We are all set for the third week of our series all about the next generation, “Generation iY” as author Tim Elmore calls them: basically, people born in the last twenty years. This Sunday we also celebrate the Ascension; the Bible tells us that 40 days after his resurrection Jesus was taken up to heaven in his resurrected body. In his account of the story Matthew tells us about the very last instruction he gives his disciples before his departure, literally his parting words. He’s telling them what they are to do next. We read that they’re nervous, in fact the Bible says that some of them doubted. It doesn’t tell us what they doubted, perhaps they doubted the whole deal, that he really was alive, that he really is God, that they could actually give their lives to serving him, that they would be able to do that.
So, in the context of his departure and their doubt he gives them a last instruction, which has been called the “Great Commission.” It goes like this:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.
Baptize them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
When you boil it down, Jesus’ commission is pretty clear: reach out to other people where they are and invest in them in order to bring them into a relationship with God. That’s their mission. Jesus made his commission clear, its just not that easy and he knew it. He knew that his disciples would be criticized, and persecuted and arrested and some of them were even murdered. And he knew they had their own issues too, because it wasn’t so long ago that nearly all of them had betrayed him…they were by no means perfect people. Besides, as we’ve already noted in this series, they were a very young group, most probably in their late teens. It would be understandable that they would be frightened and full of doubt and therefore unsteady in their commitment.
And yet here he is giving them this work to do, which is the mission and purpose of the church. That was their mission…and its our mission too. Its why we’re here as a church community and also as individuals. Its clear as can be, its just not that easy. That’s why a lot of Christians don’t do it, its why church communities don’t even try, never mention it, it just never comes up. How did it ever work to begin with? How is it suppose to work today? Well, its all hinges on a little promise he makes, literally his last words:
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Despite their fears and failures they stood in a relationship with Jesus Christ, and he promises to them his pervasive presence, through the gift and the power of God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit. He promises his presence when they’re doing what he wants them to do.
What they do they not only do for God, they do it with him. And as we read on in the story (in Acts of the Apostles) literally within days thousands of people were coming to Christ and his Church, based on the efforts of these young men.
Nativity should be a community of growing disciples whose number one priority is growing more disciples. I am also going to say (and some people won’t agree with me, but that’s OK…I’m going to say it anyway) we should be growing young disciples as our highest priority. Why? Because making disciples is an investment and making young disciples is the best investment, it has the ability to bring the greatest return long term.
We have a great Youth Pastor, Chris Wesley, who is one of my closest associates and collaborators in leading this parish, I meet with him every week. He in turn has built a great group of volunteer ministry leaders and workers who, together form a very impressive team. Currently we are actually looking to add another (part-time) position to our staff, to assist Chris and his team. Over the past few years they have given our program a complete overhaul and a whole new emphasis. As Chris has been eager to emphasize throughout this series, our youth ministry is not religious education, CCD or Sunday school. It is not what kids who don’t go to Catholic school should do, it is not redundant to Catholic school kids. It is not any kind of school whatsoever. Youth Ministry at Nativity is about including our young people in a fellowship of their peers along with adult leaders, who are interested in growing as disciples. In other words, reaching young people where they are and investing in them to bring them into and help them grow in a relationship with God.
Besides my own preaching and celebration of Mass, what happens in our youth ministry program is of direct interest and concern to me, above all the other ministries and programs. Growing young disciples is job number one when it comes to our mission to grow disciples. Disagree with that priority if you like (and plenty of people have), but that is what God has put on my heart. The Church is a Church for “all nations” and of every age, but if we really want to be the kind of dynamic growing church we read about in the New Testament, I believe we must deliberately determine to first of all be a young church. By the way, the faith and fellowship of young disciples keeps us all young.