around for a few years in the 90s? I definitely had my fair share of WWJD items and would occasionally use the phrase until one day someone used it against me with a very condescending, angry tone: “Shame on you, Mrs. Cavallo! You gave my precious, perfect daughter a detention for punching her classmate in the face? Jesus wouldn’t discipline a child! How can you call yourself a Christian?! WWJD.” Okay. Maybe it wasn’t that extreme, but you get my point. At least the lady gave me a moment to reflect… What would Jesus actually do? What did he spend the majority of his time doing?
He spent his life making disciples and he commanded us to do the same… In fact, his last command to us was to make disciples. Jesus didn’t make disciples by preaching fear of hell or by loudly shouting each individual’s sins in the marketplace. He built relationships. He literally invited people to dinner. He went out of his way to walk to their home. He was present. He saw the human in the other. It seems like he spent more time hanging out at the table eating with his friends (disciples), than he did preaching the Gospel.
Evangelicals love sharing the “Roman Road”, a series of steps laid out in the book of Romans to explain how we are ‘born again’. It ends with a prayer asking Jesus to come into your heart. And after that, you check the box and know that you’re going to heaven, allowing yourself to be free of guilt from sin or fear of hell as you fall asleep each night. But it implies that as a Christian our only job is to get others to make the decision to “become a Christian” and then our job is done. Move on to the next house. In The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight wrote, “Most of evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples.”
Making disciples isn’t as easy as getting someone to check the box and move on. It’s about relationship. It’s about reaching out to the outliers. Jesus always started with the outliers. He saw them, reached out to them with an invitation, and the next thing you know, they’re sitting around the table, sharing a meal together, opening up about their sins, their past, their pain. And that’s where the true test of discipleship comes in – it’s our job to come alongside them in their pain, to tell them to lay their head down on our shoulder, to tell them they are not alone. There’s a joy in following Jesus, partly because we get to do it in community. We are His hands and feet. Don’t you want your neighbors who are hurting, the outliers in your community, to experience that same joy?
So where do we start? I believe it begins with a simple question: “How are you?” Not the inauthentic passing by of “How are you? Good,” as you awkwardly ask it at the same time as your passerby and then question if it’s really worth responding. You hit your politeness quotient for the day - no need to go further! But the, “How are you really?” of two friends who have set aside a chunk of time to dig in deep to the pain of a difficult season of life.
In a blog by Rachel Held Evans, she explains, “I’ve never had much luck sharing the Gospel with strangers, but I’ve shared it often around my kitchen table, in the Eucharist, at baby showers, in long summer nights on the back porch talking with friends, at coffee shops, at funeral homes, in living rooms, through tears, through music, through celebrations. At the end of the day, the gospel doesn’t really fit on a billboard or a Facebook status or an elevator pitch; it has to be experienced, in community, through the day-in-and-day-out work of following Jesus.”
Some questions for reflection:
1. Are you surrounding yourself in authentic Christian community so that you can be ministered to and have the support to adequately disciple others?
2. Who this week do you need to intentionally ask, “How are you really?” Do you already have plans to see them or will you call them or invite them to dinner?
3. Who in your community or life would you consider an ‘outlier’? To whom would Jesus gravitate?
4. What experiences and events do you have coming up this week that could provide you with a moment to dig deeper with a friend or loved one?
5. People are attracted to stories. With whom do you need to share your story of God’s redemption and love in your life?