Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture – Genesis 1:1-2:4; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
The location is the mountain where Jesus ascended. The disciples were gathered. Jesus said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”
“To the end of the age,” said Jesus. “At all times and in all places,” we may add. Because God is everywhere, all the time, with everyone! The beginning of the book of Acts is a repeat of the end of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Acts 1:8, Jesus is saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
It is believed that this place of speech and this place of the ascension of our Lord Jesus is Mount Olivet, near Bethany, which is near Jerusalem, in the bigger place called Judea. North of Judea is Samaria; north of Samaria is Galilee, all along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
Think! This is pre-Columbus and before the other discoverers of new lands. Yet here we are in Southeast Pennsylvania and the news has reached us. Those disciples certainly did a good job! Are we carrying this great news anywhere or are we keeping it to ourselves? You know what happens to unshared information – it goes nowhere! This may be necessary and admirable in certain situations – such as in an investigation of a criminal act. It is not admirable with the great gospel news from Jesus!
Are you doing your part? Am I doing my part? Remember, when Jesus spoke to his disciples, we claim that information, that challenge, to be directed to us, centuries later. This is like being in a relay race. We need to pass the news to the next person or the news will either stay with us or drop to the ground where we would think nothing will happen. But … the next person needs this news, and the next person and the next person. Think! In those days there was not mass media, there was no television, let alone the internet or technological clouds. It was person to person.
There is something to be said for person-to-person information passing. It is personal. It is in-your-face! However, there is a dangerous aspect to this style of spreading the gospel, of offering life-transformation to people in the far ends of the earth. Recently, as I read the Christian magazines to which I subscribe, both new issues and old issues, I find myself staring into the photographs. The photographs of Christians who dared to go to vicious territory because God laid the call upon their hearts. Many of these people do not survive but no one promised them that they would.
Remember Stephen and most of the disciples. Remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If you don’t remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he was a key player in the attempt to stop Hitler. He was executed by hanging just two weeks before the Allied forces liberated that camp. He was a pastor and a theologian. Theologians study the Bible and other written works and think, write, and debate intellectually about God. He had written a book called, The Cost Of Discipleship. He certainly learned about the cost. His own life was taken as he spoke and acted for justice against this extremely cruel, fanatic, self-rising, self-ruling leader. This book – The Cost of Discipleship – became a modern classic.
Remember Jesus! The cost of discipleship for sure. Sure, you are saying, Jesus’ death did not last. Jesus is alive this very day! Never-the-less, on that Friday afternoon, Friday evening, Saturday all day, this was death, extreme disappointment, disillusionment, being tricked. Even at that point, the light went out for everyone.
If we read further, even beyond the limits of our Holy Word, the disciples mostly lost their lives prematurely and in ugly ways, simply because they were spreading the word into enemy territory. And as I read and see the photographs of 20th and 21st century prophets going into enemy territory, only to lose their own lives, I think of the concept of COURAGE and CALLING. You and I may be alive, but we may be missing the mark. What are we doing in response to “Go to all nations, to the ends of the earth, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
We may be supporting these “gospel takers” with finances, with prayers, with material items that are much needed in the far places or … in our own backyards or our own blocks in the city. Are gun shots common in our neighborhood? Are people walking the streets obviously in need of medical care, not to mention other kinds of care? All of this kind of support is needed – finances, prayers, donation of items – and probably gives us satisfaction that we are part of this whole scenario.
However, do you think that God has called and we did not answer in the way God intended? This may be just too frightening. We don’t have the faintest idea how to begin to serve at the ends of the earth. First, the ends of the earth could be our present location. So look around! Where does God need us? What comes to your mind immediately? What special gift did God put in your DNA and your heart? In my heart and in my DNA? But it is just too overwhelming. Besides we have a family. True, it is not very responsible to desert a young family and a spouse. There are possibilities, one of which would be to prepare for the time when you would not be deserting people at home. For one idea, spouse could conceivably go with us, even to the vacant lots on our own block.
Let us realize what bothers us immensely. Maybe it is that the public school systems need advocates. Maybe it is that our local parents need guidance and support for being parents who care about learning. But, oh we love our freedom and free time. We don’t want to be “tied down.” Am I talking about “tied down” as in “nailed down” like on the cross. Oh …..!
So what does it matter. If Jesus was so foolish as to persist with his message, he deserved that cruel death. Why did Jesus not assume the manner that is meek and that is being careful not to ruffle feathers? Because Jesus had a job to do. It was his whole reason for being a human for thirty-three years.
Our Old Testament lesson for this Trinity Sunday is the creation story. This exciting account tells of the development of humans and of the world to support and delight humans and God. Who exactly is God? No one will ever get this right this side of heaven. But, some of us find enough places in this Holy Word to support the idea that God is really three persons. “God in three persons, blessed trinity.” This phrase at the end of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” lives in me. I have never doubted. God is not God without the Father person. God is not God without the Son person. God is not God without the Holy Spirit.
Yes, the Holy Spirit! That is how we can leave our comfortable couches in our air-conditioned living rooms in front of a huge flat-screen television which serves as movie screen of our choosing – all available to bring into our homes. We do not need to sit in a well-padded theatre seat! We can drink and eat to our heart’s content. Well, some of us can do this. Others of us are either too busy doing what we think is noble activity or we simply cannot afford this luxury so we seek gratification in other ways, even using guns on the streets of cities.
Wait! I lost the Holy Spirit! I suppose the Holy Spirit can be noticeably present as we recline on our luxurious sofas, but to get a full dose of Holy Spirit, we need to be openly inviting to this Spirit. Jesus gave the promise to his disciples, “Remember, I am with you.” After Jesus said this promise, Jesus was lifted to the sky and beyond – to the Father person of God. He commanded the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until an advocate would arrive. This advocate arrived – it is the Holy Spirit. It was manifest, or made known, by a strong wind, little flames dancing on the shoulders of the people gathered, and the ability for each person in that place to understand as though the disciples were speaking each person’s language.
Then these humans were inspired – filled with the spirit. Life with the spirit is no comparison to life without the spirit. It is transforming. Why you say, can we not feel that way through the person of Jesus. The amazing, mysterious truth is that these three persons are one as much as they are separate. When Jesus prayed his famous prayer for his disciples in the book of John, chapter 17, verse 11, on the night of the Last Supper, Jesus said, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! This concept separates the Christian Church from other ways of thinking about God. Other bodies of God have Jesus and even the Spirit, but not as being one with the Father. So love your neighbors, even if they don’t believe in the Trinity. But, share this idea of the Trinity with them. It is not a straight-thinking idea. For the persons who need to know details, it is more challenging to believe than it is for creative-thinking people to accept this three-persons-in-one. Think of a clover or shamrock leaf. It is said that St. Patrick used this image to teach the Irish natives about the Trinity – all three parts of the shamrock must be present to represent the whole shamrock. Without one of its sections, the shamrock cannot be considered to be a whole and functioning shamrock. We need all three persons as we comprehend with intensity the call that we are receiving loudly and clearly. Let us follow, not as loners, but as co-workers in the Kingdom of God. Amen