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May 22, 2005 (Trinity Sunday)—“What Authority Shapes Us?”

Pastor David Barber

Matthew 28:16-20

Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace in the name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

In a recent edition of The Christian Century magazine, there was a "tongue-in-cheek" article entitled, "Where I'm At Sunday." It suggested that we should rename some of the Sundays throughout the church year just to keep up with the times and to reflect the context that often surrounds us.

For instance, June 5th would no longer be the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, but rather "Bad Preaching Sunday." On this Sunday, "pastors will swap pulpits and preach extremely poor sermons at one another's churches, thus increasing each congregation's esteem for its own pastor." The official name of this Sunday, however, wouldn't be shared with the congregations.

Sunday, June 19, which is often observed as Father's Day would now become the "Festival of the Christian Garage." Congregations would have the opportunity to creatively decorate the nave with symbols such as beer cans and copies of TV Guide.

The preacher would then begin the service with this invocation: "Can you keep it down? I'm trying to watch the game in here"--and then proceed to ignore the congregation for the next hour.

This Sunday, Trinity Sunday, would become "Cute Things Kids Say About God Sunday." And actually, since this is such a popular theme, it suggests that a number of Sundays could be used for this purpose including Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve.

Pastors would quote heavily from stories making the rounds on the Internet, which the congregation will enjoy hearing again. The stories don't have to make a point as long as they're cute, and for goodness sake, don't overlook stories about your own children, which are a source of delight to others.

Now, lest I be accused of being cute without having a point, how is "Where I'm At Sunday" connected with Trinity Sunday? Well, let me continue by asking another question: "What is the authority that shapes us as a Christian community and beckons us forward?"

In this time when so much of what we do in the church is focused on what is meaningful to me and "where I'm at," I want to raise the question this morning, "What is the authority that shapes us and beckons us forward?"

Is this all about me and what I want or desire? Or is this about God--the God, who in Jesus Christ, says to us this morning: "All authority in heaven and 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."

Our Gospel from Matthew seems to suggest that we receive our marching orders and our commission from Jesus. He's the one that beckons us and sends us out into the world. He's the one that tells us to go and to make disciples of all nations.

It's not so much then about where I'm at, but where Jesus is at--and the expectations that he places upon us as his church and the body of Christ this morning.

Unfortunately, the Scripture readings for today--although they're very familiar--have sometimes been used in an unhealthy and unfaithful way throughout the years.

From Genesis we heard one of the creation stories. We heard that it was God who created the heavens and the earth, and that, indeed, this creation was very good.

This creation account also contains a commission: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

Sometimes this commission, however, has been misinterpreted, and there's been an exploitation of God's good earth. In the name of God we have frequently justified our devastation of the earth and its resources--forgetting that this is a gift from God to be held in trust for all people.

The familiar words from the Great Commission have also been the source of abuse for some Christians. In the name of Jesus we've often gone to the ends of the earth to evangelize and to make folks Christian. But this has also produced its own problems.

Right here on our beloved Hawaiian Islands, the native culture and religion of the Hawaiians was disrespected in the name of Christ. Native Americans and others have been missionized with fire and sword.

The authority and the power that Jesus claims was often equated with the authority and power of the colonizers and their imagined goodness and righteousness over the natives and their culture.

Even today this missionary zeal is still present among certain groups of Christians but it takes a different slant. For instance, now it's interpreted by some pastors and churches to go forth and make Republicans of all people, since it isn't possible according to some, to be a Democrat and also be a Christian.

During the Terri Schavio situation, one judge was removed from membership in a congregation because he made a ruling that was contrary to the beliefs of that particular church.

Where have we gone wrong in our missionary efforts especially when Jesus tells us to go out with hope and compassion for the healing of the nations?

Well, I want to reclaim these words from Jesus this morning--these words that many of us learned and memorized in childhood. These are good words, and it's a commission that shapes us and beckons us forward into ministry for the world.

Robert Smith, a New Testament professor at PLTS and also one of Katy's teachers, tells us that the task that Jesus describes for us this morning is not to make believers or to take the gospel to all nations. He observes that the language of evangelistic outreach is absent.

Rather, he believes that Matthew takes for granted that the nations of his known world are beginning to hear the good news and are beginning to trust in God through Jesus.

Therefore, what Matthew is stressing is that Jesus commissioned the church to make disciples out of those who were already believers and confessors. That emphasis makes all the difference in the world, doesn't it?

What Matthew is envisioning is an inclusive human community, which includes all nations and all kinds of people--including Republicans and Democrats, straight and gay, and all the other distinctions that sometimes separate us. All of us are to become Jesus' disciples by taking up his yoke and by living the commands of Jesus in our daily lives.

This means that we must continue to help folks understand anew what being in relationship with Jesus involves. It means diligence in equipping us for discipleship as participants in the living organism--the body of Christ.

This is a commitment to life-long learning in the ways and the life-style of Jesus, which includes:

  • Loving my neighbor as myself
  • Loving and praying for my enemies
  • Forgiving not just seven times but seventy times seven
  • Being faithful in our care and stewardship of the earth
  • Being merciful as our God in heaven is merciful and
  • Serving rather than being served

What could happen upon the face of the earth if we embodied the presence of Christ for others and for God's creation? What could happen if we observed and embraced all that Christ has taught us especially compassion, grace, mercy, justice, and forgiveness for all people of the earth?

The good news for today is that we travel with a promise--a promise that some of us memorized in childhood--"I am with you always to the close of the age." It's the promise of Emmanuel--God with us--wherever we go and whatever we do.

In the movie The Mission there is a wonderful scene about one of the characters by the name of Mendoza. Mendoza is a man of the sword. He's a brutal and heartless slave trader, and he's just killed his brother in a fit of rage.

But great and unexpected remorse overcomes him. He goes into seclusion castigating himself and even considers suicide. Soon a Jesuit priest comes to him and suggests a penance to purge his torment, and Mendoza agrees.

The penance is to join the priest and the other Jesuit missionaries as they return to the jungle to work among the natives. They set out on their journey. But before they go, Mendoza binds up his armor in a huge net. He ties this huge burden to his back, and then drags it along as a reminder of his violent life.

At one point, the missionaries climb to the top of a great waterfall. The natives greet them at the top with hugs and great joy. But then a native spots Mendoza, and he recognizes him as the brutal slave trader he used to be. The native grabs a knife and runs to the exhausted Mendoza, preparing to slit his throat in revenge.

But then he hesitates--for he has begun to learn from the Jesuits a different way of life--a way that embodies discipleship, which does not repay evil for evil, enemies are loved, and persecutors are prayed for.

The native flashes the knife, then reaches back and cuts away Mendoza's bundle of armor. His burden of violence falls away and dashes to the bottom of the waterfall. Now free for the first time in years, Mendoza cries like a baby, and then the priest says, "Welcome home, brother."

Mendoza's life as a disciple begins. In fact, later on Mendoza dies with the natives defending their village against those involved in his former business of slave trading.

Jesus cuts away from our lives all that burdens us and keeps us from being his disciples in every venture of life. Then he equips us and empowers us for the journey of discipleship with this promise" I am with you always, to the end of the age."

This is not "What I Want" or "Where I'm At Sunday," but this is "What Jesus Wants Sunday." And he wants us to be his disciples. He wants us to go forth, to bless the world, to teach the world, and to transform the world--and all of creation with his loving presence.

Amen.


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