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An Invitation to a Loving Mission

Date:6/7/20

Passage: Matthew 28:16-20

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Michael L. Gregg

Jesus had been crucified. He died. And he was buried in a tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the place where he was buried only to find an angel, a messenger, sitting peacefully on the rolled away stone. Yet, that peace could not arrive unless the violent earthquake shook the confines of the tomb loose. And after the violent earthquake shook everything loose, this patient and peaceful messenger told the two Marys to take a moment, to go into the tomb and see the place where Jesus had once been. “But don’t linger too long.” The angel urged them to be the first evangelists, the first people to do what the Great Commission asks us all to do.

These two women were the beginnings of the church, the spreading of the message of the Good News into all the world. These two women were to proclaim to the disciples that Jesus wasn’t there, that he had risen. And when the disciples received that good news they were to go to the mountaintop. They were to go to the mountaintop both physically and spiritually. They were to go to the mountaintop in Galilee and find the risen Jesus. That was the invitation. That was the first invitation to the followers of Jesus to encounter God and to spread the message and the mission of Christ. That was the beginning of the Great Commission, an invitation to a mission of love.

We often forget that the Great Commission passage in Matthew immediately follows the death and burial of Jesus. I think that is important because, for me, the Great Commission is an invitation from Jesus to explore the Trinitarian nature of God and to reveal God’s message of love to the entire world. Today is Trinity Sunday and that Great Commission passage follows right after Pentecost Sunday. And although we claim that Pentecost was the birthday of the church, when the power of the Spirit spread through the world with refining fire and empowered breath, the Great Commission was that moment when Jesus gave an invitation to his followers to remake the world with baptismal water, revealing that all of God’s people are called by name. All of God’s people are beloved.

Not only did the Great Commission passage follow the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, but it followed a portion of the text in Matthew that we hardly ever talk about. You see the guards were bribed to make up a fake story about what happened to Jesus. The chief priests and the authorities and those in charge wanted to keep the resurrection of Jesus quiet and the movement of hope and love entombed in lifeless stone. And if not entombed then definitely missing in action. Hear what the Gospel of Matthew says:

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So, the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.

The System, the political and religious Machine, those with all the power, wanted to keep Jesus’ message of love, redemption, equality, and rebellion out of the minds and hearts of the oppressed. Those in power wanted to change the story and make it fit their agenda. Those who had religious and political heft sought to take this radical story of inclusive love and peace and make it go away by buying off the guards and convincing them that they would not get into trouble with the ruling authorities. But maybe the world needed troublemakers at that time. Maybe the world needed a rebellion. Maybe those who saw the coming resurrected change begin to happen in the world needed to find ways to share the great message of God’s love, inclusion, and passion that would put the oppressors on their heels and reveal that all deserved to be born of water, a water to refresh the downtrodden and quench the weary soul.

That’s the invitation we are being given today. It is an invitation to take the message and mission of Christ to the world. But I know that many of us probably think we aren’t good enough, holy enough, educated enough to invite people into the healing love of God. The Great Commission is for someone else, it’s for the missionaries or the preachers, but surely not for me. No, we are invited to change the world with God’s love even though we are imperfect. We are invited to the mountaintop to be with Jesus even though we are inadequate. We are to go on this mission of love even though we are insufficient.

You see, two scared and imperfect women gathered the followers of Jesus at the mountain. Well, eleven of the imperfect disciples, at least. The phrase “the eleven disciples” instead of the customary “the Twelve,” reminds us of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denials and that all were scattered and scandalized by Jesus’ death. It is to these less than perfect disciples that Jesus gave the responsibility and authority to “make disciples of all nations.” We don’t have to possess perfect pasts to take Jesus’ message into other people’s lives. Sure, we can be scared. We can be overwhelmed. We can be hopeless and sad. Many of us are right now, but that’s ok. Remember what it says, “When they saw him, they worshiped him but some doubted.” Even though all worshiped him, many had some hesitation, some doubt mingled in with their worship. Jesus entrusted his authority, his resolve, his power to eleven doubting disciples and to all of us imperfect people.

We are part of the Great Commission, even as our imperfect selves. And as we struggle with our imperfect selves, we are reminded that these imperfect disciples were given the phrase, “I will be with you.” Jesus’s presence of love and justice, God’s spirit of reconciliation and hope are with us each and every moment of the day. We need the help of one another if we are going to change the world. We need our church and our families and other imperfect people. It is a co-mission, a mission we do with others and with God. Just as Jesus said, he will not leave us alone until the end of time. We need community, friends, followers, allies as we bring Jesus’s message to the world. Presence is important. We are not alone as we invite people to the mountaintop to see Jesus.

Jesus’s invitation of love is for us to join him on the mountaintop. Have you been on the top of a mountain before? Think about what it was like, the air gets cooler and you can see for miles, viewing things from a different perspective and angle. Maybe you were tired from a long hike and you really noticed that your body was tired but your soul was refreshed? Did you know Jesus was on the mountain top a lot in the Gospel of Matthew? Do you remember some of those places? The temptation narrative and battling Satan on a mountain, the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus called people blessed, Jesus retreated for prayer, he healed people on the mountain, he was transfigured, glowing, changed, on the mountaintop, and he prayed and pled with God on the Mount of Olives. The mountain top seemed to be where change and transformation happened. It is where we draw closer to God. Our Great Commission is to bring people to the mountaintop, to help every person feel closer to a loving God.

And that’s our invitation today on this Trinity Sunday when we try to live the Great Commission. It is our calling, our invitation, to bring people to the mountaintop to experience the love of Jesus. I think the messenger of hope, sitting on the opened tombs of our lives, is asking us to meet Jesus on the mountaintop so that we can see things more clearly and have the passion and energy to do Christ’s mission in the world.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr spoke of being on the mountaintop during the final speech of his life. He proclaimed, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So, I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

We are invited to a great mission together, church, a co-mission, a mission to listen to the words of Jesus, to act upon those words and his life, so that all people will experience the mountaintop and find the love of God bursting forth from the heavens. And friends, my girls and I watched the Falcon 9 Space X launch and it was awesome. That space launch showed us that while we can make it into the heavens, we still can’t seem to get all communities and colors and creeds up the mountain to view the Promised Land. Dr. King said he could see the Promised Land, but after all these years I don’t feel we aren’t any closer to that land where everyone is beloved. And sometimes it feels as if we will never get there. But that is indeed our mission and our invitation today. We are being invited into a Great Commission to help create a Promised Land that reveals the love and justice and equality of God for all of God’s people… ALL of God’s people.

And we, in our imperfect selves, who are striving to join Jesus on the mountaintop are reminded that the spirit of God is with us even until the end of the world. I know many of us feel alone. We feel depressed. We feel beat down and suffocated by the weight of isolation, racism, injustice, and fear. But the mountaintop message revealed to us is that the mission of Jesus, the presence of Jesus, the spirit of Jesus that is with us, all the time, even until the end of the world.

So, let us continue to climb the mountain, people of God. Let us continue to draw closer to the Promised Land. Let us fight for equal rights for our brothers and sisters of color. Let us take our righteous anger at the deaths of George and Breonna and Ahmaud and live into the hope of God’s love and mission of Jesus that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw as a possibility for us. “We, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So, I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Amen.