Sermon at Grace Church
June 19, 2011 – Trinity Sunday A
by the Rev. Constance Jones
Grafton Baptist Church down on route 17
has one of those message boards you can’t resist reading,
and I’m sure they consider it part of their evangelism.
Naturally I like to check out the theology or the ecclesiology
or even the psychology of the message.
A week or so ago it read, “The truth of Scripture demolishes speculation.”
Now, if they’d said,
The richness of Scripture invites further inquiry into the depths of the heart of God,
I could go there. But demolishes speculation?
I love to speculate!
In today’s reading from the very end of the Gospel of Matthew,
there is this intriguing line:
When they saw him [that is, the risen Christ, about to ascend into heaven],
they worshiped him, but some doubted.
Now, it sounds to me as though those who worshiped Jesus
included both doubters and non-doubters.
All of them got commissioned to go forth and make disciples
and do all Jesus had taught and commanded.
All of them were promised that Jesus would be with them even to the end of time.
The Gospel of Matthew is all about inclusion –
inclusion of Gentiles, and evidently inclusion of doubters as well.
Well, what are we all being included into?
When we are baptized, what are we being baptized into?
One answer advanced by a whole swath of Christendom is:
We’ve been set aside by our baptism – the only way to be marked for Heaven.
Only those who profess Jesus as their Lord and Savior will be saved.
But Jesus in that final passage in Matthew can’t possibly be talking
about having some correct passcode into an exclusive club,
because all of the Gospel of Matthew centers on Jesus’ teaching
about how to live as his disciple,
how to align ourselves with God’s vision of the kingdom of heaven.
In Matthew, Jesus is refreshingly clear about discipleship. It’s about how you live.
You feed people who are poor and hungry.
You love your antagonists and include everybody.
You pray and forgive and fast and make peace.
You leave the judging to God.
Mind you, this isn’t about earning your way into heaven.
Not possible. We’re too sinful.
It’s about being transformed in Christ, redeemed in our hearts, receiving God’s grace,
and then living out our Christ-likeness in tangible concrete ways.
Ways that you can see and detect and almost warm yourself from.
Many years ago I was in a college cafeteria line.
I wanted some plastic wrap to cover my sandwich for take-out.
Instead of being smart and asking for help,
I reached across the counter to snag some wrap
from one of those long industrial-sized rolls.
Reaching and stretching, I pulled some wrap along the jagged serrated cutter on the box.
I ripped the inside of my wrist instead of the plastic wrap.
Ripped into an artery, actually. I froze in shock.
But a young man, a complete stranger, put down his tray and stepped up to my side.
He said, “I won’t leave you until I see you are OK.”
A simple thing, but in that instant it was the voice of Christ beside me.
I have no doubt of it.
What a privilege that is to have happen to you.
What a privilege it is to be that for someone else.
Last week we celebrated the Pentecost,
the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples and upon all of us.
Here on Trinity Sunday we have Christ’s Great Commission.
Go out and make disciples of all nations,
baptize them and teach them all I have taught you.
The disciples had to figure out what to DO
with the power Jesus had given them through the Holy Spirit.
In the coming generations they made a church,
wrote sacred texts and canonized them – made them official.
They instituted leadership and decided what was orthodox –
all things necessary to make a container for the perpetuation of Jesus’ teaching.
But along the way the necessary container tended to become an end in itself.
How easy it was to fall in love with Mother Church.
To make Scripture absolute.
What delight it was to create beautiful liturgy and sacred music and build cathedrals.
How engaging it was to try to fill the pews,
or argue about, say, atonement theory,
or master the fine points of Anglican chant!
But I’m afraid that the point of church was never simply to enjoy church, or to master it.
The point of the Bible was never to set up camp inside its pages,
and ignore the needs of the world out there.
The point of believing isn’t to be proud of believing.
Even the most devout prayer and meditation, and union with God,
is not, at least in this life, an end in itself.
Without acting as Christ’s agent in the world, it could be mere self-indulgence.
Rather, I think the point of practices of discipleship –
prayer, the sacraments, studying the Bible, being in Christian fellowship –
is to so attach us in Christ to the living God,
that we become Christ-shaped as our habit – as our clothing almost –
because then God may flow into and through us easily,
to repair a broken world.
Because then we may be Christ in the details of our life on this earth,
until we flow back into God on our last day.
The opportunities and the details are endless.
This past week our dear friend Jim Henry,
the retired priest who’s subbed here at Grace when both Carleton and I were away,
fell into a ditch while mowing his lawn and broke his ankle.
He’s been the primary caregiver and transportation-provider for his wife Nancy,
who’s pretty weak from chemotherapy.
Jim broke, of course, his right ankle and is out of commission for six weeks.
Well, volunteer drivers and casserole-makers have leapt to the ready.
And if you have flexibility in doing some driving for the Henrys,
who live in Williamsburg,
please let me know. I’m making a list.
I could also make you a list of how I have seen Christ expressed in other little details,
both inside this community and beyond it.
The spirit of Christ is fully alive and at work.
All this has never been about being in the right club
or having the right answers to some sort of cosmic quiz.
It is about participating in the Holy Trinity whom we celebrate today --
God the creator, God the redeemer,
and God the spirit, who enlivens and empowers us to live in him.
And what about doubters and questioners
and people in the midst of chaos and suffering?
What if on any given day you aren’t so sure about the Virgin Birth,
or you just don’t think Jesus seriously wanted to kill that fig tree,
or you’re angry and frightened that your loved one has been diagnosed with cancer?
What if you want to go argue with people who say
“The truth of Scripture demolishes speculation,”
because frankly you have a lot of questions to ask of God?
My thinking is this. Or better still……my trust is this.
That the Jesus who healed lepers, conversed with women, ate with Pharisees,
and stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross
so that all people might come within the reach of his saving embrace,
AND who did not withhold his commissioning from those “some who doubted,”
will embrace every one of us as well.
Not just to make us his forever, but to shine his grace through us to the world.
Go out, then, make disciples. Be disciples.
And Christ’s promise is true. He will be with you until the end of time.
Thanks be to God.