Famous last words of Tony Hancock. If you knew you were about to die what would you say? Something flippant or profound;? This is your last opportunity to communicate to those you care about what really matters to you.
In our readings this morning we have the last words of Jesus. It took Thomas Aquinas 50 volumes to explain the Christian faith. Karl Barth the famous Theologian took 20 volumes to interpret the Bible. Jesus condensed everything into one sentence. Moments before His ascension Jesus gives his disciples their final instructions; it is a summary of all Jesus had taught them about being his disciples. Not merely a summary but also their mandate for becoming contagious Christians. The word 'Mandate' means a command from a higher authority, and of course contagious means catching.
"Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go..." There is no higher command, no greater authority in heaven or earth than the authority of Jesus Christ. The Holy One who will determine the destiny of every single person in the world has commanded us to go and speak and act in His name. There is a temptation to hear a different command: Go if you feel in the mood, or go if you haven’t got anything else in the diary, or, you didn’t mean me Jesus, there are plenty of others who can go.
Deep in every Christian I think there is an awareness that we are on this planet for purposes greater than having a career, paying the bills, loving our families, and fulfilling our roles as citizens or even going to church and worshiping God - important as these things are - sometimes they leave us feeling that something is missing. There is one supreme role we can only do while here on earth that will have eternal consequences.
In the short time God has given us on earth we can make an impact that will outlast us here on earth, indeed will last for eternity and it is linked with the words of Jesus: "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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
"Make disciples". This was to be the disciple’s primary task - disciple making. Everything else was secondary. Notice what is not mentioned. Building Churches and Cathedrals is not mentioned. Appointing Bishops is not mentioned. Founding theological colleges, missionary societies, or charitable institutions, is not mentioned. These things are useful, some may even be essential to a mission infrastructure, but only in so far as they contribute to his command; "making disciples" who in turn will make others.
If our churches, activities, do not go and make disciples, followers of Jesus, then we will die as we will become empty superfluous buildings.
"To help people to become followers of Jesus Christ." That should be our priority. This should be at the heart of our mission statement. I know that Mission has almost become a dirty word, but this should be central to everything we do as a Church. All our activities, all our energy, all our time, all our discussions, all our expenditure should be evaluated by this simple criteria. Does it assist us in fulfilling this final great commission of Jesus Christ - to assist people to become followers of Jesus Christ?
As Archbishop William Temple said in 1945, "The church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of its non-members." If we forget this, if we neglect this, if we ignore this we lose our way and we will lose God's blessing. In Acts 1:8, Jesus added, "You will be my witnesses". That is all Jesus ever calls us to be. His witnesses, to tell what Jesus Christ has done in history, to tell what Jesus Christ has done in our lives.
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations... to the very end of the age." All nations - we have a world-wide calling. All time - we have a timeless calling. But where do we start? It is foolish to think we are called to pack our bags and go to some far-flung place as missionaries.- we start at home - in our own Jerusalem before we attempt to reach Judea or Samaria let alone the ends of the earth. Our role is to share the love of Jesus with those we live with, those we know. Phew! - a sigh of relief then! But let us thank God for those who did hear and obey, those who have taken the love of Jesus to the ends of the earth.
If you go into our churchyard you will find the graves of missionaries that went from here to Africa.
But how on earth could eleven disciples reach the whole world through such a strategy? Let us compare two different evangelistic approaches. The one most Christians believe in and the one Jesus taught. Billy Graham is often rightly regarded as the most effective evangelist in our generation. Doubtless he has reached countless thousands with the love of God and helped them to faith in Jesus. Then there is the individual approach, those we lead to Christ by our lives and witness.
One example from the least expected plac: For 50 years Albania was the poorest and most repressive Communist country in Eastern Europe. In 1970 Enver Hoxha decreed that Christians should be put into barrels and rolled over cliffs into the sea. Many were imprisoned and tortured to death for their faith. It was declared the first Atheistic state. With the death of Enver Hoxha, a democratic government was elected in 1992. In 1993 there were estimated to be just 1000 believers left in the country, they had hidden and worshipped in underground churches. Today there are many Albanian missionaries. Not only are they reaching university students and using the Jesus video extensively across the country, they have, for the past three years sent missionary teams to Turkey and Lebanon. Less than ten years ago the Albanian government hailed itself the world's first atheistic country. Yet this young Church, persecuted for 50 years is now sending missionaries to Turkey.
That is what church is about. Jesus sent us to all nations - we have a universal calling and for all time - It cannot be suppressed. It has not been superceded. It will succeed. For over 2000 years disciples have been obedient to the call, - will it die in our generation?
Jesus said "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." He will always be with us, Jesus, the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth. It is not so much that he goes with us. It is rather that we go with him. Jesus is not like the general waving his troops off as they go into battle as he remains safe behind the lines. He commands and we obey. He leads and we follow. He has gone before, He will go before, we are not alone down here.
We don’t have to be preachers, evangelists, educated or any other requirement you might think of; we just have to share the love of Jesus, by our lives, our deeds and our love. The question is: Are we contagious Christians? What will folk catch from us?
I will end with the words I began with, the famous last words of Tony Hancock: What would you like to be remembered for most of all?