Second Baptist Church Lincoln
October 1, 2017 World Communion Sunday
The Uttermost Parts of the World
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
As we raise children and grandchildren, everyone is interested in hearing what a baby’s first words will be. If you are the father you hope their first word will be daddy. If you’re a mama you hope their first word will be mommy. Parents often keep records of these things they write them down their child’s baby book. Something we don’t think of often is the “Last Words” of a person’s life.
• It is recorded that the last words spoken by Thomas Edison were, “it is very beautiful out there.”
• Musician Bob Marley’s last words were “money can’t buy life.”
• James Brown, the singer-his last words were “I’m going away tonight.”
• Beethoven, who was deaf-his last words were “I will hear in heaven.”
There is some wisdom to be found in each of these statements. As I consider the life and ministry of Jesus, I am grateful that his last words were not “It is finished”. We often refer to those words as his last words as he breathed his last. But we are also aware of the reality that on the third day, he rose from the grave. That he walked and talked among the people. We know that there were around 500 people who witnessed him in his risen form. And we know that his true, last words, were, “And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” It was there on that mountain in Israel where Jesus said his farewell to his disciples. I’m sure it was a sad and confusing time for the disciples.
But what we see in the days ahead is the clarification of Christ’s vision for the world. It began with his command of “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit.” From there, the disciples went into Jerusalem and waited and prayed until they received the empowerment of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And from there, the church exploded; through the witness of those effected at Pentecost who went back home proclaiming what they saw and experienced; from the lips of the apostles who went out into new lands preaching and teaching. Church tradition tells us that those apostles went far and wide with the gospel. Andrew went to the northeast into what is now Georgia and Bulgaria. Bartholomew and Thomas went to India. Thomas also went to what is now Iran and Afghanistan. James stayed right there in Jerusalem. John went on to Ephesus and Patmos. Matthew went to what is now Iran and Philip went to what is now Turkey.
The point is, they went outward in a radiating pattern to proclaim the good news of Christ to a world in need. They didn’t see the gospel as something to be hoarded and kept. They intended it to multiply and make disciples. Growing God’s kingdom is a matter of arithmetic. When we fill our baptistery, and one person at a time, we immerse them in the baptismal waters, we are ADDING new members to the kingdom. But when we practice discipleship and disciples are made and added to the kingdom, something else takes place. MULTIPLICATION. Making disciples is multiplying. What do I mean? Baptism is simply adding a person to the kingdom of God. When we make a disciple, something else happens. A person is brought to maturity so that they become a witness, a purveyor of Good News. They go from a role of seeker and convert, to becoming an active participant in bringing others into God’s kingdom. Ideally, then that person just brought into the kingdom will also become a real disciple. And the kingdom of God multiplies.
That’s the primary reason churches are shrinking today. They are adding, but they are not multiplying. They are not producing disciples. I know so few churches that are actually making disciples. Most are sitting back passively hoping people will wonder in off the street and find their place in the church. The church we see actively growing around the world is the church that takes seriously the role of making disciples. They take to heart the Great Commission and are willing to put themselves out there to make disciples.What if everyone who walked through these waters and is baptized, what if they became true disciples? What would happen if we began to do multiplication instead of addition? What if every person who walked through these waters began to disciple another person? This is the kind of math Jesus used. Not addition, but multiplication. Jesus, instead of starting with one person, chose 12. He started with a group.
The word in the New Testament here that is translated as “go” does not mean to move from one place to another. Now if God calls you to do that, then you should. If you sense God calling you to be a missionary and telling you to move from this place to another place far away-to South America, to Africa or China, to share the gospel, then you should. But again, this word “go” as used here does not mean to move from one place to another. A better wording would be as you go. As you go along in this life, no matter where you are-do this-make disciples!
This passage has long been known as the great commission, one of the most well-known passages in the Bible and they are considered to be some of the very last words Jesus spoke to his disciples. And if you notice Jesus closes his ministry in the same way he started. He started by calling 12 men to be his disciples, then He discipled them, then they began to disciple others. Now as he closes his ministry He says to everyone here... Do this one thing... As you go about in this life; do this one thing-----make disciples.
Our world has changed dramatically in the past 200 years. Two-hundred years ago, Adoniram Judson landed in Burma and began a work among the Burmese people. They were largely tribal groups not having heard the gospel message. He not only made converts, but he made disciples. Over the past 200 years, much of the tribal culture has centered around their Christian faith. Pastors and Bible teachers were raised up and taught the work of discipleship and evangelism. As time went on, more and more third world and developing nations were introduced to the gospel and rapid growth and maturity was taking place as their people were discipled. And then the world changed even more. These tribal groups in Burma where we once sent missionaries, were now being persecuted by the government of Burma. Wars broke out. Many of these Karen, Kachin and Chin people were holed up in refugee camps, sometimes for one or two decades. Finally, they began to immigrate to America, many settling in the Midwest. We know that large groups settled in Omaha and Lincoln. First Baptist has been home to the Karen for a number of years.
But let me go back over 100 years. Ola Hanson immigrated from Sweden in 1881 and settled in Oakland, NE. He went on to school at what is now Bethel in the Twin Cities and then on for further education at Madison Theological Seminary in New York. In 1890, we went to Burma to work among the Kachin people. One of his greatest tasks was to help the Kachin people who were in a complete state of illiteracy where they had no written language. In the following years, he learned their spoken language, transliterated it into the Latin alphabet, and then began to translate the scriptures into the Kachin language using our alphabet. After 28 years with the Kachin, he returned to Nebraska and passed away just a few short years later. He is buried in the cemetery in Oakland. When the Kachin people arrived in Nebraska to settle in Omaha, they discovered that their revered historical hero from their early Christian history in Burma was buried right here in their new homeland.They went to Oakland, discovered the unkempt grave of Ola and Minnie Hanson. The Kachin people had a new stone created celebrating both their Nebraska and Burmese heritage. And a great celebration of dedication of the new stone and the impact of Christ on their lives through this missionary couple, Ola and Minnie Hanson. Hearing this story reminded me of this great connection we have in Christ. Worldwide, we can see these kinds of connections. The family of God, making disciples, creating new beginnings for people lost in sin.
Today as we come to this table, I will remind you as I did last year, that this is a big table. It extends from Africa where Tola is celebrating with her congregation. It extends from Burma, where refugees are hoping to cross the ocean and come to America. It extends to Japan where the Yamanishi family lives and was once with you here in this sanctuary. This table of the Lord’s supper extends to all parts of the world, where God’s people come together to worship and commune together. Amen.