The Great Commission
Sermon for Trinity Sunday published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible reading Matthew 28:16-20
In the Gospel lesson for today, the great commission, Jesus said: Go and make disciples, and the disciples went. Back to the upstairs room where they stayed while they worked a lot of things out.
This is the end of the gospel of Matthew, and if you want to see what the disciples did next you go to the Book of Acts, where we read in Chapter 1, how in some of his other last words to the disciples, Jesus said:
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.
And then a few verses later, he said:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
And so they didn’t “Go” anywhere to make disciples, for quite a long time. It was only after the stoning of Stephen, 8 chapters into the book of Acts, that we read that the church was scattered and persecuted, and then the word started to spread, and the disciples did indeed “Go” and make disciples. They were indeed Jesus witnesses to Jerusalem and Judaea and the ends of the earth, but it had nothing to do with their intentions or their conscious actions. They simply got booted out and kept on being who they were, believers, witnesses, and Jesus words came to fruition. There seemed to be no plan, but God was in control.
For years in the Lutheran Church we have been praying for God to find a way to push us outside the walls of our churches so that we might be more effective witnesses in the world. In the last few months, just like the disciples, our “Going” was not of our own decision, or with careful planning or mission zeal. We were forced outside the walls and here we are. So there is no church here at the moment, just the Pastor.
With the restriction stages of the roadmap to recovery being relaxed, we are looking for a way to come back in. What will that mean? How will we go about that?
Well, here at St Marks, our congregation has dedicated itself to 5 guiding principles, that we are going to consider in whatever decisions we make as elders, TEAM, (which is in charge of teaching, education and mission), and our Admin committee. All our decision-making groups really. You are going to hear more about these 5 guiding principles, I am going to concentrate on them in the sermons for 5 weeks after the June-July School holidays. But for now, you need to know that this is what they say:
Everything we do will strive to be: Christ centred, Spirit Guided, Encouraging of discipleship, Inclusive, and witnessing to the Gospel.
We do not know what form things will take as we begin to meet together again, or even when it can happen. We are casting the net far and wide to engage with different opinions and views, and whatever we do has to be informed by those guiding principles. But one common thread is emerging, and that is that we almost universally agree that we will keep on sharing the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ online after we go back into corporate worship. After all, what use is praying that God find a way to drive us outside the walls of the church to reach other people if we then retreat back inside and slam the doors. This would not be inclusive, or helping many of you with your walk of discipleship, and it would definitely not be a witness to the Gospel.
So How are we going to do that?
At the moment we are unsure. Just like the disciples tried to find some order in the chaos of their scattered and persecuted group, we are trying to work things out too. But this is one thing we have to keep in mind, and it goes back to the Great Commission as we heard in our Gospel lesson today.
We go and make disciples, and we baptise and teach in whose name? God the Father son and Holy Spirit. The triune God. The Holy Trinity whose relationship is one of love.
What does this mean? It means it is not my church and not my mission. It is that of the triune God. That means that what we will do is not your decision to make either. None of us are God, and none of us on our own make up his church. We are part of a body.
And like Jesus said in that quote from Acts, we (as a church) will be his witnesses. We will strive to witness not only by what we say, but by what we do. We will strive to model that self-giving and forgiving love of Jesus, and do our part in the body.
If in this crazy time we have done or said something that has upset or offended you, we beg your forgiveness. We in turn have had some things said to us at a ministry team level that we have had to forgive. That is part of the daily life of the body of Christ. That is normal Christian living in a church made up of sinful people. We have no road map for the time we have found ourselves in. But we have done so much in such a short time that I look back on it and am constantly amazed.
But I want to ask you this: Pray for your leaders, both in the congregation and Parish here, and right up to our State and Church-wide Bishops. If someone is on a board or working in a role in the church, they have been put here by God for a reason. Pray for them, help them where you can, forgive them too when they get it wrong, because I will promise you that they will make mistakes. We are all human and we all get it wrong. These are uncharted waters, and sometimes we feel a bit lost.
I am constantly reminded of Luther’s explanation of the eighth commandment: We should fear and love God so that we do not lie about our neighbour, betray them, slander them, or give them a bad reputation, but defend them, speak well of them, and put the best construction on everything. Or the translation i prefer says: “explain their actions in the kindest possible way.”
So please hang in there. Do not try to find offence in anything that is said or done. Assume that everything that is said or done by the leadership of the church, even if you do not agree with it, is done prayerfully, and with the very best of intentions.
This is our witness to the world, that we reflect the love of the relationship that is Father Son and Holy Spirit. God grant that we might truly reflect the words of Jesus in John 13:35 that they will know that we are his disciples by our love for each other.