I don’t know about you, but after I got home from the Ute last Sunday, I stretched out and fell into a sweet, satisfied sleep. Our celebrating plum wore me out!
On Monday, I put away our Pentecost worship and birthday party supplies. The joy of our milestone merriment washed over me all day.
It wasn’t until Tuesday, when I returned our partyware, that our celebrating seemed officially behind us.
Heading home from the rental place, a question rose up inside me. Our preparing had been meaningful and our partying delightful. But now what? What next for Community Spirit?
What now, what next? This question often arises when something comes to an end. That “something” might be a good book, a fulfilling road trip, an overdue reunion, a hard-won graduation, or a long-awaited retirement. What now, what next we ask ourselves when a chapter or a season ends.
Having turned ten and having duly celebrated this magnificent milestone, what now? What next?
What now? What next? I’m sure the disciples began asking themselves this same question once Jesus was no longer with them in the flesh.
After Jesus’ death, it would have been easy—and understandable—for the disciples to return to Galilee and think that all that was left was to get busy remembering everything that had happened with Jesus. A future without him had to have felt like a cavernous void.
Even before his death, Jesus knew better than to take any chances on his friends answering the what now, what next question on their own. While they were still together, Jesus had told them to go to Galilee to wait for him to rejoin them after his death, after his resurrection. There he would point them toward what was next.
The disciples did as Jesus instructed. They went back to Galilee and thankfully didn’t have to wait long. Jesus appeared, newly risen from death—and immediately, understandably, the disciples began worshipping him. Worshipping Jesus even as some among them doubted.
Let me pause for a moment and say what a helpful, life-giving detail Matthew’s gospel gives us here. Doubt so often gets in our way and holds us back. If the disciples were able to hold the tension between worship and doubt, maybe we can too.
Let’s circle back to the scene Matthew has given us. Who knows what was going through the disciples’ minds as they gathered around the freshly resurrected Jesus and worshipped him? Perhaps Jesus’ disciples imagined that this was now their future. That for the remainder of their days, they would devote themselves to adoring and worshipping Jesus.
But this was not the “next” that Jesus had in mind.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” Jesus tells his friends. And before the disciples can make any assumptions about what this means, Jesus then says: “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 obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
With his all-encompassing authority, Jesus interrupts the disciples’ worship of him and points them beyond themselves, beyond their tight little community. Jesus steers the disciples away from a singular focus on him and toward all the people and places that had Jesus’ attention while he was alive. People and places all deserving of compassion, healing, love, and justice.
There’s something very human about aiming the spotlight on Jesus, something tempting about making worship the be-all and end-all. Clearly, this was not Jesus’ hope for his disciples. Then or now.
Go, therefore, Jesus says succinctly this morning. In other words, Jesus says, my resurrection and my subsequent gift of authority are not the end. Worship of me is not the end. The next chapter is waiting to be written—and it will be written in our streets, not in our sanctuaries.
In his book, Saving Jesus from the Church, Robin Meyers, a prolific writer and UCC clergyperson from Oklahoma City, addresses Christians of every denominational background. He invites us to see that true worship of Christ inevitably and quite naturally calls us out of the comfort of our sacred spaces and into the messiness of neighborhoods and nations. Out where we can meet the Jesus who is busy making all things new, out where we can serve him by serving others, out where we can be changed by our encounters with those we don’t yet know.
Don’t get me wrong now. Worship is an essential part of our lives. It’s where we find spiritual nourishment and hope. It’s where we are helped and healed. Worship is where scripture, tradition, reason, and experience converge, deepening our relationship with the One who has loved us well before we even took birth.
Worship is also that holy hour where we are helped to know we are not alone in our hopes and dreams and yearnings. Worship is where we sing our heartfelt praises and offer up our varied prayers.
But worship is not the end. It is but the beginning.
When we take Jesus at his word, when we “go, therefore,” then every time we return to worship, we carry into this sacred space the lessons and learnings that have come from actively serving our community and world. And here, in worship, fresh from having been engaged with and engaged by the world around us, we ask God to help us integrate and incorporate what we have just seen and felt and heard.
Then as worship concludes, Christ’s Spirit, the Spirit of Pentecost, blows us back out into the world that we might again be of use, that we might once more be about the work of baptizing all of God’s children.
Now before we misunderstand what Jesus is asking here, remember that baptismal waters aren’t fire insurance, a way of keeping others out of hell.
Not at all. The waters of baptism are what enable every single person to know and feel that they are just as loved, just as blessed, just as precious as Jesus was when he rose up out of the Jordan, having been named and claimed by the Holy Spirit.
This is precisely the kind of baptizing we will be doing when we go to Ridgway in a couple of weeks. We are going there so that we might bless, that we might speak life and beauty into the hearts and lives of those who have been told—wrongly and too often—that they are sinful, hell-bound abominations.
This is also the kind of baptizing Deb is doing with her boys in Mazatlan, all of whom deserve to know and feel that they are beloved of God, despite whatever their particular circumstances might have led them to believe.
When we go to Ridgway on the 17th of June, when we go to Grand Junction in September, and when we host the Transgender Day of Remembrance with our friend Xavi Saenz in November, we will be doing exactly what Jesus tells all his disciples to do. In June, September, and November, we will go forth from worship to serve the very people Christ considers beautiful and blessed. The very people who are more than worthy of immersion in the waters of unending grace.
But Jesus didn’t just say, “Go and baptize.” He also said, “Go to all the nations.” Which means that along with “What next, what now,” Jesus calls us to ask and to keep asking, “Who next, who now?”
Who next, who now, who else needs what Christ has given us to share? Who next, who now, who else is aching to be healed? Who next, who now, who else is deserving of Christ’s hope? Who next, who now, who else warrants our compassionate listening, our theological hospitality, our full embrace, our earnest efforts to serve?
Clearly, as a church, we have made a commitment to be present to and allies for the LGBTQ community. But this community is but one “nation.” Surely there are more. Who else, who next, who right now does Jesus pray we will go to? Who else, who next, who right now does Jesus ask us to baptize with words and actions that bless, that affirm, that restore wholeness and a sense of belonging?
What next, who next? What now, who now? What else, who else? These questions we bring with us into worship. Together we listen for guidance, ask for wisdom, and open ourselves to the Spirit’s energy and empowerment as we “go, therefore.”
But let us never forget that whenever we go, wherever we go, we never go alone. We don’t even go in solidarity with others who share our vision or convictions. We go with the One who has called us to go forth, saying to us again and again what he said to his disciples “Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Will you join me in prayer?
Thank you, O God, for all that you have given that has enabled us to reach our first big milestone. Thank you for all the lessons and learnings, the highs and the lows, the changes and the challenges. Because you are good, because you are faithful, we count ourselves greatly blessed.
Thank you, as well, O God, for the convictions and courage you have placed within us, gifts that have enabled us so many times to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ siblings here on the Western Slope, here where allyship is quite literally life-saving.
Grant us eyes to see and ears to hear where else we might go, what other “nation” we might serve. For surely Christ has commissioned us to go—and to keep going—until there is no soul left who has not been touched and transformed by the living waters of your boundless grace and goodness.
We pray all this in Christ’s name. Amen.