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11 June 2017 message – What we do in the name of the Trinity…

READINGS: Acts 1:1-8; Matthew 28:16-20

 Act 1:1  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach Act 1:2  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. Act 1:3  After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Mat 28:16  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. Mat 28:17  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Mat 28:18  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Mat 28:19  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, Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

MESSAGE:

Last week was Pentecost Sunday. Today is Trinity Sunday. The church has these days on which we are reminded of the foundation of our faith.

The passages we heard this evening are both to do with the last instructions that Jesus gave to his followers.

A number of things strike you when you read them. Luke’s first words in Acts are a good place to begin. Listen again:

Act 1:1  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach Act 1:2  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

And he records the direct words of Jesus too: 

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And then the words of Jesus in Matthew 28: Mat 28:19  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, Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Instructions and commands are not words we are used to. Except when you’ve been in the military – I know from experience that you simply act on instructions and commands when in the defence force. Or the police for example – or fire brigade.

But when it comes to church – we’re a bit more democratic. We love to debate and discuss things – to the extent that we sometimes miss our actual calling. We’re often too busy writing minutes and reports.

The key tasks remain. Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday remind us of them again:

  • You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

It’s more like a statement of fact!  – the natural consequence of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

  • And of course Mathew 28:19 – about making disciples of all nations

Mat 28:19  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).

The church is a missionary church – not only does it send people as missionaries to the ends of the earth – but in its Jerusalem – its home town – it is on a Mission:

One of the great theologians of the 20th century – Emil Brunner – had this to day about the mission of the church:

The Word and the World (1931)

The Word of God which was given in Jesus Christ is a unique historical fact, and everything Christian is dependent on it; hence every one who receives this Word, and by it salvation, receives along with it the duty of passing this Word on; just as a man who might have discovered a remedy for cancer which saved himself, would be in duty bound to make this remedy accessible to all. Mission work does not arise from any arrogance in the Christian Church; mission is its cause and its life. The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.

He goes on to talk about how this works:

It is a secondary question whether by that we mean Foreign Missions, or simply the preaching of the Gospel in the home Church. Mission, Gospel preaching, is the spreading out of the fire which Christ has thrown upon the earth. He who does not propagate this fire shows that he is not burning. He who burns propagates the fire. This ‘must’ is both things – an urge and a command. An urge, because living faith feels God’s purpose as its own.

And he reminds us about Paul who said: ‘Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.’ Brunner goes on to say:  Necessity is laid upon him. But also he ought to preach; with the gift he receives the obligation. ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel’. 

So how are our churches doing with these instructions from Jesus?

Here’s the truth. Most of our churches are more like clubs really. More energy is often spent on the places where we meet than the mission we’re on. Much more money too.

A story – a modern parable –  by Theodore Wedel illustrates our situation:

It was written in 1953 by the Rev. Dr. Theodore O. Wedel, a canon of the National Cathedral and one-time President of the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church. Like all good parables, though fictional, it is entirely truth-filled:

“On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little life-saving station grew.

“Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.

“Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical life-boat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.

“At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station. So they did.

 “As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.”

So what does that mean for us? For you and me?

It means that whoever we are and whatever stage of life we are at – we’re in Mission.

We are witnesses – one way or the other. Sometimes we are silent – which makes us rather poor bearers of the Good News. Sometimes we ourselves are bad news – which makes our testimony a little incongruous. We are bad witnesses.

I heard a great story at our Tuesday church last week of a woman who was stuck in traffic and got really mad at drivers cutting in in front of her – she was hooting her hooter and yelling and showing particular hand signals out the window. She did not notice the policeman in the car behind her who promptly arrested her. After some hours in jail the officer came and spoke to her apologetically. “Madam” he said, “with the stickers on your car that announced that Jesus is the way, and that God is love – and looking at your behaviour, I assumed you had stolen the car!”

Not a great witness!

If however we live in the fullness of the power of God – through the Father who pours out his gifts on us – through the Son who showed compassion and mercy and courage as He died for us – and through the Holy Spirit who transforms and empowers us – the natural outcome is that we are a witness.

  • We shine – we are portable lighthouses if you were – giving natural guidance.
  • God uses us to be a source of courage and faith to others – as we pray for them.
  • And most of all we are hopeful people – and hopeful people are very attractive.

Peter knew this – writing in His letter to a persecuted church:

1Pe 3:15  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

1Pe 3:16  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

May this be true of us.

 Amen.

 

Sunday sermon 12 April 2015 – The Great Commission

Readings: Matthew 28:16-20

Message.

So what do you make of this great commission? The ending of Matthew’s gospel reaches this climax.

Interesting that Jesus does not call it great or a commission. He does use the word “great” in relation to a commandment. I wonder if you can recall the one. Yes it is also in Matthew.

Mat 22:34  Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. Mat 22:35  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: Mat 22:36  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Mat 22:37  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’Mat 22:38  This is the first and greatest commandment.Mat 22:39  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Mat 22:40  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Loving God comes first. The second is loving your neighbour. Those are commandments. This is a commission. It’s a sending-out. In Matthew 9:37 Jesus speaks about the harvest being plentiful, and the workers few. They were to ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers out! In Matthew 10 he sends them out – as part of the answer to their prayer – on a kind of practice or training run.

Now the real thing. It is a great commission. There is an expansive and all-pervading angle on this passage. A simple outline of the Great Commission could make use of the word “all”: all authority … all nations … all things (he had commanded them)… and always. There are all these “alls”!

Are they famous last words? I think so. We have to take Jesus’ words seriously here as a post-resurrection and last word instruction and a handing over of the baton, if you like..

And the amazing thing is that the eleven disciples took it seriously. Despite their previous jumping ship. They went to where they were told to go (as instructed by women!). They were obedient enough to show up as instructed by Jesus through the Marys after their visit to the tomb on Easter Sunday, if you recall last week’s sermon.

They took the commission seriously too. We know this from the extent of their mission in history later on. Ten of the eleven disciples gave their lives in time for this cause.

They are in Galilee – on a mountain as instructed. There are good and bad ones when it comes to mountain top experiences in this Gospel account. The Mountain of temptation (Matthew 4:8) is tough. (Mat 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour). Then there is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 onward), the transfiguration of Jesus on a mountain (Matthew 17), the final discourse or teaching on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24 onward), and then, okay, the cross on mount Calvary (Calvary is the Latin for Golgotha which is the Aramaic for skull) –  wasn’t a great time (Matthew 27).

Now (in Matthew 28) they were meeting Jesus again on this Galilean mountain. And Matthew writes this telling line: Mat 28:17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

DOUBTING and GOING

The word for doubt here is interesting. It’s Distazo – to duplicate, to hesitate, to “stand in two places” – could it be like the modern idiom of sitting on the fence?

It’s only used twice in Matthew – guess where the other example is? Doubting Thomas? No. have a look:

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”  “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:27-31)

This is doubting Peter!

So what was this doubt all about? Interesting observations can be made about doubt.

Their doubts –

  • – could have been about who he was in terms of identity (he had been dead after all, and others battled to recognise him)
  • – could have been about who he was in terms of divinity (it must have been hard for Jewish men to worship a man in the light of their upbringing in monotheism).
  • – or perhaps they were simply grieving and muddled up in their minds.

Despite that, they are still the eleven men he gives this commission too. Tom Wright in his commentary on Matthew notes that there is no other plan for this task. Jesus has “all authority.”

Wright writes this: People get very puzzled by the claim that Jesus is already ruling the world, until they see what is in fact being said. The claim is not that the world is already completely as Jesus intends it to be. The claim is that he is working to take it from where it was– under the rule not only of death but of corruption, greed and every kind of wickedness –and to bring it, by slow means and quick, under the rule of his life-giving love.

And how is he doing this? Here is the shock: through us, his followers.

It is a great commission! It is “great” in terms of the extent of the job given to them. It is all-encompassing. And life changing for all.

WHAT IS THE MAIN POINT IN THIS SO-CALLED GREAT COMMISSION?

Actually – we need to look closer at the verses involved:

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.” Matthew 28:19-20

The most interesting word is the shortest. “Go!” Myron Augsburger says this: “Go there-fore,” under this authority, is even better translated, “Therefore, while going in the world, make disciples.” The emphasis in verse Mat_28:19 is on “making disciples,” this being the main verb of the verse; the others are subordinate: going, baptizing, teaching.

Yes- making disciples is the main verb. Do it while you are going. I would add wherever you are going! Augsburger continues: The word for “disciple” is mathēteuō, meaning a follower, a learner. As disciples we are always identifying with and learning from the Christ. Note that now they are not sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” but to the whole world, to all of the Gentiles, ethna, a universal mission of discipling. This is the beginning of Jesus’ reign, the sign that the Son of Man is in heaven.

I am curious about what would happen if we didn’t have Luke and Acts, that two-part work. Matthew does not speak about the ascension here. Simply about authority, and the commission. The task given to the followers of Jesus mean that he has done his bit – they are it! He has all authority – and therefore has every right to commissions us to do his work!

We are it! This is the first 11 if you like (using cricketing language). The All Blacks squad to play the world, if you like.

We are therefore to “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 we have the assurance: And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  It’s interesting that the Gospel in the very first chapter identifies Jesus as “Immanuel” – which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

The teaching is about obedience to the words of Jesus. In fact Paul speaks of obedience too in his discussion of the gospel in Romans 1, in the light of the authority of Jesus and his commission to his followers. Here it is:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—  the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures  regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. (Romans 1:1-5)

And we have the same apostolic mandate – we follow the teaching of the apostles.

Paul again in Ephesians says this:  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17-22)

This is not just a commission for preachers, evangelists, elders. We are all part of it!  Paul spells out how it was to work in his letter to Timothy: The key discipleship verse is this one: 2 Tim 2:2: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”

THE DISCIPLES HAD TO CHOOSE TO FOLLOW – despite their doubts – and they accepted the commission and challenge – ultimately giving their lives for this cause.

DOUBTING TODAY

Today many in church still doubt – or sit on the fence – when considering what the implications are for coming out as a follower of Jesus. We have lots of doubters in the church today – in the sense of the meaning here of the word – being in two places.

THE PERSECUTED CHURCH – and there a lots of Christians being killed every day – has to have nerves of steel and great courage to declare that they are followers of Jesus. Disciples. Under his tutelage. They would know, as we know, this passage from Matthew 10:32-33 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

Of course we know the bigger picture – in theory anyway. During these 40 days there were all these encounters with Jesus before his ascension – and of course his instruction to wait for the gift of the Father.

It was at Pentecost that the power fell – and the commission was launched with a bang – literal sound effects and fireworks. Tongues of fire and the sound of a mighty wind. We know this. This is the biggest part of the bigger picture.

We are commissioned – and empowered – if we respond to this today. And we are disciples too – learners who at the same time make other disciples and teach them as well.

Baptism is probably the public coming out signal and ceremony. In the name of God as we know him. And even into the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

How about it? Amen – you agree? Maybe. Depends. Well perhaps you need to get off the fence?

Amen.

PRAYER OF THE DAY

God of action, you sent your disciples into the world preach, teach, and make disciples of all nations. Make us instruments of proclamation, so that all might know of the love you have for humanity. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.