For the past six weeks (40 days) our congregation has been engaged in The Red Letter Challenge. We’ve taken a fresh look at the words of Jesus and what it means to “put them into practice”. To date we’ve examined four primary themes within the teachings of Jesus (Being, Forgiving, Serving and Giving) and this Sunday we will add the fifth – Going.
Each of the Gospels (including the two volume set of Luke-Acts) ends with a command, or commissioning, for the followers of Jesus to “go” with the good news of Christ Jesus. We may be most familiar with the words found in Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission, where the connotation is “as you are going” about your life, or your routine, “make disciples”.
In Mark 16:15, the writer gives us a much more concise rendering of Jesus’ command: Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. In John 20:21 we find these words: As the Father has sent me, so I send you. And Luke gives us a slightly different version, found in Luke 24:48: You are witnesses of these things. (referring to the life, death, and resurrection message of Jesus.)
Perhaps my favorite version of Jesus’ command to “go” is found in the beginning of Doctor Luke’s second volume, the book of Acts. In Acts 1:8, the risen Jesus, just prior to his ascension, says: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Zach Zehnder, author of the Red Letter Challenge, suggests that this week’s challenge will be considered by about 90% of those who accept it, the hardest of the challenges. Why is that? Why is sharing your experience with Jesus – your witness, or testimony – so difficult for Christ followers today? I have some theories (which I will share in my sermon on Sunday), and I’m inclined to agree with Zehnder. The average Christ follower does find engagement in evangelism (for many that’s a scary word) or witness (the simple sharing of faith) threatening. Yet, Jesus never intended it to be so. For him, and those of his earliest followers, sharing their experience of faith was natural. It was an organic part of their living. As they went about their everyday lives, they told others in their words, and by their actions, about the life they had found in Christ.
They did this where life took them – be that their home community of Jerusalem, or beyond the city limits. They went with the message of Jesus into the broader world, including parts of the world (Samaria) they’d been told not to go to, and parts of the world they had not previously known.
There is room for everyone to “go” in response to the gospel. Some will go far – to far off places around the globe. Some will go nearby, yet to places that are far away in values and priorities. Some will go to one who is a neighbor, colleague or friend. Some will go in the normal routines of their day. But we are each called to go. No sooner do we hear Jesus say “come” than we begin to understand he also says, “go”.
So, off we go . . . .