St Andrew, Glencairn
Glencairn Methodist Church
READING Matthew 28: 16-20
Trinity Sunday is the first Sunday in the long period of "ordinary time" which fills the days between Pentecost and Advent.
And on Trinity Sunday we think about our mysterious God, this "Three Persons in one God":
God the Father who created the world and its people
God the Son who redeemed the world and its people
God the Holy Spirit who empowers people to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God
The ending of Matthew’s gospel is just these five short verses of our reading. But there is much for us to think about as we study them.
This last scene takes place on a mountain. This is hardly surprising, as so many important events took place on a mountain – the Temptations, the Sermon on the Mount, the Transfiguration, the Final Discourse and now this parting scene. Moses and Elijah separately met the living God on a mountain, and these two met Jesus and talked with him on a mountain. Now Jesus has invited his disciples to meet him on a mountain so that he may commission them for what lies ahead.
St Matthew next tells us that “they worshipped him but some doubted”. Now why would some doubt or hesitate, as the Greek is often translated? Was it doubt that this is really Jesus, or did they hesitate to worship this man as God since, as good Jewish monotheists, there is no God but YAHWAH? Whatever it was, the majority of them worshipped Jesus; they fell down on their knees before him. But did they do this simply out of reverence, or did they worship him as God? Well, just look at the last line, “I am with you always”. Clearly Matthew wants us to see that in Jesus, the promise of Chapter 1 v 23 has been fulfilled: “And a virgin will give birth to a son, called Immanuel meaning God is with us.” The only appropriate reaction to this is indeed worship, worship of the one true God who, astonishingly, was revealed in Jesus and as Jesus himself.
Jesus now tells them that “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” We read in the Temptations in chapter 4, verses 8 to 10, that the tempter offered all this to Jesus, without the pain that he had to endure. But accepting the devil’s offer would have been a hollow offer that would have led to tyranny in the world. Now after the Resurrection, Jesus’ authority as the risen one has been given to him by God, and is the authority of the one who has defeated tyranny itself, the ultimate tyranny of death. His is now the authority under which life, God’s new life, can begin to flourish. Jesus is already ruling the whole world despite what many people today suppose. This is one of the important consequences of his resurrection; it is part of the meaning of Messiahship, which his new life after the crucifixion has demonstrated.
Now people are puzzled by this claim that Jesus is already ruling the world. The claim is not that this work is completed, but that the world is not yet completely as Jesus intends it to be. He is working to take it from where it was and is – under the rule not only of death but also of corruption, greed and every kind of wickedness – and to bring it slowly or quickly, under the rule of his life-giving love.
And how is he doing this? Well here is the shock – he is doing this through us. The project only goes forward insofar as Jesus’ agents, the people he has commissioned, are taking it forward. But many mock this claim, and even those who follow Jesus despair of it happening. The church gets so much wrong, has made many mistakes, has let its Lord down so often, nothing will change until Jesus himself comes and sorts it all out.
The claim that Jesus is ruling over the world is not just St Matthew’s belief and claim. Others - the Gospel writers St Luke and St John, and St Paul – also make it clear that Jesus HAS won but completion of the task is up to us.
You know, we pray every day “The kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, so we shouldn’t really be surprised when we find ourselves commissioned by Jesus to make it happen.
So what are we commissioned to do? There are three things:
1. Go and make disciples of all nations. We do this through proclamation, announcing, declaring the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus is risen from the dead with the objective of bringing people to faith (believing) and to obedience (behaving in accord with God’s laws). This is central to the way in which Jesus’ authority is brought to bear on the whole world.
This is evangelism, spreading the Good News. It is reputed that St Francis of Assisi said “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.” Not every Christian has the “gift of the gab” when it comes to talking about their faith. It becomes easier if you learn through imitation and practice in the safe environment of a church study group or even just at coffee time. But when we are not confident and even if we are, then it beholds us all to “preach the Gospel without using words” - by the life we lead: at home, in church and especially in public. This is what St Francis advocated.
On the other hand, God help us, St Paul charges leaders in 2 Timothy 4 to “preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” You might also be asking God to encourage your leaders to use fewer words in their sermons.
2. Baptize them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism is not an optional extra for followers of Jesus. With confirmation it is, if you like, the ordination of the laity. Part of the meaning of baptism is to commit us through symbolically plunging into water to die with Jesus, and then rising with him to share his new life. Baptism is the public, physical and visible way in which someone is marked out, branded if you like, with the holy “name”, the name we are all to share of the living God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are caught up in Jesus’ divine life and purpose, and this is what we have to show to the world.
3. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.
The Christian way of life is different from the way the “world” lives, and no doubt Matthew has in mind the behaviours Jesus has taught. These include the personal morality outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5 to 7, and the high demand for forgiveness in chapter 18. All these are the basis of what the church has to teach new disciples.
The task remains unfinished. There is still more to do.
But Jesus never leaves people simply with a list of commandments to keep. These three instructions – Go Preach, Go Baptise, Go Teach – are supported by the last worlds Jesus leaves with them in Matthew’s Gospel; “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus is the Immanuel and we see that “God-with-us” turns into “Jesus-with-us”. There is no greater personal promise that this.
Ken (11 June 2017)
This Message was inspired by Tom Wright's Matthew for Everyone.
NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at http://glencairn.connor.anglican.org/previousmessages.htm