Friday, June 23, 2017

Go, Teach, Baptize

Matthew 28: 16-20
It is Trinity Sunday and the earliest ‘formula’ for even thinking about the Trinity is in the Gospel of Matthew.  But rather than focusing on what or how the Trinity really works – that’s waaay too doctrinal for a sunny Sunday morning after a busy and very strawberry infested Saturday so I want to focus on what is called the ‘Great Commission’ which is also part of this morning’s scripture reading.  The Trinity is of course important to our faith because that’s what makes us uniquely Christian as opposed to being Unitarian, Buddhist or Jews.  But the great commission is why Christianity is still alive today as one of the world’s faith traditions.

Today’s scripture comes from the end of the Gospel of Matthew. The women who followed Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, have come to the empty tomb looking for Jesus.  After much rumbling of an earthquake they come to find an angel parked at the tomb instead.  The angel tells them to run and tell the disciples that Jesus has been raised to life and that he would meet them up in Galilee.  And so following celestial orders they run back and are met by Jesus who also lets them know that they should meet him up in the Galilee region.  Galilee was home to these fisher men. I find it reassuring that Jesus wanted to meet them up in their old familiar place. So let’s pick up the Gospel of Matthew, the 28th chapter.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is not a lot of passage but it packs a punch for its buck.  After the disciples get themselves back home in the Galilee and to the mountain Jesus directed them to…Godly things always happen on mountains in the Bible….they finally saw Jesus and they worshipped him.  This was the first time that they had seen their risen Lord and they were happy to see him and probably fell to their knees and prayed. But also scripture says, some doubted.  Funny how Matthew sticks this little bit of information in there.  Some weren’t sure of all this and some had reservations as to how this could be.  Jesus was dead and now he is alive.

There are probably a few of us who have some uncertainty to as to this resurrection story or any part of Jesus’ story.  Right after college I went to talk with my pastor because I thought that I was sensing a call to missionary work.  Well after much soul searching I realized that I had some doubts of my own about this whole Jesus thing and really didn’t want to tell that ‘old, old story’, or be a witness in the world.  Obviously that has changed, God brought me down few notches right to where God needed me to be and now I love to talk about, to preach and to live that ‘old, old story of Jesus and his love’ because the truths that lie within and the hope for my life and my living are all contained in them. 

So doubt is ok, we can still tell our stories of faith, it may not be as overt as a preacher but any way you manage to live out Christ’s story and then tell about it works.  That is effective witness.  The key is living it out, not keeping it in which is what Jesus says next to his disciples in this passage.  Go. Teach. Baptize. Remember.  These are pretty basic instructions. He commissions them for service in the world. If ever you wondered what God wants from you, remember this.  Go. Teach. Baptize.  It is the ‘great commission’ for the disciples and for us too.  

But let’s admit it, fulfilling this great commission go, teach baptize, might seem like just one more thing to do doesn’t it?  Or if not that, it might just make some of us downright uncomfortable to talk about our faith with others or even with those inside of our four walls.  Do we really even know how to begin to share our faith?  And what part of our faith do we share?  The command is to go and immerse the world in the Christian story and your faith.

‘Go’ seems to be the operative word here.  Simply go. Do not stay put and get comfy in your cushioned pews, do not stay within these beautiful sanctuary walls and contemplate the deep meaning of life, you can only do that for so long.   

Jesus didn’t say ‘If you build it, they will come.”  Remember that line?  It was spoken by the character Ray Kinsella played by Kevin Costner in the movie “Field of Dreams” way back in 1989.  He saw a vision and heard a voice urging him to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield in Iowa. He follows that dream and Shoeless Joe Jackson appears as do others for the windup and the pitch.  Hundreds of people stream to the cornfield baseball diamond all because of the voice he heard, “If you build it, they will come”.  But that is the movies where anything can happen and usually does. Well we do not live on a movie set and ‘Jesus didn’t say, if you build it they will come’[i], not even close.

White clabbered sanctuaries didn’t even cross his mind as a carpenter in the first century!  It’s the real unusual person who will just come on a Sunday morning because we have a pretty bucolic footprint here on the Green in Orange.  No, we need to go out and tell the story of our lives and how that intersects with our faith.  And you can do it without going all doctrinal on people who might roll their eyes at the hint of doctrine.  Tertullian and Athanasius wanted doctrine.  We do not.  And yet our faith and the tenets of it are very important to our lives.  And so is witnessing, Go. Teach. Baptize.

So here’s one way to witness your faith in public.

Let’s say we had a strawberry festival recently. And after the sweet aroma of strawberry pies wears off from your clothing, after you’ve had a chance to soak your feet, massage your lower back, that realization hits you like a brick on the head that you have to go back to work, or your normal routine.  Monday happens.  And people will inevitably ask about your weekend. 

What will you say?  A generic response, “Oh it was fine, busy but fine”.  Or might you say with all of the enthusiasm that you can possibly muster, “It was fabulous.  MY CHURCH, the Orange Congregational Church (note the commercial here) had a strawberry festival and I worked it.  It was great, I got to see old friends and work right along side someone that I hadn’t see in ages.  And it was so wonderful to see everyone of all ages working so hard together.  But honestly, it wasn’t work, it’s just something we do as a community of faith so that we can help others in the area”!!!  

That’s witness!  This is Go. Teach. Baptize.  This is where your life’s story interests with Christ’s life story and we must tell it.  If you are not excited about your faith and what your faith community does then chances are others will not be interested either and so why bother?  To make money for our coffers?  Nope, that’s not it, if that’s all we do then we will fail as Christ followers.  Everything we do at Orange Congregational whether it is to make jam, polish our red cars, hull strawberries ad nauseum, flip burgers is for Christ and others, not ourselves.

When looked at that way it becomes a powerful witness to the miraculous power of God’s love.  All I can say is go and tell.  Be assured.  Be confident that God is with you every step of the way creating opportunity and growth for you, that Jesus the Christ will redeem you from every ill that will consume your life, and that the Holy Spirit will sustain you in God’s love, God’s grace and God’s abiding energy and affirmation of your life.


[i] Idea from Jennifer Copeland, The Living Word from the Christian Century Magazine.  p 20 June 11, 2014 issue.

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