Tidal Faith and Discipleship’s Road: Matthew 28.16–20

Tidal Faith Discipleship RoadDelivered at Claremont UCC on April 12, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some 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.”

In traditional liturgical language, we are in a new season called Eastertide. Eastertide marks the days between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. Our call to worship this morning played with that name and the notion of faith as tidal:

Faith “breaks upon us as waters upon the shore, molding and shaping. Sometimes it smooths our rough and jagged edges; other times it pulls at us to expose new sharpness, to uncover what has been hidden. Faith brings surprises, laying them before us, dropped by an outgoing tide. Faith tells us of God’s power and grace, both ever in motion as the seas, both ever present whether we are at high or low points in our lives. Faith stretches toward us as the waters of a new-broken wave reach out to the walker on the shore.”

If faith is like a tide, then faith cannot be a goal to achieve. Faith is something we must choose to live among, just as we would have to choose to live by the seashore. And, once that choice is made, the rest is as out of our control as the tides.

And we get to experience some pretty marvelous tides when we let go control.

One of them was during Communion at the 10 a.m. service on Easter Sunday. As you know, our second service has a lot of moving parts and players that need to work in concert, especially on a day like Easter. By the time the congregation arrived for that service, the whole staff had walked through it multiple times to catch any hitches or gaps. We all knew what to expect—or so we thought.

Since Pr. Aram was leading the Children’s Celebration, I got to sit amongst the kids. Next to me was Jamal[1]. When Pr. Aram mentioned Communion, Jamal whispered to me, “Communion—I like that.” I asked if he wanted to come help serve at the table and told him all he would need to do is come up front when it was time. He asked if he could just sit with me in the pulpit instead. I said sure. Then his sister Jerissa found out, and she wanted to come, too. Clearly we were paying very close attention to Pr. Aram. So after we distributed butterflies and were dismissed, the three of us enjoyed the choral anthem together from the pulpit and the two of them patiently sat through my sermon. When we started the hymn before Communion, Jamal scampered off, but Jerissa stayed with me.

As we prepared the table, I explained to Jerissa that when I gave her the cue, all she had to do was tear the bread over her head and then pour the juice into the cup. Jerissa, who is in 3rd grade, had never handled the elements before, that I know of, and none of us had planned for her to be there.

There was no controlling what would happen next: Juice all over our expensive table? Bread too hard to tear, leading to tears? Would worshippers be angry or confused by having such a young lay person in the lead?

Nope! In front of over 400 worshippers Jerissa broke that bread and poured that juice. With total confidence and a big smile on her face, Jerissa prepared our ancient meal and then served it with kindness.

Easter is always a beautiful wave, but Jerissa’s unexpected presence and our acceptance of that gift made it sparkle in the resurrection dawn all the more.

But there doesn’t seem to be anything tidal or out of control in our scripture passage today. In fact, it feels distinctly centered on controlling. After his resurrection, the disciples encounter Jesus. Unsurprisingly, some have their doubts.

But Jesus, unconcerned by their skepticism, gives them a charge: Go out into the world and explain that I am endowed, utterly and uniquely, with holy power. Baptize the world in my name, that of the Holy Spirit, and that of God.

This is direct and specific: Teach all the people of all the nations obedience to my commands. Whereas tides come and go without beginning or end, Easter discipleship sounds like a one-way street. It starts from the moment we encounter Christ and ends with the conversion of the world. It is total, absolute, and would bring the world under the control of Christ.

At first comparison, I think that I like the tides of faith better than the road of discipleship, and here’s why: Jesus is claiming all divine power. And with that divine power, Jesus is not suggesting that we go forth to live lives that celebrate the revelation of God in Jesus, but to go forth and confront all whose lives do not yet celebrate the revelation of God in Jesus and make them obedient to his Way. In all nations.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus mocked Rome. It feels like the Easter Jesus wants us to emulate Rome: enter, overthrow, and dominate. The only tide I see here is the one that rises to the point that all diversity of expressions of love of God are drowned out.

Obviously I am having a very 21st century reaction. As a 21st century person, I know the cruelties that have been done in the name of Jesus; wars seemingly sanctioned by this passage. But neither Jesus nor the authors of the gospels could have anticipated such an outcome.

Just look at what Jesus is asking in that moment: Throughout his ministry, Jesus pointed to a particular understanding of holiness. It was a holiness that allowed the most desperate to have hope. Easter then revealed that such hope cannot be crushed. And so Jesus tells them to go spread that good news.

That is not a commandment to conquer and control. Hope shared can only liberate.

So taken together, the tides and the road invite us to be people who move to the shore and then walk along it with intent, creating hopeful spaces where the desire for baptism into faith might occur.

We will be skeptical at times, just like the first disciples were, so we must attend to what the waves of faith reveal about how to keep sharing God’s good news in each time and place.

Our kids are a pretty good barometer of our ability to do both. If this faith community had not actively chosen to let go control and make room for kids to be kids and if we had not consistently chosen to say and demonstrate that the hope of God is for them to profess, Jerissa could never have been so comfortable at the table.

We have sincerely told Jerissa she is a disciple and so she acted as one.

From what I heard from worshippers after, sand that had been thirsting or totally dried out, was flooded with grace in that moment.

So walk through this life sharing God’s unconquerable hope with the confidence and welcome of a child. We will be asked to baptize along that Way. We may also find that the most important baptismal moments we experience is the renewal of our own.


[1] The names of children have been changed in accordance with our Safe Church and Media policies.

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