I wonder if there is a spot that has a special place in your heart? Perhaps it the house you grew up in, the small town where you are from, a favorite camping or hiking spot, or somewhere a significant event in your life occurred, such as an engagement. It would be a place where just coming back to that spot brings back memories, stirs your emotions, and takes you back to a certain time or place.  Or it could be a place that as soon as you get there, you have this warm, comfortable feeling of being “home.” This may sound odd to some of you, but being that I am a city boy, I’d have to say that the place that feels most like “home” and brings back memories is the intersection of 80th and Sheridan. Yes, I will confess it’s a bit strange to me too that those intersecting streets and the surrounding area seem meaningful to me, but it’s true. Whenever I drive through that part of town—and especially on the rare occasion on stop at the King Soopers—it brings back a rush of memories and emotions.

From my high school years until very recently, my family lived just south of 80th Avenue on Lamar St. As a teenager, I went to church near Pomona high school. I remember going with my friends to pick out a movie to watch at the Blockbuster Video on Wadsworth; the place always had an odd smell. Many a summer evening I ran around Lake Arbor with my dog Toby. Countless times Corinna and I had dinner at the Taco Bell. And Corinna and I lived in a small townhome near the railroad tracks for four years. But beyond just memories, being there stirs my emotions. When my wife and I lived there, we were both students, living off low-paying jobs, navigating the challenges of work and school, and dreaming of a better life in the far-off future. While I now live in a far bigger suburban home and drive a better car, in many ways I still feel like the young man scraping by, trying to build a better life for himself and his family. If you asked me what was my hometown, I would point to that certain area on a map. What or where is that place for you?

In our reading from the book of Matthew today, Jesus and the disciples find themselves at just such a place. In the book of Matthew, mountains are an important setting. Matthew wasn’t simply describing the scenery but highlighting important parts of the story by “elevating” them throughout.[1] The disciples had meaningful experiences on mountains in Matthew’s story, such as the Feeding of the 5,000, the Sermon on the Mount, the Transfiguration, and this event which is commonly called “The Great Commission.” Based on their past experiences, the disciples should have known something significant was going to take place when Jesus told them to “meet me on the mountain.” Important things happened on mountains. And if anything, hiking up to the top of the mountain, the disciples would have had a rush of memories and feelings flooding back to them, just as I have whenever I’m back in my old neighborhood.

Some commentators think that was the whole point of Jesus having them meet him on a mountain was so that the disciples would be reminded of the important events and teachings of Jesus that took place on a mountain; especially the Sermon on the Mount, which are uniquely connected.[2] In verse 20, the end of the book of Matthew, and the last instruction Jesus gives, he tells his disciples to teach people  everything he had taught them. What exactly had he taught them? Well, think back to that other important event that happened on a mountain, the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus gave some of his most memorable—and perhaps most important teachings. On that mountain, the disciples were told about the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and so on. On that mountain, they were told to be salt and light, advised against certain wrongful actions, implored to love their enemies and help the needy, taught how to pray (“Our Father…”), given spiritual advice, and told to look out for bad leaders. It was the most significant section of teaching in the entire book of Matthew, and when Jesus was having the disciples meet him on a mountain for one last piece of advice, he wanted the memories of the Sermon the Mount to be resonating in their hearts and minds.

Not only did Jesus want the teachings from the Sermon on the Mount to be resonating in the disciples’ minds as they made their way up the mountain, but Matthew also wanted them to be resonating in our minds as we read this passage ourselves.  As I mentioned earlier, this section of scripture, especially verses 19-20, are commonly referred to as “The Great Commission.” Countless sermons have been preached about “going to tell other people about Jesus.” When I was in Bible college, I heard message after message imploring me to “go, go, go” with the pastor  sounding more like a cheerleader imploring his team on to victory. And in many ways, that’s a silly yet in other ways appropriate example; for when being a Christian is simply going and telling others about Jesus, the goal of Christianity is basically about trying to build the biggest fan base and going to church is like going to a sporting event to root for your favorite team.

A couple weeks back, I went with a friend to a Rockies game. At the stadium, people were all decked out in Rockies attire, wearing hats and jerseys, waving flags and big foam fingers. And, being that the Rockies are pretty good this year, there was a large, engaged crowd. Doesn’t it seem like this is what Christianity has become? Like, “hey, we’ve got the best team, come root for Jesus.” And along with being a fan, we can get our Team Jesus memorabilia!  Shirts, hats, bumper-stickers, and so on! We can regularly gather together to cheer for our favorite team with the entertainment value equivalent to an actual sporting event. Being a fan of Jesus is essentially no different than being a fan of the Rockies. “Hey, our Team Jesus is off to a great start this year! You should come cheer him on with us. We’ve got the best fan experiences and the best entertainment—you can even get some free Team Jesus swag just for coming!”

I’m reminded of a book by author Kyle Idleman titled, Not a Fan.  He says, the Dictionary defines a fan as “an enthusiastic admirer.” Fans want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires sacrifice. Fans may be fine with repeating a prayer, attending church on the weekend, and slapping a Jesus fish on their bumpers, but is that really what Jesus wants? Was Jesus simply telling the disciples to go recruit more fans so we can have the biggest team? Is that all that being a follower of Jesus is about? Building a bigger fan base?

Here’s the thing. In our Bibles, we see the word, “go,” and it’s written in a way that it’s the most important thing. “Go, go, go” I heard many a times in Bible college—and you wonder where I get the idea that following Jesus is like rooting for your favorite team! A more accurate translation of this passage would be, “while you are on your way,” or “why you are doing what you’re always doing,” teach people what I have taught you. And what had Jesus taught? Those wonderful words from the Sermon on the Mount.

While we live our normal, day to day lives; buying groceries, going to the doctor, dropping the kids off at school, or whatever you do most days—while you do it—encourage the people around you to live like Jesus taught. Teach people to be a positive light in the midst of negativity, to help the needy, to love their enemies, and to avoid the things which ultimately harm them. Basically, while we live our lives like Jesus, we’re supposed to help others do the same. Being a Christian is less about wearing the jersey, rooting for the team, and attending all the home games—and more about encouraging people to care about those who are poor, reminding them to show love to people different from them, and to be a positive light in the midst of so much negativity. And in doing so, people will want become Christians themselves!

So to me, I’m far less concerned about numbers and crowd size than others. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see our church grow just like any church wants to grow, but numbers aren’t necessarily a sign of true commitments. The world of sports has become obsessed with numbers to the point that there is a statistic for nearly any action that happens on the field of play—yet still it seems impossible to quantify the true character and commitment of a player. In the same way, attending church doesn’t make one a Christian any more than being in a garage makes one a car. This isn’t about fandom, this is about following the life and teachings of Jesus and helping others do the same.

So, while you are on your way, while you are about your normal business, while you are doing what you already do, teach people to be a positive light in the midst of negativity, encourage them help the needy and love their enemies, and advise them to avoid the things which ultimately harm them. And, as you continue to model a different way of living, people will become attracted to your way of living and you can tell them, “I live this way because I follow Jesus, and I’m part of a group that gets together and supports one another in our journey together. Why don’t you join us—I bet you’d like it.” It’s not about adding more fans, it’s about teaching others to become committed followers of Jesus through doing what we already do. While we are on our way, doing what we already do, let’s live like Jesus and help others do the same.

 

[1] Volschenk, Gert. “Review article: The mountain motif in the plot of Matthew” HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies [Online], Volume 66 Number 1 (3 September 2010)

[2] L. Mark Davis, “Galilean Rendezvous,” http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/

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