Tag Archives: Matthew 28

Sermon 11 June 2017: St. Timothy Lutheran, Norfolk

Text: Matthew 28:16-23

As some of you know, I’ve been away from parish ministry this past year, serving as a Navy Chaplain.  And it’s always interesting who frequents my office.  About a month after I started, a Navy doctor, young guy, Lieutenant, stopped by.  He asked, “do you have a second Chaplain?”

As we sat down to talk he shared with me that he had volunteered to do this individual deployment to Afghanistan because “I knew it would be good for my career. To serve in a combat zone, practice good medicine, maybe even save a couple lives, would be more than what I was doing in my current assignment at the Naval Clinic.  I could do all this good stuff over the course of the year, get a good fitness report and likely a couple medals for serving in a combat area and for personal commendation, and I’d be set.”

“But that’s not what happened.  I got along well with the Head Surgeon, and my Commanding Officer.  I did good work and they told me I did good work.  But I didn’t get a great fitness report at the end of the tour.  It was pretty average.  I didn’t even get a single award either.  The goal was that this tour would help me promote faster, and now I head back to my home command and probably have fallen behind there too.  So what am I supposed to do now Chaplain?”

You have probably heard today’s text before…..known as the Great Commission.  Jesus tells his followers to “go and make disciples, baptize, and teach them.”  And for most Christians and churches, the Great Commission gets treated like a set of marching orders…..making disciples, baptizing, and Christian education become the “mission” of the church.

I wonder if we don’t all do the same thing ourselves – individually and as a community of faith.  We treat the Great Commission like a set of marching orders with distinct goals in mind.  And if we achieve the goal, then we’ve achieved mission success.  Grow and increase membership.  Baptize more babies for the report to the Synod.  Group the youth group, Sunday School, adult education, and get more kids confirmed. But, what does it mean when we fall short; what happens when we fail?

Falling short and failing to achieve goals never feels good, and it’s certainly not good news.  It’s not gospel.

So what then to make of the Great Commission?

Recently, because of the wear and tear I’ve put on my body as an athlete, I’ve taken up swimming.  One of the sober things I’ve learned about swimming is you just can’t “power through” it; it takes patience and relaxing in the pool.  I’ll just be honest: I’m not very patient by nature, and I’m definitely not very good at swimming. I am slow.  I am inefficient.  I’m sure that the high school lifeguards at the Rec Center pool get a kick out of me thrashing around in the water, plodding along in my sad attempt to propel myself from one end of the pool to the other.  Even when I think I’m getting better, along comes a person well into their 60s and 70s who jumps into my lane and literally swims circles around me…..and I am reminded once again just how bad at swimming I am and that no matter how hard I try, I’m probably not going to be winning any Olympic medals any time soon.

But here’s the thing: I’m finding I love it.  I love the challenge, the sense of trying something new, and of course that my joints don’t hurt when I’m done.  I’m finding that as bad as I am now, and the while I may never be good at swimming, I simply find joy in getting into pool, feeling my muscles work, losing myself in the rhythm of my own pace and breathing.  I just find joy in the task of swimming itself.

And perhaps that is what the Great Commission is for us: not a set of marching orders, not a list of goals to achieve.  The Great Commission is a gift; it is a vision of life for the church that brings an immeasurable sense of joy.  To walk alongside others together in our faith journeys, to celebrate baptism and the mystery of God’s grace bestowed on the baptized and to celebrate their joining to Christ and the church, to teach others, or perhaps more witnessing to others about the grace and love of God made known in Jesus Christ – that life is our joy.  To simply live out the Great Commission is our joy.

And on this Sunday, we celebrate the Trinity – God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and not as a solution to a theological equation.  The Trinity, three in one and one in three, is a divine mystery.  It doesn’t make sense.  Yet it’s beauty and wondering comes in the idea of a sort of divine dancing where there is no defined beginning or end, but that God in the Trinty gives us a vision of a life where we are so caught up in the life of God, and we are also so deeply caught up in the life of one another.  Faith is living out this divine relationship, so connected to God and so connected to each other.  That is our joy.

The Great Commission and the doctrine of the Trinity are given to us so that we might have great joy in living the life of faith itself, not its outcomes.

And even then, the Great Commission and the Trinity aren’t good news.

The good news comes in Jesus’ last words: “And remember, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

No matter if we live or die, rise or fall; if we succeed or fail as a church.  We belong to God, we belong to Christ, and we belong to each other.  God is with us, and that is truly good news!  Amen.

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An Easter Sermon for the Cynic

Text: Matthew 28:1-10.  

So, I have a question for you: What did you expect when you showed up here this morning?  When you woke up this morning, maybe earlier than normal, put on nice clothes that you don’t typically wear, you came here and are still a bit sleepy and groggy ……but, what did you expect?

Today is Easter, and I suppose it’s a day of happiness…one of those few days during the year when we can shove all our problems and all the tough stuff happening around us into a closet in our minds and for one day, forget about it and pretend none of it exists.  It’s Easter – lilies and a brightly decorated sanctuary, traditional hymns, a breakfast, maybe an Easter egg hunt, everyone all dressed up – let’s be over the top happy this morning!  And that’s the problem I have with Easter.  All of it just seems a little too artificial. What happens when we wake up tomorrow morning?  What happens to all that stuff we shoved in the closet?

Ok, this is probably NOT what you expected this morning – a downer of a message.  But, for those that don’t know me so well, I am a pretty big cynic.  And sometimes, it gets the best of me.

But when I think about all that stuff we shoved in the closet….we still have problems.  Violence in our country and world caused by hatred and prejudice of race, sexual orientation, social class; a sense of entitlement that somehow we deserve more and more, even if it comes at the expense of others….I think about how the ways that church and people who call themselves Christian will act totally opposite of what the church and Christian faith is about – it gets ugly sometimes.  I think about recent deaths, some of them coming well before the person’s time.  I think about these things and I’ve come to expect well, nothing.

That’s just how life is.  I take it at face value and all the stuff that weighs on my mind and that there is nothing that will change any of it – that’s what I expect.  Maybe you feel that way too and in that way, you’re just as much the cynic as I am.

I wonder if we really expect anything out of the Easter story of Christ’s resurrection.  Oh, we say that we believe the whole thing’s true…..but I wonder if we really believe up and against the things that weigh on our minds, events that shake our very core that news of an empty tomb actually holds any real power to change things.  Maybe the whole story of Jesus’ death and resurrection has just simply become background noise in favor of our Easter celebration of happiness.  Secretly, we’re just as cynical to the notion of a God who does anything to change the world as we are cynical to the way the world is.

Yet it’s this story of Christ’s death and resurrection – the Good Friday and Easter story – that the cynic in us needs.  Because the proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection is God did this because the world needed saving – we need saving.  We need a savior, not a personal one to pay off the balance owed on my bad behavior account, not a savior who magically erases all the bad things in the world so we can be perpetually and delusional happy.  We need a savior who will proclaim to us that our self-righteous piety, denial of ugliness in the world, justification of attitudes and actions out of fear and a need to self-preserve doesn’t win the day – rather, they get put to death on a cross. Weakness, vulnerability, brokenness, honesty – our very humanity, what makes us truly beautiful – is resurrected.  That is what is saved.  We need a savior who removes the cloud of cynicism around our hearts and minds so that we can see something good in the world.  The Easter message is that our cynicism is put to death….so that we not only see beauty in our lives, but expect it.  We can expect beauty to show up……because God shows up.

Yesterday, I went to the memorial service for a sailor who I served with in USS JACKSONVILLE, about 10 years ago.  He had made his journey the hard way, growing up in the rough part of Atlanta, starting as an enlisted sailor and was currently an officer.  But now, here he was, dead at 38 years old, collapsing suddenly…leaving behind a wife and three young boys.  There were tributes to his life, people giving stories about Daniel that I had never known.  Two of them were from a brother and sister in their 20’s.  Daniel had taken on the role of surrogate father for them when they were teenagers, caring for them, pushing them to go to college, keeping the on a positive course.  Here they were, giving tribute to how Daniel had done all these things, and then they each turned to his wife and boys and said, “I promise you….in the ways Daniel was a part of our life, always there for us, I promise I will be there for you too.  You’re our family, and I promise to take care of you and be in your life the way Daniel was in ours.”

And there it was….just this beautiful moment.  A moment made beautiful because not even the sadness and finality of Daniel’s death could stop the love he had for others from being lived out.  It wasn’t Daniel’s death that made this moment beautiful, but his life.  It was a life and legacy that will live on in the love he shared in his life….and I believe with all my heart that in that beautiful moment – God showed up.

The women who came to the tomb weren’t expecting a whole lot that first Easter morning.  They expected to see a closed tomb with Jesus cold dead body laying inside.  Death and disappointment was their expectation.  But oh what a morning….the earth shook, their worlds turned upside down, the tomb was empty. When they heard the announcement that Jesus had been raised they ran from that tomb in both fear and wonder to tell the disciples that death was defeated, life had won the day and Jesus had risen from the dead, and on their way Jesus appeared before them – he showed up.   And nothing was ever the same.

And oh, what a morning it is for us today….Christ is risen and in that is a power big enough to save us from our cynical selves.  God’s Easter reality puts to death our fear and prejudice and hate that clouds how we see humanity…..and we are left to see nothing but beauty and goodness in each other and in ourselves.  Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.  God is among us, God has shown up…and you can expect….expect nothing will be the same.  Amen.

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