Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"From First to Last" - Kurt Nelson

Delivered at the Strafford United Church.  6/19/11
Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a, Matthew 28: 16-20

We’ve heard it all this morning.
The beginning of the universe,
to the end of the age,
in 2 short readings.
Just 39 and a half verses.
From the beginning to the end.
From first to last.
All our questions answered.
All our deepest ponderings pondered.
All our doubts put to rest.
Have the heavens opened?
Are you ready to go forth,
and make disciples of all nations?

Maybe there are those of you out there this morning,
who have always been good about this.
Always willing to share with others,
about God's work in the world,
and in your life.
But maybe not.
Certainly for me,
 this has always been a complicated idea.
The Great Commission.
“Go forth and make disciples of all nations…”
It brings to my mind so many images of televangelists,
and aggressive street-corner evangelists.
It brings to mind,
So many stories of close-minded followers of Christ,
using fear to motivate faith.
Who turn so many away,
in hopes of finding a few more converts.
And of course, it brings to mind,
So many histories of violence,
and colonialism.
And oppression.
In the name of God.

I have wished,
and hoped,
and prayed that those verses simply go away.
But they haven't and they won't.
And I've often,
like I suspect many churches like this one,
left it neglected.
Ceding further the ground,
to those who would use such a call,
to do such seemingly unchristian things.

And so it's time,
this morning,
to welcome this idea back into our fold,
I think.
Because it's right there in black and white.
Seemingly clear.
Not going anywhere.
So we're better to let it speak to us.
And figure out where we might go.

This is the very end of the Gospel of Matthew.
It’s not quite like his friends, John, Luke and Mark.
There’s no event of cosmic significance.
No ascension or transfiguration.
No litany of miraculous events.
Just a charge to his followers.
Tag, disciples.
You’re it.
It’s worth noting that it wasn’t Jesus who called it the Great Commission.
Nor was it even Matthew.
But the church that deemed it so.
And it would likely be better,
if we called it, “One of the Great Commissions.”
Jesus spoke in the imperative,
30 or 40 times in the Gospel Narratives.
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
"Love your enemies."
and “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength.”
and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
These seem to me like the greatest commissions.
But, no doubt,
Go forth.
Make disciples.
It is a great commission.
It’s your turn, disciples.

It’s our turn.

Now, it seems to me a simple and undeniable fact,
that there are many people in the world who profess faith in Christ,
who are,
shall we say,
 not very pleasant to be around.
And it took me a good while,
in my young adult life,
to realize that this does not mean,
that there was not truth to this Christ,
this God,
this Church and faith.
Some people are unpleasant.
But they may still be right.

And so maybe you,
like I,
can once in a while move past the vision of Evangelism as simply unpleasant.
But this commission is still hard.
And perhaps upon hearing these words of Jesus,
you feel guilty.
Perhaps you feel you should be making disciples of all nations,
but haven't
or can't
or won't.
Perhaps visions swim in your heads,
of people who have given it all up,
to go spend time as missionaries for the good,
at some far-flung village without water, electricity or food.
I no doubt have my moments,
even in a position of religious leadership,
where upon encountering these bold words of Jesus,
I feel only convicted by their rhetorical power,
and their inability to move me to significant action.

And there we stand.
If you're anything like me.
Burdened with the shame of the wrongs done,
in the name of Christ.
And burdened with the guilt,
of being unwilling and unable to move,
as Jesus commissions us.

And it's easy to forget,
that it's not about guilt.
and it's not about shame.
It's about love.
Really and truly,
from first to last.

The basis,
and essence of Christ’s Message,
of the Gospel message,
is that we are really and truly loved.
Not because we are successful,
or keep a nice home.
Not because we are good at our jobs,
or have lots of friends.
Not even because we’re good,
or do our best.
But because 'Loved' is who we are,
more than anything else.
Grace is what we're given,
free, unearned.  Wonderful.
And that's a message worth believing.
And worth spreading,
with our words when necessary,
but even more with our lives,
our actions,
our very being.
Do we live as if we know, that we are really loved?
Are we willing to witness that love to others,
in ways deeper than words?
We needn't be burdened by guilt,
or by fear, or by shame.
But can I think strive to witness,
to the simple, universal message,
that we are loved.  Period.  Full stop.
You are loved.
(Practice it.)
When we strip it all down,
it's really all about love.
And that is, I think,
a message that the world is truly hungry for.

It's also, you may have noticed, Trinity Sunday,
for those who care about such things.
It was kind of Byron to leave me to take on both the Trinity and the Great Commission on this fine Sunday morning.

But at its essence,
the trinity is about two things:
Mystery and Love.
The first point is easy.
God is bigger, and broader than our conceptions.
Than our pictures of the big man in the sky with a  white beard.
And as we ponder the strange idea of three and one,
our unknowing comes closer to understanding,
than any form of specific knowing ever could.

And second,
that loving relationship is essential,
not only to God's relationship to the world,
but within God's very self.
Love is real, and eternal.
From before the beginning of time,
to the end of the age.
Love, from first to last,
is, we hope and believe,
is the realest thing there is.

And it doesn’t matter if you think
you don’t know enough.
you aren't perfect enough.
You aren't good enough to go forth and make disciples.
Because of course,
neither were the original disciples.
Those first commissioned.
They were bumbling and stupid.
They never quite got it.
And yet here we are.
And they can inspire us,
in their unknowing.

You may be thinking that you have too much doubt.
Too many questions.
And I would say great.
We need people ready and willing to witness,
to doubt.
To speak and act with integrity,
and humility,
to the fact that we hope,
and on good days believe
the good news that we are really loved.
But we are far from certain.
That's a message too,
that the world seems ready to hear.

And finally,
as we go,
take heart.
This news is bigger than you and me.
Bigger than our doubt.
Bigger than our guilt.
Bigger than our shame.
Jesus is with us always.
And authority is his,
not ours.
This is the good news.
That love is first.
Love is last.
Love has been, is,
and will be with us even unto the end of the age.
And we are part of its story.
Learning to love.
Love our spouses and partners,
and families and friends,
Love our neighbors.
Love our enemies.
Love those Christians in the world who are so hard to take.
And love our God.
We are learning.
We are growing.
And we are called to live that,
really, truly.

I will not be perfect.
Some of you may be perfect.
But many of you will not.
And that's okay.
For still, you are loved.
And can go out,
and as you are able,
share that love with the world.
So go.
Be loved.
And be willing to share that love.
It is indeed a great commission.                              Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment