Matthew 28:16-20 – Sermon – Sending Forth

Matthew 28:16-20
Sending Forth
06-19-11

We are about to enter the long stretch within the liturgical calendar. Starting next week we begin the “weeks after Pentecost” section, also known as Ordinary Time or Kingdomtide. If you look at your order of worship you will see on the top of the page “Trinity Sunday/Father’s Day”. Trinity Sunday refers where we are in the liturgical year. Last week was the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples like a rushing wind and tongues of fire. The Sunday after Pentecost is always, Trinity Sunday, where we celebrate the three-in-one God we worship. This is also one of those transition Sundays as we move from the end of the Great Fifty Days of Easter to Ordinary Time.

There are other transition Sundays out there. Christ the King Sunday is always the last Sunday of the Christian before we start again with the four Sundays of Advent. Transfiguration Sunday is always the last Sunday before we start the season of Lent. Now we stand on the other side of the Easter Season and the celebration of Pentecost with Trinity Sunday before we jump off into Ordinary Time and await the end of the Christian year and the start of a new one.

Why is Trinity Sunday important? Why is do we need to celebrate or carve out a special day to honor the Trinity? One essential part is realizing what happened last week. Last week, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit arrived here on earth to dwell in us. This is not the first time the Holy Spirit was on earth. Genesis 1 says “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Spirit was not new to earth but it is now the Spirits time to dwell among us. As he did the full revelation of our Triune God came to be. Today we celebrate that after the Father created, the Son resurrected, and the Holy Spirit imbedded, God, in God’s fullness has been revealed to the world. All the puzzle pieces have been laid out on the table. We may not understand completely what we are looking at but there is nothing hiding in God’s sleeve. All is revealed.

All is revealed but not all is understood. The reason the last verses of Matthew’s Gospel is included in our lectionary texts this morning is probably because Matthew includes all three persons of the Trinity in the baptismal formula. The other texts for today were the creation story in Genesis where humanity was made in “their image.” It also has the end of 2 Corinthians where Paul bids farewell with a benediction naming the three persons of the Trinity as well.

I choose the Matthew text because it is an inspirational call to action. It is like the pep-talk from a coach before the big game. In the movie Miracle, the story of the 1980 US Men’s hockey team, Coach Herb Brooks gives a resounding speech. “Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here, tonight. One game.” It goes on and that soft Hollywood music starts to play and the camera zooms in for a close up, as he gets to the climax of his speech. “This is your time. Their time — is done. It’s over. This is your time. Now go out there and take it!”

YouTube is filled with videos of these inspirational speeches. You can find those movie speeches or quotes from people like Knute Rockne and his “Win one for the Gipper” halftime speech. Then you have the moments before war. In the movie Glory, there is a beautiful prayer meeting around the campfire as the troops lift up their concerns about the impending battle that takes most of their lives. Or the speeches in Braveheart, 300, Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, or even Starship Troopers. Then you have the political speeches that have summed up a moment in time and given inspiration to nations seeking hope. Winston Churchill’s speech about ‘never give in’ or “this was their finest hour.” Or the famous, “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.

The point of all these speeches is to invoke a type of inspiration and motivation for the team, nation, or people to go out there and put it all on the line. To move beyond themselves and to hit that gear that you tap into only after you have given it your all. These are one of the few times we give men permission to cry openly because that is when we feel like men are in their rawest form. In that moment before the big game, right before battle, right before war we allow the men in our lives to show emotion because we realize they are willing to lay down their lives for the sake of the cause.

Matthew, in these last verses of his gospel, does not have a fully formed theology of the Trinity when he names it the last sentence of Jesus. He doesn’t continue to give a full account of what the implications mean to follow a Triune God. How do the three interact together? How does the relationship within God reflect outside of God? How can we understand it, digest it, and present it to people? Does the Father begot the Son and the Son begot the Holy Spirit? Does the Father begot the Son and Holy Spirit? Who is in charge? Matthew doesn’t give any answers to these burning questions of the Trinity. He simply claims that Jesus sends out the eleven disciples with the power to baptize in God’s name.

Thomas Long gives a great account of the scene here. He says in the commentary “Feasting on the Word”, “The scene is one of near-comic irony. Jesus says, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,’ but nothing in the surrounding seems to support such a claim. If Jesus had been speaking to vast multitudes, rank upon rank stretching toward the horizon as far as the eye could see, with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir humming the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ in the background, perhaps it would seem plausible. However, Jesus is on an unnamed mountain in backwater Galilee with a congregation of eleven, down from twelve the week before, and even some of them are doubtful and not sure why they have come to worship this day.”

We would love this last pep-talk of Jesus to come like one of the scenes in the movies we love. But the truth is it is not like William Wallace’s speech before they fight the English. It is in the quiet and quaint company of his chosen few that he says these words. There are only eleven people there. Something that struck me a while ago when I was reading this text was that not all believed. They were standing there with the resurrected Jesus, and still some doubted. But Jesus did not send them away and only left the few who did earnestly believed, he continued. He doesn’t give all authority to those who have it all together, who understand it, and who believe it with all their souls. No, he gives it to those who believed and those who were on the fence. He gave it to everyone who was there in his midst.

“Garrett Keizer, a minister in Vermont, tells of conducting an Easter vigil in his little church. Only two people show up for the service, but Keizer nonetheless lights the paschal candle and says the prayer. ‘The candle sputters in the half darkness,’ he writes, ‘like a voice too embarrassed or overwhelmed to proclaim the news: ‘Christ has risen.’ He goes on: ‘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.’”

The call that Jesus gives those disciples that fateful day is obscene. It is way to much for the eleven to handle. It is almost laughable. The task is too large, “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Jesus, you mean all the people of the world? You mean all the people of our own nation but also all those other ones that we don’t know where they are, like Moldova? Jesus, you are asking us to go out into the world and baptize everyone, even those we don’t like and even hate? The idea is so broad, large, and hard to grasp it is like asking people to go out and eradicate mosquitoes or cure cancer. If a person was given the task of moving a mountain, the truth is it can be done and it would be done one bucket at a time; one bucket full of dirt at a time. You could move a mountain but it may take you a lifetime, yet your life is all that Jesus is asking for.

Jesus asks us to do the impossible, to do the utterly insane task of transforming the world. Again as Thomas Long says “The very fact that the task is utterly impossible throws the disciples completely onto the mercy and strength of God.” We cannot transform the world if Jesus doesn’t have all the authority under heaven and on earth. We cannot make disciples of all the nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit if the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit don’t exist. We cannot teach the world everything Jesus commanded if we have to believe and understand everything first.

No, Jesus sends us out into the mixed up, confused and disjointed world as mixed up, confused and disjointed people. We go because it is not by our power; it is not by our own strength, wisdom, or even desire. We go because we hear the calling and commission of God and a small part of us believes it can actually happen. We go because for this short thing called life we want to be involved in something larger than ourselves. We want to be a part of something bigger. So we listen and follow. We pick up our one bucket of dirt and we carry it away.

On this Trinity Sunday when we confess our inability to wrap our heads around who the God we worship is, we hear the call of this God to do the impossible. May we accept this task knowing we cannot do it on our own and we are not alone. May we move from this place, as fragile people, into a fragile world and claim the sending forth of our Savior. May we have audacity to claim we worship a God who is 3-in-1 and who transform the world.

And all God’s people said…Amen.

1. http://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechmiracle3.html
2. Long, Thomas, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2011, p.47
3. Ibid, p.49
4. Ibid.

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