Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
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.’
On Making Disciples: Matthew 28:16-20
Last Friday afternoon, I fell in a lake. Not all the way in, thankfully, but far enough in to soak my shoes, socks, and my pants up to my knees. I had gone to Pilgrim Lodge's Jump Start weekend, a couple days at the beginning of the summer season where volunteers are invited to come out and help prepare the place for campers. I was trying to help Steve, the facilities manager, with a couple boat docks that he had towed into camp. I being very careful as I hopped from one to another, meeting Steve and tying off the docks. He headed out to pick up a couple more and I turned around to return to shore. I made it safely almost all the way back. When I just had one step left, I stepped out onto a rock and the rock moved. While I managed to not fall completely backwards into the water, I did slide into the Cobboseecontee. Most of me landed on dry ground, though, so it was pretty easy to get up begin to dry off. Some other folks who had come up from Brunswick helped me clean up and found a dryer to throw my socks and shoes into. They even offered me some cookies while we waited for our next assignment, which turned out to be sweeping the boardwalks that connect the cabins (an assignment that, thankfully, I could do pretty easily while barefoot).
Here's what I learned while sweeping and meeting more volunteers as they began to arrive. People love Pilgrim Lodge. It's not that I hadn't heard this before. It was one of the first, and more surprising, things I learned since becoming part of the Maine Conference. Pilgrim Lodge is more than a place to send your kids away to get them out of your hair for a week during the summer. This camp is a rich spiritual community... just one that includes silly songs and hiking and quiet walks in the labyrinth. One of the volunteers I met has come to Pilgrim Lodge 41 out of the last 42 years. He and a friend had come up from Wiscasset to help with the clean-up. Another volunteer reported that she has had just about every role possible at the camp "except for being a cook." She'd camped there as a kid, later becoming a teenage counselor-in-training, and then going on to be a counselor every summer. She won't be able to serve this summer because she is moving from South Paris to New York state. But, she assured me that she'd be back next year. She said, "This is worth coming back for." And, the folks who help me dry my socks: they come to PL regularly, having brought their kids and now their grandkids up to camp just as soon as they were old enough. In fact, most of the folks from their church who come to PL aren't actually the kids... it's the adults who make sure to come every year. This camp is church. They don't want to miss out.
Throughout this Easter season, I've been preaching from different Gospel stories about Jesus' appearances to his followers after the resurrection. I have preached from Luke, John, and, today, from Matthew. I think each of these stories can teach the modern day Body of Christ something a about how to be a follower of Christ in a post-resurrection world. I've been telling some other post-resurrection stories, too, more modern stories about places that I think Jesus has been showing up here in Maine. From emergency shelters downeast to Heifer projects down south to coastal cooking classes, the Body of Christ has been busy. The Body of Christ has been busy at Pilgrim Lodge, too, this time doing one particular type of Gospel work, that is, going out and inviting others into discipleship. But, what exactly do we mean by discipleship?
In Matthew, we know that discipleship is important because Jesus' final command to his 11 remaining disciples is to go and invite others to follow him. Though some doubted, when he saw the disciples, he called all of them to continue his mission on earth. This passage is often called the Great Commission. The Eleven are to go and teach others what they have learned from Jesus. They are not to let old ethnic and religious conflicts keep them from engaging with people different from them. They are to fling wide the doors of the Gospel, and go into all the nations, inviting all the people, expanding the Body of Christ. While this may seem to be a big job, Jesus assures them that they will be able to do it. He's going to help. He said, "I am with you always, to the end of the age." They won't be doing this alone.
We haven't read Matthew together in a while, so it might be helpful to have a short overview of what Jesus taught in the Gospel, especially since the disciples are supposed to teach this to other people. Central to Jesus' ministry in Matthew is healing the sick, blessing the poor and poor in spirit, caring for those who mourn, making peace, and being pure in heart. Jesus also commanded his followers to adhere to the heart to the law, to offer forgiveness, and to love abundantly. He said to pursue justice but favor mercy. He taught his followers to be kind to children and to people who were oppressed. He said to love your enemies, too. Oh, he also said not to love money more than you love God. Oh, worship... worship is important, too. The disciples remembered that part. That's what they did when they saw him after the Resurrection. With his final words, his great commission, he sent them out to teach the world all the rest.
And, aren't we glad they did? We would not be here had those remaining eleven disciples not gone forth and expanded the Body of Christ. Now, throughout history, people who have claimed to follow Jesus have often fallen far from his teachings. Our discipleship has often needed a reorientation back towards the rich, compassionate, loving discipleship outlined by Jesus in the book of Matthew. I think that this reconnection with the work of Jesus, this recharging of discipleship, is a primary role of Pilgrim Lodge. I think they help make a lot of new disciples, too. I think that Pilgrim Lodge helps people grow as disciples through a couple of different means. First, they invite people to reconnect to nature, reminding us that heaven and earth were closely connected through creation. Part of our calling as Christians is reconnect this Earth to the Divine with the help of the Holy Spirit. Remember, here in Matthew, Jesus reconnected with his disciples on a mountain. Modern day disciples can reconnect with Jesus by the lakeside.
Secondly, people live together, experiencing what PL calls the "joy of giving and receiving love." The camp works to foster helpful, caring relationships. Fellowship, recreation, and worship all help to build these relationships, reconnecting people to one another as the Body of Christ. Real healing, mercy, and joy happen here, around campfires, on the tree swings, and even on those slippery docks that I was helping tie in. Thirdly, the camp operates with a spirit of openness. Doubts are welcome here, just like they were among the first disciples. Questions are encouraged. Critical thinking is understood to be a vital part of the Christian journey. It is not expected that all people report the same experience with God, just that all people strive for openness to the Holy Spirit and the grace of Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Anne Roundy shared a PL story with me that I think highlights the Great Commission work that happens at camp. She worked once as a high school counselor. The kids were surprised and frustrated with a rule change that the deans had made. As an exercise in Christian community, Rev. Anne encouraged the campers to go to the deans and lovingly share their concerns. Guided by their commitments to Christly community, the counselors and deans listened to the campers. Ultimately, after much communal discernment, they decided to change the rule in light of the concerns shared by the teens. One of the campers later came up to Anne to ask if she was ok. She said, yes, why? He worried that by helping them stand up for themselves, she might have incurred the ire of the other counselors. She hadn't, of course. The conversations they had all had had been guided by commitments to stay in conversation even when they disagreed. And, yet, this young man had been concerned for someone's well-being other than his own. Isn't that a bit of discipleship showing up, right in the midst of healthy conflict. This empathy is certainly a great foundation for his development as an adult and as a Christian. This is surely this is a reminder that Christ is in this place. I am also struck by the willingness of the counselors to take the teens concerns seriously. That sure sounds like the love of children that Jesus encouraged.
Now, you don't have to go to camp to be a disciple. As I talked about with the kids earlier today, discipleship is something you can practice every day. In fact, we are called to continually go out beyond the bounds we construct to restrict ourselves, and find others who will help us build the Body of Christ just a little bit bigger. Maybe your practice of discipleship will look like time spent empowering teenagers. Maybe it will be helping a stranger dry offer her soaking shoes. However, it looks, I hope you'll be attentive to the ways that you are following the Great Commission this week. Jesus gave us one job, to go out and invite others to build the Body of Christ with us. Let's make sure that take the risk of going out to build this Body. Even if we fall in the lake, the Body of Christ will be there, ready to help us dry off and make sure we have some lunch. After all, that's what this Body is here for.
Resources Pastor Chrissy consulted when writing this sermon:
Eric Barreto: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2422
Stanley Saunders: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2097
Craig R. Koester: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=936
Stanley Saunders: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2097
Richard Beaton: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=86
The Mission of Pilgrim Lodge: http://www.pilgrimlodge.org/mission.html
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.