by the Reverend Dr. David Madsen
Jesus gives his disciples the following mission statement:
“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).
Let’s examine how this mission statement is presented in two other places, in the Acts of the Apostles and the gospel of Mark.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) “Go into the world. Go everywhere and announce the Message of God’s good news to one and all.” (Mark 16:15)
This is the mission statement that Jesus gives the church. I like this mission statement. It’s simple, to the point, precise and focused. It’s a statement we can remember and apply. We were members of an Episcopal Church that had a really catchy mission statement. It seemed to be well crafted and inclusive, but when we asked people in the church what it meant we got completely different and sometimes answers that totally contradicted others. Mission statements can be beautiful prose and well written, but is it something that people can memorize, know what it means and apply it to their ministry?
The mission statement of St. Alban’s is listed on the front of your bulletin, and its right above the entrance door of the building. It’s one of the first things we noticed on our first visit here; “Equipping everyone to celebrate and share God’s love.” It’s simple, to the point, easy to remember and echoes the words of Jesus mission statement listed in the scriptures we just looked about. Everything we do as a church as we go forward is rooted in our mission statement and vision of who we are and helps to develop a map of where we want to go.
Each week in our gospel readings we are reminded of the things that Jesus taught and said, how he lived his life, and how he expects us to follow his example and commandments, and we are reminded as we were last week on the Day of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, the day that the Holy Spirit was infused into the church, and Jesus says to the church: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age”.
Today is Trinity Sunday, and we are reminded of the Trinity (Triune God) when we look over our office parish door you see a triangle (a symbol for God, the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit). Jesus modeled for us how we should live in a relationship with our Father, just as he lived in a relationship with God, whom he referred to as “Abba”. This is an Aramaic word that was used by Jesus that portrays a relationship of personal intimacy. And, through his life He personified how God loves us. He called each of his disciples by name, one by one, in a way that stood them apart from the crowd as a special person. He never seemed to be in a hurry and took time to minister, to heal and converse with individuals and groups of people.
Even now through the Holy Spirit that resides in the church, we are told that Jesus will come again just as He went into heaven. It’s a spiritual dynamic. The trinity is a difficult thing to grasp. We say it in the Nicene Creed together every Sunday morning, but when we give it some thought it becomes difficult to comprehend, God in three persons, but one God. As we read in Deuteronomy 6: 4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
I am reminded this morning of that beautiful hymn from St. Patrick, which starts out with these words: “I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three”. (St. Patrick’s Breastplate)
It’s not an easy thing to grasp, this concept of God in three persons. I teach this lesson to our candidates for Confirmation, and it’s the most difficult lesson in our series. I do believe that children have this magical ability to grasp it easier than adults. The Rev. Dr. Mark Richardson, who was Professor of Theology at General Theological Seminary, and is now President and Dean at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkley, asked this question during one of his classes: “Who can explain the Trinity to us this morning?” So, what was customary to my calling, I raised my hand and said: “I don’t really have a good grasp on understanding the Trinity. I don’t think anybody does. I think it’s impossible to understand.” And, I was sure that I had opened my mouth wide and inserted foot as was my custom. There was another student in the class that was offended by my remark and immediately began to tell the professor that she knew what the Trinity was and it was easy to understand, God, the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit—and what the roles of each were in the Godhead. The Professor began to talk about the Trinity and at the end of the class he asked again: “Okay, who can explain the Trinity to us?” Nobody took the challenge. The other student met me after class, and said she thought she had a grasp of the Trinity, but it’s not as simple as she thought. I wanted to say, “I told you so”, but I didn’t I said, neither do I, but we can still teach and baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In the Athanasius Creed, one of the three creeds of our faith, including the Nicene Creed and the Apostolic Creed, we read the following: The Father is incomprehensible, the Son is incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit is incomprehensible. In other words it’s way above our pay-grade to have a complete understanding of how unity in the Godhead operates, the Three in one. So, when you are talking to the Holy Spirit, you are talking to God, when you are talking to the Father you are talking to God, when you are talking to Jesus you are talking to the Father, etc…See? And then we are caught up in this unity in some way. We are not part of the Godhead, but we are now part of the Beloved family. We are all expected at the family dinner table.
So now, how do we apply this teaching? We apply that by obeying the commands of Jesus and carrying out the Great commission. We are told to go into the entire world and make disciples of all people, teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us and them to do. We are asked to the teachings, commands and the model of Jesus, in order to put the teachings into practice.
And then Jesus finishes his commission talk with one last thing: Remember this: I will be with you always even until the end of the age (Until the end of time as we know it and beyond to infinity) I am with you always. (Eternal rest, eternal joy, eternal peace, eternal comfort, eternal presence and awesomeness of heaven) Even when we die, even when we are dead and gone, we will be absent from the body but present with the Lord.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.