This is the story of Saul’s commissioning, of his being set apart to go therefore and make disciples of all nations. The beginning of this passage has a diverse number of people sitting together in a community. They were all given a job to do within the church, and they were all actively listening to what the Holy Spirit was telling them.
This church in Antioch, displayed a vast amount of diversity. Named among the prophets and teachers were two black men, Simeon—a Levite from Cyprus—and Lucius—from North Africa, Manaen, a boyhood friend or foster brother of Herod Antipas, and Saul, a Pharisee.
This was not a church of people who looked like each other, who had the same upbringing as each other, who were of them same blood and family. This was a church that widely accepted those who came into their family and uplifted them, making them disciples.
Making of disciples isn’t just about baptizing people. That’s the first chunk of the passage from Matthew 28 that we like to throw around, but sometimes I feel like we forget that second chunk. The part that continues what we’re supposed to do after baptism, how we’re supposed to function as a church. “…and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
That part. It’s not simply about teaching people about who Jesus was and that they are to believe, it’s about guiding them through their faith, making them disciples, equipping them to be ministers in this world. That goes beyond a simple declaration of faith.
Our job, as the church, like the church in Antioch, was to look at those who are in our family, to listen intently to the Holy Spirit, and to teach those who are with us how to be disciples and how to make disciples. Our growth doesn’t stop as soon as we confess our faith, as soon as we say, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ.”
It didn’t for Saul, and it certainly doesn’t for us. After Saul had his conversion experience, he had people there who taught him about the faith, who taught him how to be the disciple. It’s the same for us.
We can all point to those people who had a significant impact on our Christian lives, on our faith journey. I know, because I’ve talked to some of you about who those people were. But we are also called to be those people for others. This passage distinctly says that. Saul was called to be set apart for ministry, to make disciples not just be a disciple.
It’s the same way as when I received my call. I wasn’t the only one listening intently to the Holy Spirit—and perhaps ignoring on more than one occasion—but there were people around me who were also listening. I had two ministers who talked to me about my call to ministry before I fully listened to what the Holy Spirit was telling me.
Those two individuals not only helped me declare my faith, but they helped me deepen my relationship with God. They taught me how to listen to the Ruach, to the wind, to what God was telling me through everything faucet God has. Not only did those two ministers tell me that I had a call to ministry, but then they showed me how to do ministry.
I was suddenly thrust into being in charge of things I thought I had no business being in charge of, but they were there to show me how to do the things of ministry I had no idea to do. That doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes along the way. I distinctly remember the first time I served communion, and it went horrible wrong.
My friend, Ashley, and I were in charge of it because we had been selected along with three other high school students to be leaders at General Assembly in Portland in 2005. So we were in charge of the worship service during camp that year. We’d planned, we’d practiced, we’d gone through everything.
Well, almost everything. The camp director had the bread and the juice for us. It was dark outside, close to ten at night, and we had just finished giving the words of institution. We were handing out chunks of bread for it to be dipped into the grape juice, and lo and behold, through the light of the ONE flashlight on the altar we could see the mold covering the outside of the bread we were handing out.
Can you spell disaster? Anyway, we knew we were called to be sharing the Eucharist with each other, to be communing together and worship God, but the process wasn’t working right. It wasn’t until after that evening when we were talking it through that we were taught how we should have handled that situation instead of the way we did. The what if’s and the what about’s flowing freely through discussion and teaching.
If it wasn’t for that conversation, I don’t think Ashley and I would have ever been as comfortable standing up and blessing the bread and cup again. We were taught that we don’t have to be perfect to be a minister for God. But it was through deep listening of the Holy Spirit that we were all able to make that discovering. Through our listening, through our leaders’ listening, and through the listening of the church.
Just like the church in Antioch. They listened deeply to the Holy Spirit. They knew Saul and Barnabus were to be named as ministers in Christ, to be set apart to do a special kind of ministry. And not only was the church listening, but so were Saul and Barnabus in order to accept their call.
My favorite part of this passage is the last verse. “The after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” One of the most beautiful parts of an ordination service, is the laying on of hands. It’s a commissioning, a sending, a way to remind the newly ordained that the weight and love of the church as a whole is behind them.
It’s a practice that goes back to scripture, one that connects us to each other even though ministry can often times seem and feel so isolating. I can’t imagine the number of times Saul felt like he was utterly alone. I’m sure it was a lot. He traveled all over to places he knew no one, he was in jail and prison, he came up against some of Christianity’s greatest foes, yet he didn’t blink. He knew he had the church behind him, that through the laying on hands he had been given their blessing to go therefore and make disciples of all nations. And that was exactly what he did.
That’s what we need to do for each other and for our church. We need to continue to grow in our faith, to listen to the Holy Spirit, and to be a people who continues to make disciples of those who already believe.
We do this through Sunday school, through Bible Study and through small groups. We do this by coming together to worship God each day, but taking on responsibilities in our own worship service, and by sharing our testimonies with each other. So I encourage you, through this Lenten season we’re about to embark upon to join in and help us to teach you how to be a better disciple of Christ. Amen.
This is what we’re trying to do as a church through G3. We’re trying to help you grow, to help you become a better disciple, and to help you fulfill your call to ministry. This Grab, Gather, and Grow isn’t just about expanding our fellowship time, it’s about creating a system where we are better disciples, continuing to grow, continuing to fulfill the great commission we are given in Matthew 28. So I encourage you, through this Lenten season we’re about to embark upon, to join in and help us to teach you how to be a better disciple of Christ. To grab, gather and grow together as a community deeply listening to the Holy Spirit.