I preached this today at Trinity Long Island City, saying goodbye to the community that brought me on this journey that I now find myself on.
So, two days ago, I sat in a car outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, caught in some lunch hour traffic. It was day 2 of my road trip from Raleigh, North Carolina to NYC, where I went to buy my brother’s old car and drive it back home – and the traffic was barely moving. My legs ached because I wasn’t use to all this driving and my head was a little foggy after spending the last two days listening to Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” like a million times on the radio and I felt trapped between SUVs, pickup trucks, and semis, on this highway 180 miles from home. But then I noticed something ‚Äì something that I wouldn’t have noticed if the traffic was actually moving. There was this man, standing on an overpass, over the highway, and he was holding this large sign. I don’t remember exactly what the sign said ‚Äì something about repenting and following Jesus ‚Äì but I remember that man because he was standing there and giving the happiest, friendliest wave to everyone as they drove by. SUV, semi-truck, old pickup ‚Äì we all got that same, happy, smiling wave, as we inched along. Here was a man who heard Jesus’ commands ‚Äì heard his words in Matthew ‚Äì heard the word to Go out – and this is where it lead him: to an overpass outside Harrisburg, PA.
These words from Matthew ‚Äì they are part of a whole chapter that Jesus devotes to instructing his disciples about what it means to follow Jesus. After blessings and giving the disciples orders to cast out demons and cure the sick, Jesus follows up with words on what to bring, how to interact with people you meet, and what to do when people aren’t happy that you’re there. These disciples are being sent out ‚Äì sent beyond Jesus’ immediate presence ‚Äì and they are told to GO, to visit new places and meet new people ‚Äì to tell their story and to tell all the new things that God is doing through Jesus. Jesus’ words to his disciples are simple ‚Äì they are to just GO ‚Äì to preach the gospel, tell their story, talk about Jesus, share Jesus with everyone they meet because once you roll with Jesus, everything changes.
And what we heard today ‚Äì these are Jesus’ last bit of instruction to his disciples. And – I’ll be honest – they’re not my favorite Jesus sayings. Sure, there’s the bit about God knowing every hair on my head ‚Äì that’s a personal favorite of mine ‚Äì but then Jesus continues. He says he comes to not bring peace but to bring a sword. He says he has come to turn son against father, daughter against mother ‚Äì where is the love here? Where is the hope and peace that defines the Jesus we know and love? This isn’t the gentle Jesus – this is a hard Jesus. This isn’t even the Jesus that asks us to be nicer to someone else or to think more of our neighbor or the stranger down the block – this is a harsh Jesus that says once you roll with Jesus, everything changes. And not just our disposition or emotions – we don’t just start thinking happier thoughts or become more optimistic and positive ‚Äì no, when Jesus says Go ‚Äì things become riskier ‚Äì everything changes.
But what exactly does it mean to Go?
If we take our relationship with Jesus seriously, does that mean everything about ourselves right now has to change? Do we quit our jobs, pack up our families, and like the early disciples of Jesus, head on out into unknown places? Or maybe, like that man on the highway outside Harrisburg, do we give up our lunch hour to hold a sign, to proclaim the importance of Jesus with a friendly wave to anyone who sees us go by? Or do we do something maybe a little more tame – and we send an email to Pastor Paul or maybe our bishop – and ask about seminary and just what it means to be a pastor in Jesus’ church?
To be honest, I wish I had a better answer to what it means to Go. After three years in seminary, one year on internship, a summer working as a chaplain at a hospital – after all the sermons I’ve preached, all the books I read, all the lectures I attended, all the people I sat with as they took their last breath, all the babies I blessed as they began their walk on earth – from all the Tweets and facebook posts, Confirmation and Sunday School lessons I taught and created – I wish I had a better answer for all of us of just what it means to Go. But I don’t. There isn’t a checklist out there where we just cross everything off that helps us be the best Christian or be the best disciples in the world. There’s isn’t a special code that unlocks the secret to what God is doing in every situation we find ourselves in at home or at work. And seminary doesn’t give you all the answers and it doesn’t even help you say the right thing in those situations where you just don’t know what to say. I can’t say that after all this that I know what your Go will look like ‚Äì but I can say this ‚Äì just Go.
Because that’s what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying “Go and Go Out” – because Jesus is taking us somewhere where our story needs to be shared – where our struggles need to be told – where our hopes, fears, loves, and peace need to meet with someone we don’t know yet. They need to hear our story – our meeting with Jesus – our struggles with God ‚Äì they need to know when we felt God in our lives and when we didn’t. They need to know all of our story because that’s part of God’s story. That’s what Paul is hinting at in our second lesson ‚Äì that’s part of what baptism is all about ‚Äì your story is now God’s story and God’s story is now your story ‚Äì and that story needs to be shared with the person not in the pew sitting next to you but with the person that you’re about to meet. We don’t know where this will take us – or what this we’ll cause us to do – but our command from Jesus is to just Go ‚Äì Go because God is with us. Go because God loves us. Go because God is bringing us to love and bring hope to places that can only respond with a sword. Your journey might lead you to Seminary, it might lead you to a bridge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to say hi to a guy waving to drivers every Friday – or it might lead you to someplace entirely new. But wherever it leads us, know one thing ‚Äì God knows you ‚Äì God loves you ‚Äì Jesus is with you ‚Äì so just Go.