I experienced Urbana as a college student. I experienced two Urbanas as an InterVarsity Press employee. I experienced Urbana 12 as a 2100 team member, arriving at InterVarsity’s National Service Center to start my job as a writer and editor just two months before the Conference. But for Urbana 15, I’ll be at the NSC for the whole Urbana planning process and am getting to see the Urbana team in action from the very beginning.
I’m a little excited.
Urbana profoundly influenced my life as a college junior. But Urbana’s influence on me started long before that, as my grandparents, parents, and older sister were all deeply impacted by the Urbanas they attended as well. Though no one ever prophesied over me that I would one day go to Urbana, it was a given.
And, if anything, my brief behind-the-scenes look at the Urbana 12 planning process only increased the love I have for this unique conference and the respect I have for those who plan it.
In particular, I love that Scripture is central to every piece of Urbana.
Urbana 15 is no exception. While most of us are thinking about sun and warm weather, the end of another school year, sun, new flip-flops, vacation, and sun, the Urbana 15 team has already been hard at work praying and studying the Bible together, among other things.
For Urbana 15, they’ve discerned God’s leading to the book of Matthew.
I’m a little excited.
Scandal, salt, divorce, storms, fruit, hypocrisy, healing, and goats—Matthew covers it all. As Craig Keener explains in his commentary, the Jewish Christians Matthew was writing to were facing hostility from society, judgment from a group of hypocritical Pharisees who were (loudly) misrepresenting the gospel in serious ways, and their own inadequacy in spreading God’s kingdom on earth.
In some ways, it’s not so different from what we face today.
In the midst of these challenges, what hope and direction does Matthew offer? The hope of Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus takes center stage in Matthew’s Gospel from beginning to end, as does his call to radical discipleship for all who would follow him.
That is what Jesus still calls his followers to. And it’s a weighty, costly call. But it’s also one that’s full of joy due to the words of Jesus Matthew ends his book with:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go 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 I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (28:18-20)
The early Church father Chrysostom said of these verses: “After that, because he had enjoined on them great things, to raise their courage he reassures them that he will be with them always, ‘even to the end of the world.’”
Our prayer for Urbana 15 is that God would speak to us through Matthew about the “great things” we’re called to, the places he wants us to go. But we pray, as well, that he would “raise our courage” as we’re together, that we might go out from St. Louis empowered to live beautiful, bold, obedient lives that spread his kingdom to every corner of the earth.