Ask anyone who learned English as a second language. English is weird. It’s just odd. There are rules that seemingly exist solely to be broken. Moreover, there’s all this weirdness just with the words themselves. We’ve got homophones. These are words sound the same but are spelled differently. The capitol building is in the state capital. The principals have principles. We’ve got homographs. These words are spelled the same but are pronounced differently. You have to be close to close the door. I had to bow to tie the bow. Sometimes we mix all those up. Last time I did that I had to desert my dessert in the desert. We’re parking on the driveway. We’re driving on the parkway. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria.
>Many of our words have multiple definitions, too. Meaning we can spruce up the spruce tree. We can suit ourselves by wearing a suit. We can pay a fair price to go to attend a fair in a fair city. “Make” is another one of those words. Make can mean to coerce or cause by use of force. Like when we were younger my brother would change the channel, I’d tell him to change it back, and he’d say, “Why don’t you make me?” But make can also mean constructing, or putting together. Like when I make dinner or even make a mess (I’ll leave you to guess which of those I do more often).
What’s especially odd about the word “make” is that the two definitions almost seem to contradict each other. When you use force to make someone do something, it involves breaking them down in order to have your way. Like if I punched my brother in the face to gain access to the remote control. On the other hand, if you make dinner, you’re building. You’re putting things together to make something new and useful.
That can cause a real problem when you’re looking at scripture like today’s. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” Make disciples. So are we to go to all the nations and punch them in the face until they come to Christ? Don’t laugh. Christians have done far worse than that in the name of making disciples. And physical violence isn’t even the only coercive tactic. The church has, from time to time, used fear as well. Fear of ostracism. Fear of Divine retribution or eternal condemnation. All of these things aim to break an individual to the will of Christ. I’m just not sure that’s how Christ works. The other definition is far more consistent with the Christ we meet through the gospels. Fashioning people into something new and better. Creating disciples. Not breaking them down but rather building them up. But which is right?
Sometimes the Greek can help us out. Greek tends to be a more specific language. There are, for example, four different words for “love,” allowing the writer to put a much finer point on the message. In the original Greek, the word for “make” is not present in the Great Commission! Mathéteuó (math-ayt-yoo’-o), translated “make disciples” in the NRSV, is better translated “teach” or “disciple.” While coercion and fear can be used to force obedience, they are not effective tools for teaching.
It’s like working with choirs. If there’s a section that is flat, punching them in the face will not help correct the problem. Force breeds mistrust, and especially in a volunteer group, people pretty quickly figure out the best way to avoid force is to leave entirely. No, if we are to make disciples, then we are to build them, working with them patiently and in a spirit of love and care.
But we can’t stop there, because that’s vague. How exactly do we do that? Just the other day on Facebook I ran across this gem: “It takes more than a busy church, a friendly church, or even an evangelical church to impact a community for Christ. It must be a church ablaze, led by leaders who are ablaze for God.” What does that mean, anyway? It’s vague, and because it’s vague it isn’t very helpful. If only there were some place we could turn that would tell us how to build disciples…
A few weeks ago, Jason preached on Matthew 4:18-22, where Jesus called Peter and Andrew. Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Bringing the Greek to bear again, the word for “make,” is poieó (poy-eh’-o), and it is best translated as “making them fit” or “qualifying them.” So Jesus is not going to coerce them into being fishers of people. He’s going to build them into fishers of people. But that’s not actually the most important part. We’ve already decided that we need to build people into disciples rather than forcing them at knife-point. We’re in search of clear instructions for making disciples.
Matthew tells us that Peter and Andrew were casting a net into the lake because they were fishermen, after which he tells us that Jesus said he would make them fishers of people. They were fishermen, and Jesus called them to fish for people. That’s important because it gives us an idea of how we’re supposed to build disciples. We’re supposed to use the gifts we’ve been given for people.
Today is Music Sunday. It’s a day when we celebrate the gift of music, and it’s a day when we celebrate the people who use their gift of music to move hearts for the cause of Christ. It’s as if Jesus came to the lakeshore and said, “Follow me, and I will make you sing for people.” Music is our gift. Our commission is to use it to build disciples.
We do that in the church. We rehearse. We come into this room and lift our voices in praise. But we can’t stop there, and we don’t. We call it Music in Mission. We take our music out of here. Locally. Regionally. Nationally. Children. Youth. Adults. Seniors. We sing our songs first, then we listen. And we care.
Eight years ago, in Savannah, Georgia, I was with the youth choir singing in a children’s home for at-risk kids and youth, many of whom had been removed from their homes but were not able to be placed in foster care. After we sang, the choir and the residents played games together while we waited for dinner to be prepared. When we sat down for dinner, one of the residents said to me, “How do you do it? People come in here and do this all the time. Singing to us like we’re in some kind of prison or something. But you get us. You’re with us. How do you do that?” I had no answer for her. When we got back on the bus, one of my youth said, “John, can we just stay here for the whole week instead of going to the beach?” And that was the answer. They cared. That…that is working patiently and in a spirit of love. That is making disciples in response to the call of Christ.
You have a gift. It may not be fishing and it may not be singing. You may not know what it is right now. You may not even like it if you do. But through the Spirit you have a gift. The call of Christ for you is to use it for people. That’s not vague. It’s crystal clear. You have a gift. Use it.