Mission Impossible?

 Read Matthew 28:16-20 and Isaiah 2:1-4 here.

Listen to sermon here:

Read or follow along below—

Do you recognize this music?

  • Maybe you know it from the movie that’s in theaters now (Mission: Impossible – Fallout)[1]
  • Or from the TV series that ran in the 60’s and 70’s
  • Or from Amy Brownlee’s children’s sermon a few weeks ago

This is the theme from Mission: Impossible.

Trivia question: Why is this hard to dance to?  (Answer: It’s in 5/4)

Someone asked the composer, Lalo Shifrin, why he wrote it in 5/4.  He said, “The people in outer space have five legs and couldn’t dance to our music, so I wrote this for them.”[2]

If you’ve seen any of the Mission: Impossible shows or movies, you know the stories always have a messenger showing up with a secret message on tape, always saying the same words:

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

Fun note – The instructions are always on reel-to-reel tape.  1960’s technology.  Even in the latest movie.  No fancy digital message.[3]  It’s always the same analog message that self-destructs with lots of smoke.

We, too, have ancient words giving us our mission, should we choose to accept it.  It’s what Jesus says in Matthew 28.

“Go and make disciples.”

Mark 16:15 gives us similar words:

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

Luke 24:47-48 “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses.”

John 20:21 “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

These words are important enough to have their own title:  The Great Commission.  “Go and make disciples.”  To some of us these words are as familiar as the voice on the tape in Mission: Impossible.  We may push aside these words as passé or unrealistic or impossible, but this is still our mandate, and I was reminded of this by a tweet posted this past week by J. Herbert Nelson, our denomination’s stated clerk:

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It’s my job to stand here every Sunday and talk about the difference Jesus makes in our lives, and I love doing it, but outside of here, it’s hard for me, just like it’s hard for you, to seek out opportunities to talk to people who don’t know Jesus, and so I was very convicted as I read this tweet.

Nelson is talking about data that our denomination compiles every year that shows total members, number of baptisms, and how many churches have grown or shrunk, or left the denomination, or closed their doors.  For the past five years, much of the decline was due to the turmoil over churches leaving the denomination, but now that the dust has settled, Nelson sees that we have lost sight of the importance of telling people about Jesus.[4]

So today I want us to consider Nelson’s question:

“Who have you told about the difference that Jesus is making in your life?”

This is our mission.  Our co-mission.  This is how we go and make disciples.

Do you know what a salesman’s favorite scripture is?  The great commission.[5]

We are on a mission from God.  This commission is being given on top of a mountain, the place throughout Jesus’ ministry for revelation of divine presence and authority.[6]  Jesus said:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matt 28:16)

Jesus has earthly authority, and heavenly authority.  This is God in the flesh speaking; God, to whom we pray every Sunday in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

This is God’s will, our mission, should we choose to accept it . . . “Go and make disciples.”

Easy to say.  Not so easy to do. So, back to Nelson’s question:

“Who have you told about the difference that Jesus is making in your life?”

Notice that in asking this question in this way, Nelson is reminding us how we go and make disciples – by telling people about the ways that following Jesus is making a difference in our lives.  Not by saying, “You should believe this.” Or “You should come to church.”  Saying “you should” is what makes people say that Christians are judgmental.  “You should” statements also make people get defensive and stop listening.  Instead we just tell about why we follow Jesus or why we come to church.

What difference is Jesus making in your life? Our answer to that question is our witness, our story.

So close your eyes and imagine for a moment that you are meeting God on judgement day.  Imagine him asking you these questions:

“Did you believe that I loved you? That I desired you? That I waited for you day after day? That I longed to hear the sound of your voice?”[7]

Here’s an important question to consider: Do I truly believe that God loves me? 

When did you first believe that God loves you? 

What events in your life have convinced you of God’s love?

Answering these questions helps us to know how to explain the difference that Jesus is making in our lives.  To further consider this, on the sermon notes page in the bulletin, there are some reflection questions.  Take those home with you and use them to ponder and pray about how to tell your story. (See reflection questions at end of this post.)

Everything we have and everything we are comes from God,[8] and we need to let Jesus be making a difference in every part of our lives, so that’s what we’re going to explore in greater detail in our small groups starting in September. Don’t forget to sign up for one so you can be a part of that.

How is Jesus making a difference in our lives? 

We’ll all answer that question in different ways, and our answers will change over the course of our lives as Jesus continues to work in our lives in new and different ways.  Knowing the answer helps us be ready for our mission – telling people about the difference that Jesus is making.  This is how we go and make disciples.

Who will we tell? Maybe that’s the biggest challenge. It’s certainly the part that needs the most prayer, because the Holy Spirit is the one who does the work in our telling, both in us and in the people we tell.

“The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8[9]

Kodiak-boatsThere’s an old parable that goes like this:

“There once was a fishing village on the shore of a great lake stocked full of fish. The fishermen of the village diligently debated and discussed what fishing is, how best to do it, which equipment to use. They invested millions in boats and gear and a fishing headquarters, hired a staff, and sent emissaries around the world to search other lakes and rivers for fish.

One day, a little child stood up in their meeting and asked, “You all claim to be great fishermen—how come you’ve never caught a fish?” Indeed, no one in the village had ever actually caught one. They had never even been fishing.”[10]

Many churches and many Christians go for years without bringing a single soul to Christ. We are not called to be experts in fishing; Jesus calls us to be people who fish – going out and telling people about the difference Jesus is making in our lives, so that they too can get caught up in God’s grace, love, and salvation.

This isn’t easy, and maybe that’s why we like the book of Jonah so much. It’s the story of a reluctant evangelist. Rather than heeding God’s call to reach out to the strangers in Nineveh, Jonah runs in the other direction. Ironically, in his reluctance to be a “fisherman” for God, he became fish bait, swallowed by a whale! Even after the whale spewed Jonah back onto shore, even after Jonah went and converted the people of Nineveh, he still had no compassion for them because he considered them his enemy.

If you’re like me, the problem is not a lack of compassion or a lack of desire. We truly want to be “fishers” for Jesus but aren’t always sure how.  Often we aren’t sure what to say, which is why I’m encouraging us to think about how Jesus is making a difference in our lives, so we have prepared our story.  Our outreach committee is continually working on ways to help us, as well, including a special series this fall to help us get to know our neighbors.

Thinking about fishing can help us. One of the most important lessons in fishing is patience.  When we’re fishing, if we don’t get a nibble immediately, and we pull the bait out of the water and cast to another spot, we aren’t going to catch anything. We have to be willing to wait and let the fish get comfortable with our presence.

This is true with people, too.  Many people may have no experience of God’s love or may even have had a negative experience with religion. They may be highly resistant to any talk about Jesus. Great patience is required to convey Christ’s love to a person whose only exposure to church might have been fire and brimstone sermons.

There is a right time to fish. There are certain times of the day when the tides and temperatures are conducive to fishing. Likewise, there are right and wrong times to talk about our faith. If we embarrass someone or don’t treat them respectfully, they will not be receptive to the gospel. We need to keep praying and asking God to show us when to speak and when to stay silent.

If we listen, people will give us hints about when the time is right. They may ask our advice about a problem or for our opinion about world events, and then we can tell how our faith in God gives us strength in facing that sort of thing.

There is a right place to fish. We have to leave the church building and go where the fish are. Jesus did. He didn’t stay in the synagogue. Jesus went into the streets and marketplace, into the villages and homes of the people. Likewise, we must be willing to develop friendships with those who are not Christians. We must reach out to people wherever they are.[11]

Our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to go and make disciples, telling people about the difference that Jesus is making in our lives, and showing that these are not just words by how we live our lives, and how we care for people.  It’s not easy. It’s huge, and some might even say that it’s not possible.

You know, as I was watching the movie Mission Impossible, and the tension was rising as the characters in the movie were doing everything they could to stop the evil villain who was trying to destroy the world, and the clock was counting down, I was sitting there thinking, “There’s no way they can pull this off.  It’s impossible.”  And then I remembered the name of movie.  Mission: Impossible.

Sitting here thinking about our mission to go and make disciples, to tell people about the difference Jesus is making in our lives, we might be thinking, like I was, “There’s no way we can do this.  It’s impossible.”

And Jesus says in Matthew 19,

“This is impossible for human beings, but for God everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

We are called to go and tell, but we are not called to go alone. Jesus is always with us.

“And remember, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)

So let’s go and make disciples of Jesus, telling them all the ways we know how much God loves us all.

Sermon Notes – Reflection Questions [12]

  • When was that time in your life when your faith became your personal faith and less of the faith of those who encouraged you along the way? When did you choose for yourself to start or continue with your faith?
  • What event or individuals most influenced your faith?
  • If you were to draw a timeline of your faith life, what events would you include? Which significant events drew you closer to God and which kept you at a distance?
  • In what ways does your experience influence the ways you share faith with others?
  • What difference has knowing Jesus made in your life?
  • Who have you told?

——–

[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4912910/

[2] https://nypost.com/2015/07/30/the-iconic-mission-impossible-theme-song-took-just-3-minutes-to-write/

[3] Also no digital effects, according to this writer: https://www.npr.org/2018/07/26/632610590/spectacular-real-world-stunts-make-mission-impossible-fallout-a-blast

[4] https://pres-outlook.org/2018/06/2017-pcusa-membership-statistics-released/

[5] https://churchpop.com/2014/09/10/18-delightfully-terrible-christian-puns-annoy-friends/

[6] Stanley Saunders’ commentary on Matthew 28:16-20 at www.workingpreacher.com. Cf. Matthew 4:8, 5:1, 14:23, 15:29, 17:1.

[7] Inspired by Brennan Manning as quoted at https://tween2worlds.us/quotes-i-like/did-you-believe-i-loved-you/

[8] “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3), “Everything belongs to God, and all things were created by his power.” (Hebrews 2:10), “All things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:16)

[9] And God blesses our efforts. (john 14:15-17)

[10] This shortened version is by Lance Moore.  The longer version is by Darrell W. Robinson, People Sharing Jesus, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), pp. 21-23, found at https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/7071/a-plea-for-fishing/

[11] This whole section about fishing and Jonah is adapted from this article by Lance Moore: https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/2232/gone-fishing

[12] Questions borrowed and adapted from Engage: Gospel small group curriculum by Boyd Lien, Witherspoon Press, 2013.

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