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Doubtful?

This is the sermon for St. Timothy Lutheran Church that I will be preaching tomorrow. The gospel text is Matthew 28:16-20. If you want to see a video of the sermon, press here

Do you feel a bit off-balance? We just get used to all the news being about COVID 19 and now there is another hot topic. As Bishop John Macholz recently wrote:

The  killing of  George  Floyd by policemen in Minneapolis continues to play itself out across my television screen as I watch it over and over again…out of a  place of deep sorrow and disbelief that this has happened again. Only a few days ago we watched videos regarding the killing of Ahmaud Arbery that took place in February and … only now being brought to light. And after Ahmaud Abery there was Breonna Taylor and last October … Atatiana Jefferson and before her was…a  long, long list of black and brown people whose  lives were needlessly taken by violence in a society that continues to not only remain broken but break even further.

It may be difficult for us to relate to this in our very white part of New York State. We don’t see many people of color and may not know any personally.

Talking with my daughter, Sarah, the other day, for us, it is like the pain we still feel whenever we hear and see of yet more problems between the Israelis and Palestinians. It feels like our people are being destroyed.

So, you probably wonder what in the world this has to do with the Holy Trinity and I would say to you, EVERYTHING! We are seeing the destruction of people made in the image of God whom God loves so very much.

The Trinity is all about a love relationship between the three members of the godhead. A fitting illustration of that interconnectedness comes from my own ethnicity, the Irish. Are you familiar with Celtic crosses and the braided look they have? That woven-togetherness is like the Trinity. God invites us into that relationship, into the dance of Trinity as our song of the day puts it.

The disciples and we are surrounded by God’s presence. The last thing Jesus told his followers before his crucifixion was, “after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee” (Matthew 26:32). He went before the disciples. The last thing he told them before his ascension was, “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (v. 20).

And what happens in the middle? Jesus commissions his disciples. These were not special, super-spiritual people that Jesus sent out. I like the way Matthew includes these words, “but some doubted” (v.17). That’s ok. Jesus doesn’t kick them out of the discipleship project. It is these too who go on to proclaim what Christ has done in their lives.

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (v.18). It is through that authority that he tells his followers to “Go…make disciples…baptize…in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The main thing these disciples are told to do is to “make disciples” (v. 19). Along with that they will go, baptize and teach, but that’s all part of disciple-making. Grammatically, those tasks are subordinate to the big imperative one of making disciples—replicating themselves.

“Baptizing…in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is the only time in the gospels we see the triune nature of God spelled out. Other places allude to other members of the trinity, like at Jesus’ baptism where there is the Father’s voice, Jesus and the Holy Spirit like a dove, but here Matthew makes it very plain.

To do something in someone’s name in Jesus’ time meant it was under their authority and direction. We can link together Jesus’ words of “All authority” being his to baptizing in the name of the Trinity, in the authority of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The disciples can replicate themselves through that authority and power Jesus has given them. He has also given them the Holy Spirit to enable them to do all of these things.

All of these things in this gospel passage are to what end? Ultimately, they are so that we may heal our world. Do you know any people of color? I know the Krotts have Indian neighbors. I mentioned to my daughter, Sarah, a Latina friend of hers and she responded that she’s not black—no, but like the Krott’s neighbors, she is a person of color and likely has experienced plenty of prejudice in her life. Reach out to those you know and ask them how they’re doing. Let them know you see them and care about them. You’d be surprised how much that means.

I was moved by something a black colleague said this week. So, I reached out via email to all the pastors of color in our synod. Their response has been amazing. They were so appreciative. With all that’s going on in our country, they are experiencing a lot of pain.

As a colleague in Ohio said, “…as people of faith…we must be active both in prayer and in working for substantial and sustained changes in our society. Advocating for the rights of people of color, speaking out on their behalf, addressing racism in our own lives and in our communities…are forms of peacemaking” (Dave and Beth Westphal).

Like the disciples, we are surrounded by and invited into the life and love of the Trinity. We too are tasked with making disciples, spreading God’s love and life wherever we go.

Let us pray.
O God, may your holy and life-giving Spirit move every heart, that the barriers dividing us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatred cease; and that, with our divisions healed, we may live in justice and peace; through your Son Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen (based on prayer for social justice in the ELW).
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