“Love never ends.”

“Love never ends.”
A Message on Matthew 28:16-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 19, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

1 Corinthians 13:8a (NRSV)
“Love never ends.”

Matthew 28:16-20 (NRSV)

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

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Today is in many ways a day for endings. We come to the end of our sermon series on the “love chapter” of the Bible, and this is also my last Sunday to be your pastor.

But it is a day for new beginnings as well. A new sermon series will start when the new pastor, Rev. Patrick Evans, arrives in July, and I’ll start a new sermon series as pastor at First United Methodist Church in Huntsville, TX. (Yes, I was originally appointed to Hallsville, TX, but that appointment got changed at Annual Conference. It’s a long story…)

For the text today we examine the very end of Matthew’s gospel, what is referred to as “The Great Commission.”

At first it might not seem like this scripture has anything to do with “Love never ends,” but I think it does.

As we have discussed the past eight weeks since Easter, love is the most powerful force in the universe. And we read in 1 John 4:16b “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

So if God is love, and God is eternal, then we can deduce that love never ends because God never ends.

In the “Great Commision” we read today from Matthew 28 we find Jesus speaking his final earthly words to his disciples. We read there are 11, one short of the 12 we normally hear about, because Judas Iscariot was no longer with them, having taken his own life after betraying Jesus. The disciples have not appointed anyone to take Judas’ place, but will do so later.

Once on the mountain that Jesus told them to go to, Jesus appears to them. Then we find an interesting little sentence in the scripture: “When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted.”

I find this to be peculiar. The Disciples saw Jesus in the resurrected bodily form, before he ascended into heaven. They knew he was dead, and then he shows up alive. That’s pretty convincing, right? So when they see him, they worship him. Sounds appropriate, right?

But then there is that three-word ending to that sentence: “…but they doubted.”

Wait? Say what? How could they doubt? I mean, Jesus shows up in person, in the flesh. They had to believe, right? What more proof could they have wanted?

And yet the scripture says, “but they doubted.”

As humans we have doubt. It’s part of our human nature. There is a built in skepticism in our DNA that grows through our life experiences. When we get hurt or taken advantage of in our life experiences we become skeptical.

I remember one summer I was visiting my dad and we were out in his garden. He raised all kinds of peppers and we came across one that I was not familiar with. “Is that pepper hot?,” I asked.

“Nah,” he said, reaching down, picking a small pepper off the plant and taking a bite out of it.

“Hmm,” I thought. So I did the same thing. I picked a pepper, took a big ol bite out of it and started chewing it. And it set my mouth on fire. Like molten metal hot. It was so, so hot, and we’re out in the garden a long distance from his house and the cooling water I so craved at the moment.

I spit out the pepper, looked at my dad and said, “These things are hot! Real hot!” I was surprised and wondering how in the world his mouth wasn’t on fire and burning up like mine was.

Then he grinned and I saw the pepper between his front teeth. He had bit off the pepper and, instead of chewing it up, held the pepper between his teeth the whole time. He had a real good laugh out of that one. Me, not so much.

That experience created doubt in my mind. Anytime from then on if my dad said a pepper wasn’t hot, I remembered that experience and doubted what he was saying was true. I doubted.

The disciples doubted.

In our faith journeys we often give the disciples attributes that we think they had, but that the scriptures prove otherwise. We try to make them superheroes of the faith, having superpowers and deep theological knowledge and experiences that set them up on a higher level than other people.

But that’s not the case. Jesus chose common, ordinary people to be his disciples. Now don’t get me wrong, they did phenomenal, extraordinary things, but they were able to accomplish those things through the power of the Holy Spirit, not because they were extraordinary human beings. God doesn’t call the equipped, the equips the called. And even those he calls sometimes have doubts.

Having doubts does not preclude us from being disciples. If anything, it qualifies us to be disciples and to make disciples.

Which brings me to the second point I want to make this morning: make disciples.

The Great Commission that Jesus gives to his disciples he also gives to us. We are to go and make disciples. All of us. Each single one of us.

There is a kind of myth that the pastor is the only one who is supposed to make disciples. That is a myth. Yes, that does fall into the pastor’s job description, but it is also the job description of every follower of Jesus Christ.

Make disciples.

Now I think there are two aspects to this commission. First, we are to make disciples of ourselves. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not a passive activity. We are to grow deeper into our relationship with God, and we do that through prayer, through reading and studying the Bible, and through consistent worship with other believers. Only when we are disciples ourselves can we lead others to become disciples.

It’s kind of like the safety briefing they give on airplanes where they tell you that in case of an unexpected loss of cabin pressure an oxygen mask will drop down in front of you. You are to put your own mask on before helping or assisting others. If you fail that bit of advice, you might lose consciousness while trying to help someone else, and if you are not conscious you really can’t do much to help others.

We have to be disciples in order to make disciples.

The second aspect of the Great Commission is that we are to go and make disciples of others. We are to lead others to Christ.

I have discovered that as a whole Christians are very reluctant to venture into this territory. I know because I used to be one of them. (Proof that God has a sense of humor, huh?) I didn’t want to offend anyone by sharing my faith with them. Somewhere along the way I got the idea that religion is one of those things you just keep to yourself and don’t really share with other people.

It’s funny looking back on that time in my life how the rules I applied to my faith life were different from other parts of my life. I never shied away from sharing my political views and would talk politics. I would also share my opinions on my favorite sports teams and talk down about the teams I didn’t like. (i.e., the Yankees.)

I had no problem sharing the other parts of my life, but when it came to faith matters I shut and locked the door and pulled down the shades.

I also remember another reason I didn’t share my faith was because I didn’t feel qualified to do so. I kinda sorta knew the Bible but thought I had to have a broad and very deep understanding of the faith in order to share it with others.

My pride kept me from putting myself in a situation that might make me look like I didn’t know what I was talking about. Uh-uh. Not going to do that. I’ll just leave that to the people who are a lot smarter and better educated about religious things.

In other words I doubted. I doubted my ability to share my faith and make a difference in the life of another person. And those doubts kept me from doing what Jesus called his disciples to do, which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Maybe you have doubts about your ability to share your faith. I think that’s normal. And you have good company. Remember what we said about the disciples?

I think Satan rejoices when we let our doubts keep us from becoming better disciples of Jesus Christ or sharing our faith with others. And he trembles in fear when we overcome those doubts and serve God wholly and fully!

Love never ends. God’s love never ends. So if we try to go deeper in our faith or try to lead someone else to Christ and we mess up, guess what? IT’S OKAY!!! The disciples messed up and yet they were still able to have a huge positive impact for the Kingdom of God. We can mess up and still have a positive impact for the Kingdom of God. We can mess up and God still loves us!

Our success or failure will not make God love us more or love us less. That’s just how powerful God’s love is. God’s grace is given to us not because we deserve it, not because we earn it, but because God loves us. God is love! And that love was proven to us by Jesus Christ who gave his life on the cross so that we, who are sinners, can be reconciled to God.

My final point about the scripture today is that it reinforces the eternalness of love. Jesus tells the disciples, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus promises to be present with us forever, and Jesus keeps his promises. Love never ends.

So my challenge to you on this, my last Sunday as your pastor, is to live boldly and make disciples of Jesus Christ. Remember that God is love and will empower you to personally become a more committed and loving disciple of Christ, but will also guide you in ways that you can lead others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ as well.

You’ve got this, church. You can do it, with God’s help. Love never ends. Make disciples of Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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