Tag Archive | Matthew 28:16-20

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

Get Engaged

Luke 1:57-80

What an important feast of the nativity of John the Baptist we celebrate today! And what powerful readings! The feast of John the Baptist’s birth is not high on most people’s list for an observance. In fact, it is probably little noticed by most people. But its importance stands nonetheless. It was John who paved the way for his cousin, Jesus, to gather disciples and preach the Gospel. John’s preaching and baptizing became a prophetic symbol of the world to come, the fulfillment of the Scriptures.

As members of the body of Christ, like John WE are endowed with a prophetic calling. We are to proclaim and to show with the way we live our lives that existence has purpose and meaning. In the midst of seeming darkness and desolation, God brought John, the greatest of prophets, to prepare the way of the Lord, and like Saint John, we are to continue announcing the prophetic word, which awakens all people. Like St. John, we are commissioned to lead an anxious and searching humanity to the fullness of a life serving God.

We have been called to be God’s people in tough times of transition. For some reason only known to God, the Father has placed us in a time of upheaval, danger, confusion, conflict, disappointment, and division. Those who are called to lead others to Jesus are often criticized, belittled, and scorned. They feel alone and are often tempted to give up in their long trek to lead God’s people to God’s light. This is where Biblical stories, as well as our own story as a Christian, speak to us and give us strength to carry on our journey.

We are told in Scripture to do what Jesus did:

Prepare a way for the Lord. (Matthew 3:3)

How are we to prepare for the Lord? How do we engage Christians and non-Christians in this preparation for Jesus’ coming again? How do we help those who are currently living in darkness or hopelessly struggling to become communities of Christians who embrace the teachings of Jesus.

As we spend this time together this weekend learning about developing and fostering engaged communities, we have to ask ourselves:

    How has God blessed your life?
    How is God transforming your life?
    What do you think is God’s desire for your life?
    What are the signs of a committed disciple of Jesus Christ?
    What are signs of an engaged community?

What can we do to help create those engaged communities?

1. We need to pray.

    Forty-five times the gospels tell us that Jesus went alone to pray. Every aspect of his life and ministry was saturated with prayer. The Bible tells us to

    pray unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

    We can receive guidance and assurance by developing a daily routine of prayer.

2. We need to embrace the outcasts, disenfranchised, forgotten, neglected.

    Jesus demonstrated the love of God by accepting all the undesirables of society. We need to prophesy not only to those who profess to be Christians, but to those that society has forgotten or rejected.

3. We need to assure people that God can restore broken lives.

    By the power of God’s Spirit, Jesus cast out demons (Luke 4:36), healed broken bodies (Luke 5:17), raised the dead (John 11:1-44), and forgave the sins of the guilty (Matthew 9:6). Jesus knew we have a wonder-working God who delights in restoring lives that seem irrevocably shattered. Jesus saw the people around him as miracles waiting to happen. Jesus proved that God’s power is sufficient to meet every need. And the Scriptures promise us that the same power will work in and through our lives today (Philippians 2:13).

4. We need to confront hypocrisy.

    Jesus demonstrated the heart of God by standing against lifeless religion, ‘religious’ people in name but not in heart. Jesus rejected those who acted in the name of God to hurt others. We need to speak out against those who claim ‘their God’ is full of compassion but profit from the oppressed or rail in words of hatred and guilt.

5. We need to teach God’s Word.

    Unless we don’t stand in a pulpit on Sunday or lead a study group during the week, Many of us do not consider ourselves teachers. We may be tempted to think this commandment to teach from The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) that we heard last Sunday doesn’t apply to us. But teaching simply requires being so filled with God’s Word that it naturally overflows from our lives into the lives of those around us.

6. We must serve.

    Service marked Jesus’ life from start to finish. He served through sacrifice, putting the needs of others above his own. Sometimes we feel so overwhelmed that we don’t have time for people. But God’s work is people! His business is helping a homeless couple find shelter before nightfall. His business is praying with a child for her sick kitty and reading the Bible with a new Christian. His business is pushing a stalled car through the intersection or taking that midnight phone call from a struggling friend.

7. We must equip leaders

    We must provide the support and love to inspire and foster leaders who continue the Christian mission in the world. Following Jesus means passing on the Scriptures to potential leaders, modeling a Christ-focused life and ministry, and helping people identify and prepare for the mission God has designed for them.

So where do we begin?

We must seek the strength and wisdom from God to help equip those around us to do his work: to restore, confront, teach and serve.

For example:

    Could you and your children learn to serve the lonely, elderly man at the end of your block—the one the rest of the neighborhood kids avoid? Maybe your son could cut his lawn and rake his leaves. Maybe your daughter could become friends with someone everyone else isolates. Maybe you could take a dinner to someone who is shut-in. That would be like Jesus.

    Could you go and visit a colleague who has been diagnosed with cancer? Would you be willing to brave the hospital with its strange smells and sobering realities? Could you even overcome the discomfort of knowing it will seem odd if you show up there because you’re not close friends? Could you do this because Jesus said that when we visit the sick, we visit him?

    Could you invite someone who is not from your church or your family over for a meal? What if they sat at your table and you broke bread together, and you learned about them, you listened to them, and you offered them acceptance—even friendship? If this sounds uncomfortable to you, pursue it. Christ lives there.

Being a community that reflects Jesus means we cross the boundaries between our world and the world of the other, the one who is unlike us. It means we remember that our invitation into the kingdom of God was not a call to elitism or safety. It was, and is, a call to enter into an embrace of those who are the furthest from us.
It’s a call to emulate Jesus in the way he lived His life.

Jesus’ brother, James, reminds us to put our thoughts and good intentions to work:

Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone. Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, “Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well” — but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all — it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds. “I say, “I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.” Do you still think it’s enough just to believe that there is one God? Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror! Fool! When will you ever learn that faith that does not result in good deeds is useless? (James 2:14-20)

As children of God we are part of God’s ultimate purposes wherever we are. It is a beautiful thing when we as individuals, like Joseph and Zechariah, catch a glimpse of ourselves in the divine picture, seeing our life experiences as part of God’s plan. This perspective is often encountered when reading the autobiographical accounts of those who have undergone great suffering, such as Nelson Mandela, who endured the struggles of apartheid and imprisonment; Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust; and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who withstood Stalin’s Gulag and exile. Knowing we are involved in God’s purposes enables us to see the deeper meaning of life’s challenges, nurturing a more holistic perspective.

Every one of us is intricately related to the working out of God’s ultimate purposes. And catching an awareness of how our lives are involved in God’s bigger purposes can provide tremendous meaning and hope in the midst of the hardships life presents.

Let us pray:

Father, we know that your Son poured out the Holy Spirit upon us when we became a Christian. We know your Spirit lives in us so we ask that you make us strong in that Spirit. We thank you for choosing every day human beings to be your vessels through whom your work is done. May your will and your character take shape in our lives as the Holy Spirit has more influence and control of our will. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 
 
Delivered at Ohio Episcopal Celebration @ Kenyon, Gambier, OH 24 June 2011