Tuesday, May 29, 2012

COMMISSIONED BY THE KING -- Homily for Trinity Sunday. 6.3.12. MATTHEW 28:16-20

Trinity Sunday

Homily for 6.3.12
MATTHEW 28:16-20 (see below)
Year B

Today is Trinity Sunday, and the Lectionary Gospel reading celebrates this day by bringing to our attention the text often understood as the marching orders of the church -- usually called the Great Commission.

Toward the end this homily we shall think about the Trinity, but initially we must see the text for what it is, the Christ' offering to the world not the church triumphant, but the church which bears the suffering of the world, the church practicing Kingdom ministry for the sake of the King in a broken and hostile world at war with itself.

In fact, we could say that the church is called and sent to face a world-system that rejects the resurrection of the King primarily for its inconvenience -- we want to be in charge and we do not want Jesus as King thank you very much, as well as for its miraculous nature -- we prefer a flat, non-mysterious world thank you very much. So, the church, thus commissioned by the King, must announce the reality of the King's Resurrection and Ascension to the places of authority and power who simply do not want to hear it.

And this announcement, therefore, will be seen by many (most) as bigoted and hateful: 
"How can you say that Jesus is King, when there are so many other views in the world?" 
"How can you say that Jesus is King when there have been such hate and violence perpetrated in his name?”

These are actually very good questions, however the answer would take us pretty far afield today. Let me just say that the basis of Jesus being King is nothing less than his resurrection from the dead (cf. Rm.1:3,4; 1Cor.15:23-26) and his sacrificial love (Phil.2:5-11), and the sacrificial love of his new community, and not the tyranny of a religious dictatorship.

Having said this, let us face the grand text together, looking into the heart of not only King Jesus' LORDship but the disciple's calling, measuring our own community's heart and practices by it.


To be commissioned is to carry a charge from a sovereign power that confers authority directly and, as such, to hold a commission is to be charged with the duties, obligations, requirements, and responsibilities of a specific office, position or task, along with the authority to perform a task or certain duties. The charge from a commission is the particular task derived and authorized by the commission.

Sounds all very wordy, I know, still is says something to us. It says, in the present context, that we have been commissioned, or sent, by King Jesus' authority, to perform certain duties and responsibilities. 

First, we see here the authority of the King. That is, in the moment of the ascension, Jesus describes his authority to us, his authority for sending his followers into the world, saying, 
"All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
 The ascension, far from being some magic show that takes Jesus out of the world, instead places Jesus before the world, in Kingship over the world, at the place of ascendency or preeminence (cf. Col.1:17) In fact, when we think of King Jesus’ authority we should associate it with his Ascension.

I love N.T. Wright's description of the meaning of the Ascension:

“The early Christians, like their Jewish contemporaries, saw heaven and earth as the overlapping and interlocking spheres of God’s good creation, with the point being that heaven is the control room from which earth is run. To say that Jesus is now in heaven is to say three things. First, that he is present with his people everywhere, no longer confined to one space-time location within earth, but certainly not absent. Second, that he is now the managing director of this strange show called ‘earth’, though like many incoming chief executives he has quite a lot to do to sort it out and turn it around. Third, that he will one day bring heaven and earth together as one, becoming therefore personally present to us once more within God’s new creation. The Bible doesn’t say much about our going to heaven. It says a lot about heaven, and particularly heaven’s chief inhabitant, coming back to earth.”

Notice also, the King is not removing us from the world, but he is the one sending us back to the world, to love the world into discipleship toward the King. The point here is that we are to go, that we must go, that we are commissioned by the King to go into the world, the King who has the authority to send us, for he is the sovereign LORD of the entire world. 


We should say up-front that the least way to find fulfillment in this life is to maintain sole focus on yourself. To focus on yourself, and to only seek that it is your needs being met and your issues being surfaced and your self-esteem being stroked actually becomes the formula for dissatisfaction and selfishness.

No, the path to human joy and freedom is the path that offers what time we have and what talents we have and what resources we have to the other, to the one in front of us, to the one who is in need.

And this is actually to describe the Kingdom work with which Jesus confronts us this morning through St. Matthew’s ancient text. That is, this work of the other is actually the work to which Jesus now calls us. To be sure, we know that this is how he lived his life -- with the other on his heart and mind -- where, as the ultimate human being, he always offered himself in sacrificial love. 

This means the standard for following this Great Commission is very high, indeed. Or, listen how St. Paul describes the task:
“...agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one heart and purpose. Don't be selfish; don't live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don't think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing. (Phil.2:2b-4)
But, one might wonder what this has to do with the Commission Jesus gave us, and the fact that there is much work to do in the world. I would submit that this has everything to do with the Commission and the  Kingdom, for this care and love that comes through seeking reconciliation and sacrificial love is the work of the Kingdom because it offers the true presentation of the King.

The church, therefore, as we said three weeks ago, and as we were reminded two weeks ago:
  • must absorb the pain of a broken world, a world at war with itself, by self-giving and loving friendship 
  • must display to the watching world the wise, loving rule of the Sovereign King Jesus 
  • must proclaim with our lives that the rule of the new King, King Jesus, is nothing like those of current empires, be they religious or not 
When Jesus commissions us to go, this is what go means, it is there is something to be done.

Think of it in this way: The world is in such a sorry mess, and sadly the church in the West has often failed miserably in offering an alternative to the Enlightenment being in the world. We have bought into the lie of scarcity and self-absorption that succeeds in cutting the nerve of reconciliation and sacrificial love, which is the heart of the Christian practice. Therefore, we must somehow see beyond the current way of doing church, which many of us learned  as children.

Much more should be said here, but let me offer three guiding thoughts and then move on to the final point:
  • to be involved in GOD’s Kingdom work is the most exciting of human prospects because we are daily allowed, called, moved to get beyond ourselves 
  • to make disciples who follow Jesus through baptism and through observing and practicing what Jesus said and did, the watching world must see living results of this baptism and this observation and practice in action, or to them it is meaningless 
  • to be involved in the Kingdom work by baptizing and making disciples we cannot rely upon our own strength, which leads us to our final point 


And now we are ready to think about the trinitarian nature of the Commission we have been given.

St. Matthew quotes King Jesus as saying:
"All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."
Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” here is the trinitarian formula, of course, but is it more than a formula? I think it is. I think what is here presented to us is not only the ultimate description of GOD’s action for our salvation:

The Father Sent the Son -- to accomplish the reclamation of the world,

The Son Sent the Spirit -- to empower the new humanity to accomplish his reclamation project...
but how the love and wisdom and harmony that exists within the Trinity must also come to exist within the new humanity -- the Christian church -- as well.

That is, our pattern for community life and the goal for Kingdom ministry is the our own faithful practice of the Trinity’s love for each other, making a full and complete display of this new way of being in the world to all who care to see. For, we know that this love and harmony is what will finally and truly mark out the church as an alternative way of being within our world, a world that is still so shattered with hate and greed and deceit and division. 

The church, therefore, must be the clear and present example of the future Kingdom, where the King will reign completely with wisdom and love and justice that now exists within the Trinity.
We must live out that wisdom and love and justice, now, or why would anyone be interested in what we have to say?

Our focus, therefore, is in the here-and-now and not the sweet by-and-by! Our focus is on the reality of the reigning King, now, and not going to heaven when we die! And, our focus is on the reclamation of GOD’s-good-world-now-marred, now, and not building to ourselves the great monuments of Christendom.

This is will only done by practicing the harmony and love and wisdom within the Trinity, and by experiencing the empowering presence of the Spirit of the Risen Jesus, who promises never to leave us or forsake us...

MATTHEW 28:16-20
The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them,
"All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."