Today’s sermon is from Matthew 28:16-20.
My last semester in seminary, my mentoring class took a field trip to Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church. There, we practiced baptizing each other. My best seminary pal, Emily and I were partners for this exercise.
We waded into the water and took turns baptizing each other in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
As we took turns being buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life, even though we knew this was an exercise in preparation for our future ministries, we were enveloped in an enthralling mystery of holiness: the mystery of God’s presence with us, all at once and yet in three very different forms.
The holy trinity of father, son and spirit was among us, and as we emerged from the baptistery dripping with the symbolic water of life, we were renewed in our spirits, imbued with a deeper conviction of our callings, and filled with the presence of God.
Today is Trinity Sunday, a day on which we stand in awe before the mystery of a God who is one yet three; a unified being who reveals glory and presence to us in different ways.
God gives us three unique ways to experience God’s presence in our lives: we find a loving parent in God the Father, a friend and companion in Christ the Son, a holy guide in God the spirit.
The mystery of God and God’s presence in the world is one that theologians, church historians, and other followers of Christ have been trying to explain for centuries. The task of interpreting the vastness of God in terms that we humans can better understand traditionally finds a voice in the doctrine of the Trinity.
A Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are accessible ways in which we experience Immanuel, God with us, in three distinct ways – 3 persons who are all the same God, the blessed trinity as we sang in our hymn of praise.
So, why is this important; why do we need a blessed three in one to better understand God’s presence among us?
Well, let’s first take a journey back in time together, just for a moment to a mountain in Galilee many years ago. The sky is blue and cloudless. Trees rustle in the gentle breeze. 11 men go on a journey up a mountain in Galilee to meet Jesus who has asked them to come.
These men from infinitely different backgrounds and walks of life have been through a lot together. As citizens of a place ruled by the Romans – ruthless overlords who trampled on those beneath them, often forcing them into slavery and humiliation. As they near the top of the mountain, they see Jesus standing there. Some hurry toward him in worship but others stay back in “doubt.”
Faith is always evolving and adapting, and changing shape and growing. My own faith journey started a while ago, and yet, I can’t guarantee that I wouldn’t be in that second crowd, the doubting crowd, if I’d only days before seen my last hope literally nailed to a cross.
But something amazing happens. The ready worshippers and the reluctant doubters end up on top of the mountain, together, praising God and enjoying the view, in awe of creation around them and their Jesus among them.
Jesus invites the doubting crowd into further fellowship with this opening statement: “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Ah. Authority. A word well known to a bunch of, well, misfits, really, who are tired of living under the authority of the Romans who use and abuse them; forcing them to live in fear for their very lives.
“Is this finally the overthrowing of the Roman rule they’ve been anticipating for so long?” they wonder. “Surely deliverance is at hand!”
No such luck, they learn, as Jesus continues. “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.”
For people who are tired, wearied from hard lives, and longing for hope, a command for action seems like the last thing they’d want to hear. If we dig a little deeper, we find that Jesus’ words here in this great commission are indeed laced with a beautiful hope.
Jesus commands them to go and make disciples of all nations. Now, nations as we know them today is not exactly what Jesus is talking about here; Jesus is commanding his followers to reach out to the foreigners among them – the Gentiles, and also the outcasts and outsiders.
Jesus asks them to do the uncomfortable task of getting out of their comfort zones to reach across dividing barriers and extend the good news of life in Christ which is for all, and showing them by example how to live as people of the light.
“But Jesus,” they say, “we can’t do it, you know we can’t. We live in the most uncertain of times. It’s best for us to lay low, not calling attention to ourselves you know?”
Think back to other Bible narratives of someone encountering God and being asked to do something outside their comfort zone. The immediate response is usually some variation of “I can’t and here’s why.”
Moses was not an eloquent speaker, Jeremiah was a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips. And here, we have a group of people who have not yet learned to not be bound by fear.
I confess that I, too, have made my share of excuses as to why “I can’t,” when God asks me to do something.
This is why the mysterious expanse of God as three persons in one is so important. In a world so full of turbulence – as it has been from the beginning – fear has a way of taking root deep within and paralyzing us.
The mystery of God is not something we will ever fully understand, however, the gift that God graciously gives to us in light of the fact that our human minds can only understand so much, is the promise that the presence of God is something that we can always fully experience.
God in three persons, blessed trinity, comes near to us when we pray, surrounds us when we have hard times in life, holds us in comfort through sorrow, dances with us in our joys, and fills us with the courage and conviction we need to go to all the nations:
To all the people who are different from us. Different in thought and belief, in size and shape, in skin tone; in language and culture – in every instance where a dividing line exists, Christ calls us into the spaces between the differences to become a bridge of love. To make disciples is to create learners, and to ourselves become learners.
When we cross barriers, we learn new things about each other and ourselves, and in the community we create when we extend chasm-bridging love, we learn how to become better followers of Christ.
With his ending words, “remember I am with you always to the end of the age,” Jesus fills his followers with courage to go, knowing they are not ever alone: knowing that they will experience God with them in all -encompassing vastness as God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit.
They can trust that this command of Christ to go is undergirded with the promise of the presence of God with them always.
And the same is true for us.
As Emily and I prepared to go back to campus, we felt energized, refreshed and filled with a tangible sense of calling and affirmation that we were where we needed to be on our paths to ministry. There was not then nor is there now anything magical about those words,” in the name of the Father, son a holy spirit, but speaking them to each other helped to awaken in us a wonder and awe about the God we serve; the Good who journeys with us.
“But Jesus,” you say, I’m not a minister. My traveling days are over, my bones are tired, and my best days are long behind me. I don’t know what I can do to go into the world and make disciples, as you say. “
“Well,” Jesus says, “do you have neighbors you run into on the weekends or a favorite cashier at the grocery store?
Go to them, just in the everyday living of your life, befriend them and treat them kindly. Let them see and experience my light in you.
Are there people in your church who struggle with illness or loneliness? Or fear or anxiety?
Go to them. Let them know, through your visits and your phone calls that they are not forgotten. Let them experience my healing and presence and love and peace through you.
Do you know people who can no longer attend worship with you? Go to them. Have a church service with them, give them a call of pay them a visit. Remind them that they are a vibrant part of a community who cares for them. Let them experience the blessing of communion with me and their faith family through this selfless giving of your time,”
and do all of this, go to all of these people knowing that you don’t do this alone. I am with you, and you carry the presence of God with you – a wonderful mysterious presence where limitations are swallowed up and replaced with the courage to go.
All you have to do is go, go and obey this command to continue crossing dividing lines and barriers, teaching others to do the same. And always remember that I am with you.”
Nurturing father, companioning son, and Holy guiding spirit invite us into a mission to go. Filled with courage and hope, we follow obediently and expectantly – eager to see where the mystery of God will lead us.