First United Methodist Church
June 4th, 2023
Rev. Lauren Hall
Bread for the Journey: Commissioned for Peace and Justice
The disciples had some hard decisions to make after Jesus' death: where to go, what to do. At the close of Matthew's Gospel, we find them where Jesus had told them to go: home, back in Galilee, on a mountaintop—which, in the Bible, is generally a place where things happen. From there, Jesus instructs them to go out, with full authority, into the whole world. The disciples are to be the leaven that enlivens the world. According to the United Methodist Church, our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This mission simply restates the Great Commission in modern language. The question before us today is how exactly do we do this?
Historically, the church has had a major presence in the world. Many people have been dedicated to this mission, and a lot of lives have been transformed throughout the years. But the world still struggles to live out the vision of the Kingdom of God. We do not live in peace with one another. Many people or groups are still persecuted on a regular basis. Eighty percent of the people in Indiana fit into the classification “unchurched.” Jesus has given us very clear instructions. But the instruction booklet of how to carry out these instructions seems to have disappeared.
I think before we try to figure out how to carry out this commission, we have to understand what it is that Jesus actually said. Jesus commands us to go out and teach and baptize, but did you ever notice that at the end of this Commission Jesus makes a promise? Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I imagine that this isn’t an accident. What I mean is, I suspect that our only hope of fulfilling the great commission – sharing the good news of God’s grace in Christ with the world through word and deed and welcoming all into fellowship through Baptism – is by keeping in mind this great promise: Christ will be with us. Except notice Jesus’ language: it’s not just future tense. It’s not past tense. Christ is with us. Even now. Even here. Even amid our struggles at home or at work or in our congregations or in the world. Christ is with us. Christ is: encouraging us, comforting us, working with us, guiding us, granting us the grace and courage necessary to be the people of God in the world right now.
And so, with this promise in mind, what was it that Jesus sent the disciples out to do? What was the reason for their going out into the world? Our gospel says it is to teach – to teach “them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (v. 20) What was that everything? How does one make disciples of all nations? Jesus said it was all summed up in two commandments: “You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
While this may sound simplified, loving our neighbors call us to embrace a lifestyle that sometimes contradicts that which society might consider normal. We are not to measure our worth compared to those who live among us, but rather to see our worth in God’s kingdom through the eyes of Jesus. We are not to accept things “as they are,” especially in an environment that employs military violence or cultural imperialism.
When Jesus initially commissioned the disciples, he was asking them to live in such a way that their lives were witnesses against injustice, power, greed, false commitments and death. Occasionally this lifestyle may result in suffering or rejection. But don’t worry, Jesus says, “I am with you always.” This becomes our bread for the journey.
In the 21st Century, we live in a world that is not so different than that of our forefathers. We go about our daily lives not knowing if something will happen today or tomorrow that will challenge our security or change our lives. Our discipleship calls us to address causes such as sex trafficking, discrimination, and bullying, even though supporting these causes may compromise our standing among our neighbors and friends. But Jesus assures us that when we stand firm against injustice, we have nothing to fear, because it is through our discipleship that we will encounter God’s love. “I am with you to the end of the age.”
The command to love God wholly with everything that is in us and to do that first and always is foundational to Jesus’ commission to the disciples. Jesus commanded his disciples to do this, while saying it summarized all the Law and the Prophets (which must be fulfilled). All this makes the first commandment awesome, fearsome, and very important. It means that we must take this very seriously. We must do this. It takes priority over everything else.
It also means that we can do this. Out of the glory of following this first commandment, comes the person, wholly in love with God—whose being is to interact with others to bring them into a baptism of that presence. We then have the ability to place other lives into direct contact with the whole Godhead – the Trinity - (Father, Son, and Spirit) because we love and are loved by God.
Today in the Christian Year, we are celebrating Trinity Sunday. My favorite definition of the Trinity is that God is, in God’s fundamental essence, a community of persons. God’s very identity is communal. And the church that is living out God’s mission in the world does so in God’s image: as a community of persons.
Part of the work of the church is to equip and support individuals as they live into God’s unique call and purpose for their lives. The community of faith promises to love people from birth to death and through all points in between, including during all those confusing transitions. In the vows we make at our baptisms, we commit to nurture one another in Christ’s holy church, and by our teaching and example guide one another toward accepting God’s grace, professing faith, and leading Christian lives.
The Trinity reveals to us that God is inherently both communal and loving. One God in three persons whose shared, mutual and sacrificial love spills out in the world and all its inhabitants. And I think that ultimately, we are called to be church in a similar way. Loving, respecting, and caring for each other in a way that spills out into our neighborhoods and communities in tangible, beneficial and attractive ways.
No one else can tell you what it means for you to love God because when you're doing it, it's between you and God. You are at the heart of creation then, with the ever new, living God. When we know how to love God with our whole mind, body, and soul, we can then begin to contemplate the vision of what it might mean for us to love others.
Loving God and being loved by God comes first—after that, we can't help sharing that love with others. Let us pray…
Holy and eternal God, you created us in your image and gave us special responsibilities toward creation and our fellow human beings. You set us as caretakers for the earth and all its plants and animals. You anointed us as disciples and told us to make fellow disciples the world over. Dear God, as we look at our polluted earth, where we consume resources at an unsustainable rate, we know that we have failed to be good stewards. In many ways, we have failed to live as disciples ourselves, to say nothing of making disciples of all nations. We beg your mercy for our sins
and await with expectancy the renewal of our minds and hearts,
that we may devote the rest of our days to protecting the earth and making disciples of all nations in accordance to your will. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.