Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 19, 2011

2011.06.19 “In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” – Matthew 28: 16 – 20 – Trinity Sunday 2011

Central United Methodist Church

 “In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”

Pastor David L. Haley

Matthew 28: 16 – 20

Trinity Sunday

June 19th, 2011

                “Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28: 16 – 20, from The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson)

      It was a few years ago, and we were visiting family. The family we were visiting is an ecumenical Christian family; the husband is a devout Catholic and the wife an equally devout Lutheran. They attend both churches, and their children are receiving the benefits of both traditions.

         At mealtimes, our children alternated leading the blessing. Our children would do their standard “Good Lord Jesus, be our guest, let these gifts to us be blest.“ When it was their children’s turn, they began this way: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This old Methodist preacher struggled to keep up, and for a moment I felt more pagan than Protestant.

      The sign of the cross is also something I’ve encountered in my years of doing funerals. I always know I have a predominantly Catholic crowd, when I say, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” and the room goes into motion, as Catholics cross themselves.

      Why don’t we Protestants do it?  Some do: Episcopalians, for example. But we Methodists, along with most other Protestants, come from the wrong side of the tracks, and in our desire to avoid anything that seems “too Catholic,” we sometimes miss out on things that are not only not bad, but good.  The sign of the cross, after all, is really an enacted prayer, so, in that sense, what Christian of any kind would be opposed to prayer?

       It is the three-fold name, invoked at our baptisms and in the sign of the cross which is at the heart of today’s celebration, Trinity Sunday. For this reason, it is also at the heart of today’s Gospel, Matthew 28: 16 – 20, in what is referred to as the Great Commission, when Jesus tells his disciples:

      “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.  I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

        Over the past several weeks, we’ve heard several endings to the Jesus story, in John, in Luke, in Acts, all of them slightly different.  Why?  Because, really, there is no ending to the Jesus story; it’s just a matter of where you leave off.  At this point in Matthew’s Gospel, the problem is this: How do we get the provincial and timid followers of Jesus to venture out into the world with the Gospel?  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

        As Thomas Long points out, the scene is ironically comical.  Jesus is on an unnamed mountain in backwater Galilee with a congregation totaling eleven, down from twelve the week before.  Even some of them are doubtful and not sure why they have come, perhaps like some here today. Undeterred, Jesus nevertheless says, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.”  Nothing appears to support such a claim. If he were speaking to vast multitudes, as far as the eye could see, with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” in the background, perhaps it would seem plausible. But not there, not that day. 

      Then, to these eleven disciples of mixed motives and uncertain convictions, he goes on to say: “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.”

      Wouldn’t that be like me saying to you here today: “Go into all the world and evangelize everybody, clean up the environment, cure cancer, and, while you are at it, establish world peace.”  Not likely to happen!

      But maybe this is part of the problem. Maybe what we hear Jesus asking us to do in the Great Commission is such an impossible task, so far beyond our inclination, resources and abilities, that we don’t even try.

      Look at it this way. What Jesus is asking us to do is the same thing he did: take a group of very imperfect, reluctant, and sometimes annoying followers, and made them into Christian disciples.  He didn’t set them down in a classroom or enroll them in a course.  What he did was take them with him, out into homes and streets and places where people were, sometimes even to church.  He talked with them, walked with them, ate with them, lived with them. They had conversations and discussions, with questions and answers on both sides. They fed the hungry and healed the sick, and even learned how to pray, as they saw him pray.  What Jesus did for his disciples, is the same thing he is asking us to do for each other and for others.

      Eventually, that’s exactly what his disciples did, and that’s how the church grew. There were no Billy Graham crusades or media campaigns, not even advertizing on billboards, not when you are a persecuted minority. It was people talking to people, in homes and marketplaces and across the roads of the Roman empire, the same kind of things we do every day.

      Dean McIntyre is the Director of Music Resources for The United Methodist General Board of Discipleship.  He says one of the questions he’s asked most often by churches is this one: “What’s the best means of advertising and promotion?”

      His answer is, there is one method that is far and away the best. It works all the time in all places. It works immediately upon being put into action, and it continues to work over time. It takes little preparation and no training. It doesn’t take a committee working on it to put into action. There’s no need for record keeping. And best of all, it’s completely free!

Here’s the plan: every person in the church — child, youth, and adult, church member and staff — tells someone outside the church family about our church and invite that person to visit. Do it once a week, every week. Pick a new person to talk to each week; and after a period of time, follow up on a person you’ve already talked with and do it again. That’s it — one person talking to one other person once a week.

He’s not talking about a heavy-duty door-to-door witnessing campaign or a Bible-thumping, end-times street evangelism program. He’s talking about a one-minute conversation with a friend, neighbor, co-worker, supermarket check-out clerk, postman, friend on the playground, teammate on the Little League or bowling team, someone you sit next to on a bus or in a restaurant. You don’t need an appointment; just work it naturally into the conversation, the same way you would if you found a great restaurant you wanted to share.

Tell the person briefly about one good thing that’s happening — music, a Sunday School class, a youth event, the Christmas play, a mission project, the Log Cabin, (here’s a novel idea) the pastor’s sermon. Just share one good thing and invite that person to join you some Sunday. Don’t push or demand an answer, just extend the invitation and move on. If the conversation allows, say more.

This is not dishonesty or manipulation, not plotting and scheming to ambush anybody, it’s a friendly and honest conversation. It’s also the most powerful and effective means of advertising and promotion we can do. Word-of-mouth promotion, community spin, personal endorsement and recommendation, all are better than anything you could pay for. A church that benefits from this kind of outreach is a church that is strong, vital, growing. It becomes a church with a reputation in the community that draws people to it.

In the process – we too are transformed. In the act of telling and inviting others, we become more committed, and want to become better disciples ourselves. We become more faithful in our attendance, want to learn more, increase our giving, and the church is enabled to do more. Outreach projects multiply. We create more opportunities in the church for worship, education, training, nurture, and evangelism, the means that make disciples. And so it becomes an escalating cycle: all taking place so that both new people and “old” may become more devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus’ Great Commission is all about, and the purpose of the church. (Dean McIntyre, Best Church Advertizing and Promotion, General Board of Discipleship website.)

      It is a lifelong process. It begins with baptism, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and ends when we die.  Anybody here done yet?  Me neither.

      Is it easy? Nope! No easier than curing cancer, cleaning up the environment, or establishing world peace. In fact, that’s the point: the task is so utterly impossible, if it only depends upon our authority or resources, we’re sunk! What’s behind it is nothing less than the revelation of a triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit.  And it’s why Jesus says, as Eugene Peterson so clearly translates it: “I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day.”

      Garret Keizer is a pastor in Vermont, probably a harder place to be a pastor even than Illinois.  He tells of conducting an Easter vigil in his little church. Only two people showed up. Keizer nonetheless lit the paschal candle and said the prayer. “The candle sputters in the half darkness,” he writes, “like a voice too embarrassed or overwhelmed to proclaim the news: ‘Christ is risen.’”  He goes on to say:

      “But it catches fire, and there we are, three people and a flickering light in an old church on a Saturday evening in the spring, with the noise of the cars and their winter-rusted mufflers outside.  The moment is filled with ambiguities of all such quiet observances among few people, in the midst of an oblivious population in a radically secular age. The act is so ambiguous because its terms are so extreme: the Lord is with us, or we are pathetic fools.”   (Thomas Long, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3, p. 49.)

      I would add that Pastor Keizer forgot possibility (C), which would be that the Lord is with us AND WE ARE STILL sometimes pathetic fools. 

      God’s self revelation in Jesus is this: The Lord is with us. Let us go forth to make disciples of Jesus, of others and each other, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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