In the Gospel text this morning, one word leaps out at me.
There are lots of words in the scripture readings this morning – interesting, thought-provoking, imagination-stirring, even uplifting words:
The description of God’s creation of the world and universe, in Genesis.
The Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians to “agree with one another, [and] live in peace.”
The awe and wonder experienced by the Psalmist at how God cares for him or her, no matter the expanse of the universe.
Sometimes – and maybe it’s true for you this morning – there even may be too many words, and we begin to tune out, as the words just float over our heads.
But of all those words, there’s one word that caught my attention.
The word Jesus speaks to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew.
That word is: “Go.”
“Go,” Jesus says to his disciples, “and make disciples of all nations…”
That little two-letter word is a loaded word.
Jesus speaks it as a command. Crisply. Firmly. With an urgency, and energy behind it.
We can’t escape the fact that the call of Jesus is a call to action, a call to make a difference for the good.
Jesus doesn’t say, “think about it first, then go.”
Or, go only after carefully calculating the cost and doing a risk-assessment.
Or, go only after reflecting on it, dissecting, or debating the worthiness of going.
Just go, Jesus says. And do. Act.
But what is it that the disciples – and by extension everyone of us – what is it we are to go and do?
What is the nature of our going and doing?
This passage from the Gospel of Matthew has functioned as the motivational basis for the Church’s missionary activity around the world over the centuries. Much of it has been good, to the benefit and wellbeing of others.
But, unfortunately, this passage has also been misused in harmful ways as an excuse merely to promote western European ideals in the “New World”, an excuse for powering over others, for abuse, and discrediting and destroying other cultures. Merely a cover for advancing cultural and political power.
As for example the Canadian experience of “the residential schools” in the 19th and 20th centuries has revealed, where indigenous, First Nations people were completely powered over and abused by the Government and Church of western European culture.
When Jesus said “go and make disciples of all nations,” he wasn’t meaning “go, and kill and convert others by sword or gun, and create a unified, dominant earthly kingdom.”
Unfortunately, ever since Constantine in the 4th century, some European rulers and church leaders took that “strong-arm” mis-interpretation of Jesus’ words, to the detriment of others, and the reputation of the Church. The Crusades of the Middle Ages, and other politically motivated “missionary” activity in the Americas are dark chapters in the history of the Church and world.
In fact, the word “disciple” actually means “learner” or “student.”
And so what Jesus is really saying, is that we are to go and make “learners” – life-long students of Christ. Like interns, or apprentices, who watch and observe, who practice under supervision, who ask questions, make mistakes, and learn from them.
When Jesus says, “go and make disciples of all nations” he’s really saying:
Become a learner yourself – a student of Christ yourself – and invite others to join you in a life-long process of learning more about yourself, the world and God in Christ Jesus.
Acknowledge the ultimate mystery of life and people, and have an attitude of openness and humility, recognizing there’s always something more to learn.
Today being “Trinity Sunday,” we consider the three different ways we know God– God the Creator of the universe, God in Jesus who walked this planet earth in the Middle East some two thousand years ago, and God the Holy Spirit filling the world and people with the divine breath of compassionate and steadfast love.
This Sunday lends itself quite well to acknowledging the mystery of the “Triune” God.
And we can either feel confused and flummoxed over any mention of “God,” let alone God as “three persons”, or “Trinitarian”, or “Triune,”
…we can be filled with awe and wonder… experiencing an expansion of our hearts, minds and souls…
…as we stand under the stars at night, far from city lights, and behold the spread of the Milky way high above our heads, and ponder a “loving Somebody” out there, who not only created this breathtaking beautiful creation around and above us, but who also knows, and cares deeply for you, for me, for each one of us. As Psalm 8 declares.
St. Augustine of the 4th century has been one of many who’ve tried to explain, rationalize, and make sense of the ultimate mystery of God as “Trinity.”
He used the example of the tree:
The root underground, is wood.
The trunk of the tree above-ground, is wood.
The branches, are wood.
Three different entities, but one substance, one tree.
God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier: Three different Persons, but the one same God; the one same divine being.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? It can be helpful.
But ultimately, no matter how we try to slice it or dice it, explain or conceive of God, God can’t be reduced to a neatly, tightly wrapped package, a simply explained, easily understood formula.
God will always remain transcendent, beyond human rationalization, beyond the ability to grasp and rationally understand.
And, we need to be able to accept that fact, to live with it, to hold the incomprehensible reality of God ever before us as we journey through life.
I find it remarkable that even the celebrated early twentieth century theoretical physicist Albert Einstein – a careful thinking, rationally, logically- minded person that he was – said this, in his own words:
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this “emotion” is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder, or stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.”
To embrace mystery; to experience awe and wonder, and expansiveness of heart, mind and soul, is not only a mark of health, but is also a sign of spiritual maturity and vitality, and ultimately love of God, self and neighbour.
And this awe and wonder leads to action, to an openness and freedom to do things, to try things, to risk.
It leads to movement, motion, change, a receptivity to the “new thing” that God is doing in our lives and in our midst.
Our sights are set more clearly as never before on the people around us, the persons with whom we interact on a daily basis, and helps us to really see them, and acknowledge them with care, dignity and respect.
To follow Jesus’ command to “Go”, is to go and be truly present to each other, to be comfortable with each other, to behold each other in a climate of hospitality, of welcome, of being together, and caring for each other.
It is to go, and invite others to join us in becoming learners in Christ, together watching and celebrating how God shines through, peeps through everything and everyone we see and hear around us.