The Great Commission

Matthew 28:16-20

Gracious God – bless now the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts. Breath your Spirit into us and grant that we may hear and in hearing be led in the way you want us to go. Amen.

I want to say how very happy I am to be standing here, preaching in the church that I consider my ‘home’ when I am not preaching and serving in other parts of the Diocese. Saint John’s has always held a warm spot in my heart. And I am honored that Father Philip has asked that I participate in the preaching rotation.

However, when I realized that this was Trinity Sunday, I felt a little like a joke had been played on me. Of all the Sundays in the year, this is probably the most difficult to preach on because the concept of the Trinity and the concept of ‘three-in-one’ is hard enough to understand for those of us trained in theology. The church fathers have spent almost a thousand years trying to reach agreement on the doctrine. There seems to be a standing tradition among clergy that the ‘newbies’ gets to preach on Trinity Sunday and try to explain that doctrine to the congregations. . . one of those rites of passage we all have to go through in our development as clergy.

When I was reading and researching the readings for today, I realized that although the Trinity is an important doctrine of the church, I believe the five lines of the Gospel we heard have a much more significant and important message for me, and for all of us. These five lines are commonly known as “The Great Commission”.

I am willing to bet however that most of us today, when we hear the “Great Commission” feel neither inspired nor encouraged but instead guilty. Why? Because on a daily basis we do not perceive ourselves as called to bear witness to our faith and, even more, we don’t really know how to do so. So when we hear Jesus’ very clear instructions we are reminded of one very important thing – we should, but regularly do not do – if we are to be counted as Christians.

The Great Commission inspired Jesus’ followers so much that they took Him seriously and went thousands of miles from their homes to tell the then know world about His amazing life, and his unique and culture-shattering teachings.

If we feel guilty about this verse with its explicit words of commissioning, how often do other elements of the worship service, like the Eucharist and Peace, that implicitly invite us to share our faith or send us into the world to bear witness to Christ create that same uncomfortable sensation?

So how do we do it?

Do we hand out Bibles to strangers? Do we have to preach on street corners? Do we have to go to Africa and
spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and baptize people in rivers? These are certainly obvious ways, and if one feels called to Africa or preaching scripture to strangers, I am not one to question their motives. But I do not believe these are the only ways. We cannot all stand on street corners or go to Africa. Some – most – must stay – raising their children, making the world through their businesses and professions. Can you and I, here in Worthington, Ohio truly convert, spread the Gospel and witness on a daily basis?

My friends in Christ, I believe this is the really hard part of the Great Commission – to witness to our families and co-workers, to convert our friends, our neighbors, people we meet on a daily basis to the teachings of Jesus.

We learn to witness by practicing it – quietly with our friends and neighbors.

    • We can practice telling people what God has done for us. Perhaps preparing by memorizing scripture – verses that mean a lot to you.
    • We can pray for guidance and be confident that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will know what to do and say when needed.
    • Finally, we can be awake and look for opportunities to share that witness.

The witness of our lives is very important too. Words are important, but they are empty if they are not words that come out of the way we are living. Actions speak louder than words; we must ‘walk the walk to talk the talk’.

Jesus said,

    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.(Matthew 28:19)

We do not go out to make disciples based on our own abilities or authority. We go forth with the truth and power of the words of Jesus. The Bible says that ‘out of the mouths of babes’ comes praise. Like babes, it is God’s power, not our ability that makes us effective. So we are not sent out alone. Jesus told us that God would send the Holy Spirit to be with us. . .and He does!

Jesus doesn’t want us running all over the place telling about him. Notice, he doesn’t just want us baptizing everyone we see. Notice he doesn’t just want us to teach others to follow him. He wants us to do all three!

    Go, baptize, and teach to obey so they will be my disciples (Matthew 28:19)

If we heed these marching orders, if we get out of the shadow of our church buildings and culture, He will go with us! That’s it. That’s Jesus’ one last word. It’s also our first word!

Jesus clearly said, “This is your job. Go do it!”

And how can we do it?

We can witness of our lives:

    • Living the ways Jesus taught – truly living the ways of Christ to all we touch – families, friends, strangers
    • Living with love, joy , forgiveness, compassion, patience, acceptance
    • Standing boldly for peace, fairness, inclusion, generosity,
    • ‘Turning the other cheek’
    • ‘Loving as we wish to be loved’
    • ‘Being our brother’s keeper’

EACH AND EVERY DAY!

There are four easy steps to being a witness for Christ:

    First, we can tell the story. The love and glory of Jesus did not end with His death. By His resurrection, he conquered death. What better proclamation can we make to the world than that?

    Secondly, we need to share wealth – not only monetary wealth, but also our time and talents. The saying ‘They will know we are Christians by our love’ is so true. We can spread love and kindness to counteract the world’s greed and violence.

    Thirdly, we can work to heal divisions. The world is ravaged over things that further hatred between peoples. At the local, state, federal and national levels people fight about things that, in the big picture, have very little meaning. Each of us needs to work within our community and our world to help mediate those differences and bring people together.

    Lastly, go beyond your comfort level – reach those you normally would not talk to. Never miss a change to tell everyone you see about the love of Jesus and how belief in Him has changed your life.

Jesus said ‘GO!”

GO! therefore, with the power of God and the Love of Christ.

GO! and show people in your lives the goodness and greatness of God. Tell them with you lips the way God has taken care of you. And know that on this Trinity Sunday, that God’s Spirit is both with you to help with The Great Commission – and that He is with you until the end of the age.

Jesus didn’t say go near and far and tell people about His message. He didn’t just say ‘Tell them and follow me and they will have eternal life’, nor were we just told to baptize all nations. We were commissioned to do all three!!

Let us pray:

Almighty God, I know you sent Jesus so the world could be saved. I know that means more than just hearing about Jesus. I know you want people to be true followers, to be disciples. So forgive us, Father, for the times we have procrastinated because we worried the job was too big, too hard, too personally demanding or we were unprepared. We will try to be more excited and generous with sharing the Gospel with others in this coming year. We know as we do, Jesus will go with us. So may this next year be to your glory and to Jesus’ honor and praise! In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

 
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Worthington, OH 19 June 2011

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