It’s All About the Mission
Preaching Text: Matthew 28:16-20
I have little doubt that this particular text was chosen for today because it contains these words: “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.” This is, after all, Trinity Sunday, one of the few, if not the only, references in the Bible to the Trinitarian formula of the “Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The Trinity is one of the core theological foundations of the Christian Church, but the word itself is never mentioned in the Bible, leading some to doubt its theological credibility. But here, in the closing verses of Matthew’s Gospel, we have at least the mention of all three members of the Holy Trinity packed into one sentence.
And since this text is the Gospel lesson assigned for Trinity Sunday, the temptation is to preach a sermon that tries to explain the doctrine, and we miss the opportunity to focus on the Great Commission. I very much appreciate the work of Father Richard Rohr in his book, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. This is the dance between God the creator, God the Redeemer, and God the ever-present Spirit in which each partner takes their turn leading with their gifts. According to Father Rohr, this is a flow in which we are invited to participate. This flow begins at our creation and carries us into eternity.
So yes, it is easy to let the sermon explain how each of these partners functions in the dance, but as a blog focusing on MISSION, I feel compelled to move us beyond doctrine and focus on the action words in the text. Words like worship, doubt, go, make, baptize, teach, and command. This passage is well known as the Great Commission, and here at the Board of World Mission, we hold these words as part of our mission statement. We do so partly because this tells us that our mission has global implications. In addition, we often focus on the command to Baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And since Baptism is often seen as the formal entry point into the Church, this lays before us to call to make our mission a global one.
There is, however, a phrase that often gets overshadowed by the global challenge. It is found tucked into verse 20, “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” And what has Jesus been teaching them? Matthew’s first block of Jesus’ teaching is found in the Sermon on the Mount, in chapters 5-7. Here are a few notable verses from that:
- You are the salt and light of the world.
- Seek reconciliation with others before making your offering to God.
- Turn the other cheek.
- Don’t make a show of your piety; let your care for others define your faith.
- Do not judge others.
- Be doers of the word, not just listeners.
After the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew tells of Jesus’ work in healing, feeding, and caring for people. He also sends out the 12 to do mission and instructs them to trust God in this process. Pack lightly, Jesus tells them; stay where you find a welcome, and keep moving where you are not.
The last great teaching section comes after Jesus enters Jerusalem during what we call Holy Week. Here is some of what Jesus did and taught early in this week:
- Jesus kicked out the money changers and sacrificial animal salesclerks occupying valuable prayer space in the temple.
- Jesus has his authority questioned, whereby he begins to tell a series of parables condemning the religious leaders of his day.
- Parable of the two sons (one who said he would not work but did, and the other who said he would work but didn’t)
- The parable of the wicket tenants who were given a well-constructed vineyard but refused to give the master the rent and killed those who came to collect it, including the master’s son.
- The wedding banquet parable where the first invited guests refuse to come, so the outcasts are blessed with an invitation.
- He is questioned about taxes: give to Caesar the things that are Caesars but give to God the things that are God’s.
- There is a discussion about the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- Jesus warns that some of the Scribes and Pharisees are not teaching the kingdom of God, calling them hypocrites who care more about form than about matters of the heart.
- Then there is the parable about the bridesmaids, 5 of whom had enough oil for their lamps and five who did not. You must be ready.
- He tells the parable of the talents saying that those who have used their gifts to multiply the kingdom of God will be welcomed into the joy of their master.
- And then there is the Parable of the sheep and the goats. Judgment day, when those who have cared for others are welcomed into the heavenly kingdom, while those who did not will weep and gnash their teeth.
Church growth experts these days tell us that Churches need to be like successful businesses. They tell us that you need ample parking for a church to grow. They tell us that for a church to grow, you need good visibility to a main road so people can see you. They tell us that for a church to grow, you need a top-notch website that is easy to navigate. They tell us that for a church to grow, you need a tall, good-looking pastor; somebody who is wonderfully outgoing but not too pushy; has a great sense of humor but not a comedian; and somebody who has 30 years of experience but is not much over the age of 30.
That is what they say, and if you go by statistics alone, they are probably right. But if we take Jesus’ teaching seriously, we should take the great commission seriously. Prime location, lots of parking, and a good-looking pastor will only get you so far; all these things do is cater to people’s self-centered needs.
If we go by what we are reading today in this passage, we need to go and teach, make disciples, and baptize new members into our faith community. But we must also teach others what Jesus first taught us. The Kingdom of God is at hand!