This is a sermon I wrote for Trinity Sunday while still in seminary. The Gospel lesson was Matthew 28:16-20. I offer it now in the hopes that it helps us all get in the right spirit for worship this Sunday.
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Ellis [my father-in-law and Anglican priest] once gave me an anecdote about a former Rector of his. This Rector used to joke with Ellis about Trinity Sunday by saying that Trinity Sunday was the one day of the year that he would always ask a seminarian to preach. Why? It would help him or her earn their theological chops! And guess what? I am preaching today and I am in seminary – thank you for that!
All joking aside, I think that Jesus’ words in Matthew 28 have great significance for us as a church plant, but I also think they have been taken out of context and/or misinterpreted. As with any passage, in my opinion, our first task is to look at the text.
Verse 16 clues us into the fact the disciples, as we have known them in the rest of the Gospel accounts, are incomplete – there are only 11 after Judas’ betrayal and subsequent suicide. That will need to be remedied in Acts. But the disciples have gone to the prescribed place in obedience to Jesus’ command after having enjoyed 40 days with him on earth after the Resurrection.
Thus the disciples gather and Jesus meets them there. The text says that some worshipped and some doubted; more on this later, but for now please notice that neither response in condemned or condoned necessarily. Have you ever heard that in a church before? Doubt is okay…for now.
In verse 18 we begin to get into the meat. Jesus says, “All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to him.” This is a robust statement. Jesus has been given the authority from God to reign and rule over all things. God had already spoken two words over Jesus – first at the baptism and second at the Transfiguration – of loving approval. But now we see that Jesus has been entrusted with an overwhelming, all-encompassing authority. Why does he say this? This is the background to his next claim, or commission, but it also shows that in Jesus God has answered all of his promises with a “yes.” Jesus is about to ascend to God’s right hand, the typical seat of power, to reign over all and Jesus is sharing that this reality has significance for the disciples. That is, if they are to minister in his name then they do so with his authority which is really God’s authority.
Verse 18 informs verse 19 and we know this because Jesus then says, “Therefore.” Based on his authority he is commissioning the disciples to action. Dietrich Bonheoffer, in “Discipleship” posits that we follow Jesus because he has the authority to call us. The same is true of this commissioning. We obey Jesus because he has the authority to command and commend us.
This is the verse that is grossly mistranslated by some Christians to be God’s authoritative word for and on overseas missionary work. It all has to do with how we translate the word “Go.” Those who affirm the view I just mentioned translated this word as “Go!” and therefore a command to physically go somewhere else. However, the Greek does not agree with this view. The right translation of this word would be something like “as you are going.” Jesus is calling the disciples to obedience in the totality of their lives and to the task of baptizing and making disciples in all that they do. As you go to the grocery store make disciples. As you go to pick up your child from school, teach all that I have commanded. The significance of this verse is that it is not a call to a one-time event but to a life-time reality. I hope you can already see how this bears much weight for us as a church plant.
And now, being Trinity Sunday, we need to look at the name into which and by which all are baptized: in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the name that we will worship for eternity, the everliving reality of the triune God. The imagery and meaning of this phrase cannot be quenched over a lifetime, let alone a 20-minute sermon, but suffice it to say that in this phrase Jesus is combining, encapsulating and making voluminous the mighty deeds, acts and stories of God through Israel’s history, his own life, death, and resurrection, and the promise of the Holy Spirit in one phrase. This phrase is bursting at the seams with life and power.
Finally, Jesus gives the assurance to the disciples that YHWH gave to Moses and Joshua. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is what YHWH said to Israel’s leaders, and Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We cannot separate Jesus from Israel’s story because he is the fulfillment of the promise and the climax of the covenant.
But what does this mean for us today, in Mission Viejo, CA as a community of light, love and expectation? It means a great deal!
First, we have been invited to participate in the mutually-indwelling, overflowing with abundant love and life of the triune God. As Jesus extends his authority via commission he is also extending an invitation to participation. This is the covenant relationship to which we have been restored. The power, beauty and majesty of the Trinity are life and love. Ministry apart from or outside of the Trinity is not ministry but social work. To fulfill this commission as we are going is to live life with God and in his presence, drawing our words and actions from his unrelenting love, and inviting others into that relationship.
Second, there are only two responses to God: worship or doubt. A response outside of worship is unequivocally a response of doubt. Worship is the goal but doubt is not to be discouraged on the journey toward true worship. Thomas doubted before he could proclaim “My Lord and my God!” However, once Thomas had placed his hands in Jesus’ hand and side the time for doubt had ceased and the time of worship had begun. As we call people to the triune God we must discourage their doubt and force them into submission under Christ. No! God was all of us, every fiber of our being, and that does not happen over night. Even the prophets and the judges went through periods of doubt, but it is in those seasons that we must pray for the strength to still say, “But I know that my redeemer lives.” Embrace doubt only as it relates to and leads to worship. Worship is the lifestyle of the disciple, of one who serves the triune God. We cannot help but worship once we have encounter God in his throne room, his majesty and his glory.
Finally, and of great importance to those seeking out the Anglican expression of the Christian tradition, Jesus tells us exactly what to teach and preach. We are handed down (paradosis/paralambano) the teaching and tradition of Jesus. As Anglicans we uphold Apostolic Succession and can trace our episcopacy right back to this very moment in history – Matthew 28 – via Peter. Jesus’ inclusion of baptism by name and Eucharist by “all that I have taught” has been preserved and handed down over two centuries. Our Book of Common Prayer, though human words, is basically Scripture being prayed back to God. Our very gathering tonight, with the use of liturgy, is way of retelling and reenacting the story of God and the basis for this are Jesus’ words in Matthew. We are not making anything up on our own but continuing that which was handed down to us over the past two millennia.
Participation, worship and ongoing tradition are the call to this Anglican church plant and are part of the life of the triune God. We have been drawn up into a story that is ours but that is much bigger than us and we have been given a new identity. Like the disciples atop the hillside in Matthew 28 we are being commissioned this day to go into the world “telling the Good News to neighbors and strangers with compassionate words and creative service, walking the way of Christ.” The initiation is to a journey that is a lifestyle. As you are going. As we are going together. Let us lift high the name of the triune God and invite others into that covenant relationship. Amen? Amen!
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