Monday, June 20, 2011

Sermon on the Great Commission

Matthew 28:16-20
Trinity Sunday/ Father’s Day
June 19, 2011

There are some unforgettable things about the day I was baptized. Etched in memory are the fishing waders my minister, Don, wore underneath his robe. Don was a jokester and told me that he had just chipped the ice off the baptistery that morning, so it shouldn’t be too cold. I remember that one of my grandmothers and an Elder named Bill presided that day and signed my baptism certificate. Believe it or not I remember that the actual date was October 23, 1988. I also remember that on that day I was baptized into a community of believers and I was baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. I was baptized into faith in this one God with these three different aspects, I was baptized in the name of the Trinity.

I read the story of another pastor’s baptism this week. She was in a church, one that practices infant baptism and her pastor asked them to ask their families about the details of their baptism day. Upon investigating, she found out she had never been baptized. She began preparations for a baptism on the evening before Easter and asked if she could have a pitcher of water poured over her rather than just being sprinkled.
“My pastor honored my request. He carried his children’s one-foot-deep kiddie pool into the sanctuary. I had purchased a velvety blanket in the same shade of burgundy as the carpet, and I brought it to church and draped it over the pool. When it was time for the baptism, I came to the pool and knelt down. I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with a liturgy that wrapped around the words and expanded our representation of God. Jesus called God “Father.” God the creator called Jesus “Son.” The Holy Spirit is God who nourishes us and sustains us.

Then came one splash for the Creator. The water poured around my ears and trickled down my face. Then came a splash for the beloved Son. The water’s warmth began to seep into my clothing. There was still a lot of water left in the pitcher, and the one splash for the Holy Spirit became a long pouring of water. It kept coming and coming, gushing over my face, into my mouth, flattening my hair and running over my shoulder and down my body.”*
For Nanette Sawyer, and for us the act of baptism is overwhelming. Even if we are not shocked by the water’s coldness or the sheer amount of it, we could never anticipate what it is like to be covered by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We cannot anticipate how becoming a part of the Christian community will change us, or what new and interesting (or scary) directions our lives will take us.

Our baptism is entrance into a new community. We die to sin and rise to life in Christ. After the resurrection the disciples were wondering, “Now what?” We may wonder the same thing after our baptism- what are we to do as a part of this new community? In Matthew 28, Jesus commissions us as people of faith. He gives us a purpose in two simple action words. Jesus says, “go and make.” These two words make up the heart of what we call the great commission.

Jesus spoke this great commission to the disciples when they met him on the mountain in Galilee after his resurrection. The scripture says that when they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. Notice that it doesn’t say “some worshipped,” and “some doubted.” No, it says they all worshipped, and some doubted. As if the two are not mutually exclusive. In the face of the greatest miracle of all time, some still had trouble believing as they worshipped. This should be a comfort to any of us who have ever worshipped and doubted at the same time.

Jesus’ instructions are 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.” Hold those words in your mind as you listen to our First Christian mission statement. Our mission statement is: “We celebrate Christ’s unconditional love by welcoming, loving, serving and teaching all.” Those sound pretty similar, don’t they? I think that means we are on the right track here at First Christian.
I have to admit that whenever I read Jesus’ words to us in the Great Commission, I feel a little bit guilty. The commission is a lofty goal- go and make disciples of all nations. “All” is a whole lot of nations. “All” is a whole lot of people. I feel pretty awesome when one of our youth comes before the church and makes a profession of faith. When that happens I feel like I have had a small part in making a disciple- but that is one person! Am I really supposed to be making disciples of all nations? What about people in other nations other than our own? I am so grateful that some in our congregation have had the opportunity to travel to other nations- but not all of us can do that.

I am comforted by the fact that the Great Commission was given to all of us- and not just to me, or just to you, or just to our church. Jesus’ commission was to “all ya’ll,” as we say here in the south. Just because it belongs to all of us doesn’t mean that the commission to, “go and make disciples of all nations,” isn’t a difficult one.
How do we make disciples? I think making disciples starts with something we learned back in elementary school- show and tell. We’ve got to share the love of Christ both with our words and our actions. In the Chimes on May 19th Dee talked about how important it is to share our faith stories with one another. In fact, the theme of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disicples of Christ) is “Tell It!” Our General Minister and President says that, “To this day we reorient as we recall the core of who we are in relationship to a loving God; when we remember the stories of God’s faithfulness to our children and to our children’s children. We reorient when we remember who we are: Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”

“Telling it,” is an important way to make disciples. We need to share the stories of faith found in the bible as well as our own personal stories of the impact our faith in God has had in our lives. That information needs to be shared in our homes, in our communities and throughout the world- whenever we have the opportunity to share it. However, our stories should go hand-in-hand with our actions.

On the mission trips I have been on, I have experienced and observed that it is a whole lot easier to start a faith conversation with someone when you have labored with them or for them. It is during the sweaty water breaks, after you have been putting up insulation underneath a house, when you can really begin to talk about what matters most. Maybe you have found this to be true in a non-mission trip setting. Talking about faith with someone is easier if they have seen it lived out in your life. We need to “show and tell.” We need to “go” and “make.” Now is the time for us to take Jesus’ commission seriously as we “go and make disciples of all nations.”

The Great Commission is a huge responsibility- how can we handle that task on our own? We can’t handle it on our own. Fortunately, Jesus says at the end of his speech to the disciples, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus says he will be with us always; not until next Tuesday, not until you make a bad decision, not until you travel to another country- but ALWAYS. Jesus promises to be with us through everything, until the very end of the age. I’m not sure if the disciples understood that his physical presence would not always be with them. We know that Jesus ascended into heaven, but before he did, he promised a part of himself that would always be within us, and that is the Holy Spirit. We celebrated the Holy Spirit’s coming on the day of Pentecost and we continue to celebrate this week with the red in our sanctuary.
Apart from God we can do very little. But with the Triune God- the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, into whose name we were baptized, we can do anything. We can even go and make disciples of all nations. We can tell our stories and we can show God’s love in action, and with God’s help we can baptize others into this wonderful community of faith- in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen and amen.

*From, “The Christian Century,” page 20, June 14, 2011 issue

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