One with Each Other
I didn’t set out to hold our new member meeting on the same day as both Trinity Sunday and Peace with Justice Sunday.
Trinity Sunday is simply when we talk about the oneness of our identity within the Triune God: The Father or Mother, if you prefer, Jesus, Spirit as one.
Peace with Justice Sunday is our effort to spread peace and encourage cooperation here and around the world.
We cannot talk about any of these without understanding our connectedness to one another through our Triune God.
It’s the entire reason why we push for justice and equality — because we understand the image of God and how we are created in that image.
As well, we are called to love everyone as Jesus first loved us — not just some, or those who agree with us, or those who listen to us, or those who are like us… But everyone.
And so the United Methodist Church calls us to work together to address — not simply profess, not simply to discuss — some very specific issues.
And for those who are discerning becoming a member, and even those already members in this church family, you might not agree with everything that the United Methodist Church mandates.
And I think we need to be clear about that with everyone.
Because the United Methodist Church and its 12.3 million members around the world calls us to condemn items such as:
* Both the conflict in Syria and our administration’s ban of refugees;
* The Church condemns efforts to build a wall on the Mexican border;
* The Church condemns the efforts of pipeline construction in Standing Rock, North Dakota;
The Church condemns the Flint Michigan water crisis and, specifically, the inaction that’s spanned some three years now…;
The Church condemns the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris accord on climate change;
It calls us not to condemn homosexuals from becoming church members;
It calls us not to discriminate against foreign peoples, ethnicities and religions; and
And it calls us not to force migration from those legally here in our country who are in good standing.
And The Church tells us that:
All creation is God’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it;
We claim all economic systems to be under the judgment of God no less than other facets of the created order;
We hold governments responsible for the protection of people’s basic freedoms. We believe that neither church nor state should attempt to dominate the other; and
God’s world is one world. We pledge ourselves to seek the meaning of the gospel in all issues that divide people and threaten the growth of world community.
There’s much more, but these are just some recent highlights…
I thought about all this today as I was discerning what to talk about with this group of potential members following worship today.
I thought, well, we should probably put all of our cards on the table.
After all, membership is more than just putting numbers on a chart to show statistically what it looks like to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
It means understanding what the world’s transformation should look like, and how we are to be shaped as a response to God’s calling in our lives to, again, love as Christ first loved us.
And so for those who have been members, I think it’s a very good time to reiterate exactly what we believe.
Because, in a way, we’ve inherited each other here.
When I became your pastor, you assumed that I would uphold the values of the United Methodist Church.
I work very hard to do just that, and I try also to exemplify that with my life and ministry.
But I never got to ask you what you believed.
My assumption is that as United Methodists, you believe in these basic tenets of our faith.
But none of us is 100 percent. And that’s OK.
We can rely on one another here to continue to grow in the image that God wants us to reflect in the world.
And it’s that reason right there that:
We need one another to help us negotiate the paths of this often confusing world; and
We need God to lead us.
And doesn’t that just all add up nicely to the message of this oneness that the Trinity brings to us today?
And doesn’t that oneness show us exactly how we should respond with our actions — what we should live for, what we should work for and what we should fight for — today?
I think so.
So, let’s talk about this oneness we understand through the Trinity.
We don’t need to be all heady or academic to grasp the concept of the Trinity.
I don’t need to give you visuals like three-leaf clovers, apples or ice cubes to show you that all three entities have their own specific characteristics, but are indeed of one being.
The word Trinity is not anywhere to be found in the Bible.
However, we know Jesus alludes to it often, and the prophets and Gospel writers write about the relationship as well, and we can easily see how the Triune God is manifest throughout Scripture.
God is the Father or Mother, God is the Son and God is the Holy Spirit.
But the Father isn't the Son or the Holy Spirit;
The Son isn’t the Father or the Holy Spirit; and
The Holy Spirit isn’t the Father or the Son.
Yet the Father, Son and Spirit are God.
They each are separate persons, but they share oneness and will.
Inasmuch, they are God.
The Trinity’s oneness is a great example of how I am an individual — Pastor Chris, who has two sons, loves God, enjoys being in the woods and whose favorite food happens to be chocolate cupcakes — and how each of you are individuals as well, with your own preferences, your appearances, you own interests…
Yet, we are united — not just as the human species, but as God’s people in this world.
We have very individual qualities, but we are all the same as children of God.
As God is three-in-one, you might say we’re 7.3 billion-in-one.
And more, we’re all together with God as one.
The Great Commissioning
This idea of oneness is seen in our reading today, what we commonly refer to as The Great Commissioning — Matthew 28.16-20.
We don’t need to proof-text this passage; it is abundantly clear on its own.
As we have been talking and learning about the community that Jesus has called — and is still calling — us to, we see the 11 disciples gathered in Galilee, where Jesus told them to wait for him after being raised from the dead and appearing to them in the Upper Room.
They are gathered, and Jesus appears and empowers them for the mission — which, not incidentally, is our church’s mission statement to “Bring the Love of Jesus Christ to the World” — and he tells them to go and make disciples of ALL nations.” Verse 18.
In there, Jesus shows the disciples twice the image of the Holy Spirit.
First, Jesus says “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” This authority is from God, the Source, and with the power of the Spirit, as witnessed in the risen Christ.
And then we hear Jesus telling the disciples to baptize ALL people “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
We could even stretch it when we hear Jesus close this passage with “I am with you always, to the end of the age” in Verse 20 and ask how else could Jesus, who is no longer to be on earth but in heaven, be both present with his people but also in heaven but through the power of the Holy Spirit?
And because Jesus is firm on not excluding anyone from the glory of the message of God’s Good News, we can witness the commissioning of the disciples to a worldwide mission of community that lives out Jesus’s teaching.
One note here: The disciples have some big shoes — or sandals — to fill, amen?
And did you notice at the beginning of the reading today that when the disciples saw Jesus on this mountain, they worshipped him — but not all of them.
Verse 17 says “When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.”
I am so glad that language is in there.
When I get to heaven, I will make it a point to find Matthew and give him a big hug and thank him for including this little nugget in his Gospel.
Listen carefully: Because the presence of doubt, like fear and “little faith,” indicates that the community of disciples is not perfect.
And so what does that mean for us here today?
We so often question our faith.
We wonder if we’re strong enough to walk in Christ’s footsteps.
We get bogged down with understanding the Trinity.
And that list of the Church’s beliefs and convictions and calls to action in our lives? Maybe we wrestle with some of that, too.
And we see Jesus’s footprints, but so often, we stray from following them, don’t we?
I do, too.
I am imperfect.
In other words, I need a Savior.
I cannot do this thing we call life all alone.
You don’t think Jesus knows this?
Think about that a moment.
You don’t think Jesus doesn’t see our brokenness, our waywardness, our sometimes callous hearts but still call us to this mission anyway!?
It’s the same way he calls the disciples.
We don’t hear Matthew telling us anywhere in this reading that, “Oh, Jesus had to take a moment and convince those who were doubting of who he is, NO!”
Instead, he looks at them, sees the doubt in their hearts and without missing a beat tells them to go and make disciples of the world and baptize them in the name of the Triune God!
My brothers and sisters, we don’t need to be perfect to follow Jesus’s footsteps.
And we don’t need to be perfect in our belief and understanding to spread the Good News.
We don’t even need to wholeheartedly be able to make sense of all this stuff to answer Jesus’s call.
Jesus knows this.
Otherwise, what need would there be for the Holy Spirit within us?
Last week, we talked about how Jesus breathed the Spirit into the disciples — and in to us — so that we would be one always and everywhere until the end of the age.
Jesus’s work for God is done, but it continues in each of us and all of us together through the Spirit who dwells within us.
We are united — ONE — through the Spirit!
We need God, and we need one another so that we can accomplish the mission Jesus calls us to.
You see, this is what it means to be a member of this church.
Nothing less than becoming one with each other in this community — this family — so that together, we can bring the love of Jesus Christ to the world.
Not just to say it, but to do it!
We can’t do it alone; we must do it together.
That’s what we are called to do.
Our membership is our commitment to learning, loving and growing in Christ’s mission to the world.
Peace with Justice Sunday
Now, I have a confession.
The United Methodist Church has a whole list of special Sundays that we celebrate throughout the church year.
There are special posters and offering envelopes.
And we’re supposed to pray and learn together about what it means to bring peace with justice on this day.
My confession is that I’m not a big fan.
Don’t get me wrong: Y’all know I preach almost every Sunday about social justice and peace in this world — you’re probably tired of hearing it!
But that’s my point exactly: We should be practicing peace with justice every Sunday, and more, every day of our lives.
Maybe this Sunday is meant to be a reminder of that. And that’s fine.
But Matthew 28 — this Great Commissioning that we’ve been talking about — wasn’t written for us to refer to just one day of the year.
It’s for every day.
This is how we are to live our lives.
Remember, we aren’t perfect.
And so we wrestle with some of this stuff.
The world teaches us very different ideas about how to love.
The world bases love — if you can call it that — on appearances, on how alike we are, on whether our beliefs align, on how successful we are, on what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, with conditions like unforgiveness.
None of that is how Jesus loves us.
Remember: Jesus didn’t just say to “love one another”; he specifically said “love one another as I have first loved you!”
Jesus gives us the example and instructions as to how to love.
If Jesus’s love was like that of the world, then I’m afraid I would have lost Jesus’s love a long, long time ago.
You see, Jesus calls his imperfect, doubting and fearful disciples for the biggest mission trip anyone has ever commenced, besides Jesus himself.
Today — and every day — he’s calling us to do the same.
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve been or what you’ve done…
It doesn’t matter what the world tells you!
We all have the same path to follow — together!
And we start here, today, with the help of one another to follow that path.
So will you follow Jesus’s footsteps?