Our gospel pericope this morning is taken from the Gospel of Matthew. Let’s look at it again. This is probably the most famous mission statement that Jesus ever made.
“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them: All authority 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
The first part of this passage establishes the authority of Jesus to make this kind of mission statement. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”. The declaration does not come across as a suggestion. It is not intended to echo back as a good idea, and it is not fashioned as something we need to work on as a group and discuss how it should be changed or tweaked. For teaching purposes let’s break this mission statement into four parts.
Part one: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”. The imperative summons gives us pause, and it is a mission that has been carried out since the birth of the church on Pentecost Sunday, so many years ago. From a small band of believers that met every day in Jerusalem, praying together, studying together, fellowshipping and breaking bread together, the Christian faith is the largest faith tradition in the world.
According to the Pew Research Center for Demographic analysis from 2015, Christians make up the largest religious group in the world, making up nearly a third of the earth’s 7.3 billion people. But, the report also shows that the number of Christians in what many consider the religion’s heartland, the continent of Europe, is in decline. The numbers are not pointing in the right direction for Christians in this country either, but Christians remain the largest faith tradition in the USA.
Part Two: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Whether dunked in a river, a baptismal tank, a creek with running water, a river or sprinkled at a baptismal fount, we have our directive. We take that seriously, and that’s why we baptize people of all ages, from babies to adults. It’s part of our commission in ministry. Last Sunday we baptized little Stephanie, daughter of Angeline and Pah Bu. And, our directive is to encourage everyone to live into their baptismal covenant. That covenant is based on this Christological statement: “Christ has die. Christ has risen, and Christ will come again”. We who have been buried with Christ in baptism, share the resurrected life of Christ. We have died with him in baptism and we have risen with him in newness of life, and now we wait for his coming again.
Part Three: “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you”. This is the part that takes some work. We take Gospel reading very seriously in our church. You notice that in the liturgy part of our service, which we refer to as the Word of God, we look at four pericopee’s; The First reading from the Hebrew Bible, or what is called the First Testament, a Psalm, reading from one of NT epistles, followed by a reading from one of the Gospels assigned for the day from the Revised Standard Lectionary, as are all readings are assigned. But, you that are familiar with our tradition of reading the Gospel, it is a sacred reading. And, the reason we hold it sacred is because we are told to not only read the things Jesus commanded us, but we are persuasively asked to put those teachings into practice, to live out our faith tradition, not just listen to it or read it and then go on our way without doing our best to make Scripture a part of our everyday life. The teachings of Jesus are intended to change our lives, to re-establish a worldview that conforms to the principles of the Kingdom of God, as taught and practiced by Christians throughout history.
Part Four: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”. Just as Jesus breathed on his disciples before His ascension, and just as the Holy Spirit came down on the disciples in the form of flames of fire at Pentecost, so the fire of Pentecost is in the church. And, that same Holy Spirit has been sent to remind us of the teachings of Jesus and to reassure us that we are not alone.
The Anglican Communion, (including the Episcopal Church of the USA), is the 2nd largest Christian Faith tradition in the world, right behind the Roman Catholic Church, and just ahead of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Episcopal Church is just one part of the Christian Faith Tradition. We are not the only way, nor do we proclaim that our way is the only right way. But, as a church we hold to the belief of Common Prayer, and our ways of church practice is greatly influenced by the Book of Common Prayer.
Common Prayer is a distinctive that has been important in our faith tradition for close to 500 years. Our approach to worship is to find common ground for all people, to offer an invitation to worship as a community, regardless of race, color, culture, male, female, straight, gay, bisexual or transsexual. All are welcome to worship here. All are welcome at the Lords Table, and all the gifts of God are intended for all the people of God, including those that have no shelter and no place to call home.
Common Prayer invites all of us to come together and worship, regardless of political or social views. In our worship service, you don’t have to check your brains in at the door and pick them up with your coat and hat on the way out. In fact, I ask you please not to do that, because you need your mind to accompany you in worship, with both mind and heart. Our commitments to share the love of God to all people has no man-made social or political boundaries. And, for this teaching and commitment I will not apologize, back away from or change.
In our church, we ask you to live out the gospel in your lives. In other words, take the teachings of Jesus, and the teachings of the Epistles, and the examples and direction of Scripture, and make them relevant in your life. Living into our baptismal covenant means to follow Christ wherever He may lead, and allow the Holy Spirit to change, renew, envision and to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen