A Job and a Promise – June 7, 2020

A Job and a Promise

A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Matt 28:16-20

June 7, 2020

Main Idea: Jesus gives us a job and a promise.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Friends, I must confess that I am tired of talking about this extraordinary time in which we are living.  Each week, each day, it feels like something new and monstrous has arisen to challenge us.  This week the challenge is not new, in fact it is old as our nation itself, but our responses to it this week have been both hopeful and deeply troubling.  This week, in the midst of the pandemic, we have been forced to face the systemic racism in our society.  Racism is a grave sin for it is based on a belief that some of God’s children are more valued or less valued simply because of the color of their skin.   Racism and white privilege are so baked into our culture, that for many people of European descent, it is unseen.  But for people of color, racism is a daily, sometimes deadly, reality.  This week, we have all seen it and we are called to reckon with it.  As people of faith, we turn to Scripture for guidance on how to understand and respond.  Today’s text is a beacon of clarity and hope in these troubled times.  Jesus gives us a job to do and a promise to be with us always.

The Gospel of Matthew has no Ascension or Pentecost stories, no road to Emmaus, or Doubting Thomas story. There are not 50 days of the resurrected Christ spending time with his disciples.  In the Gospel of Matthew, the whole resurrection story is told in just 20 verses in the last chapter of the book.  Today’s text is the end of that story and the end of the whole Gospel.   It is Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples and to us.

This text contains four ‘all’ statements which reveal to us how we are to understand our calling as Christ’s disciples; both our job and our promise. These statements give us structure in which to frame our thoughts and our actions.  Jesus says that “ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [him]”.  We are to make disciples of ALL nations.  We are to teach ALL that he commanded. And ‘Lo he is with us ALWAYS, even to the end of the age’. Notice the order of these statements – the first is about Jesus, the middle two are for us, and the last one is Jesus again.  Jesus surrounds us, guiding and sustaining us.

First, Jesus says that “ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [him]”.  From start to finish the gospel of Matthew is a story about two empires; the kingdoms of Herod and Rome versus the kingdom of God; the kingdom of violence, greed, and death versus the kingdom of love, justice, and life.  As Easter people, we know which kingdom has the last word.  Our highest allegiance is to Christ who has the authority and ability to reconcile heaven and earth.  It is important to remember that Christ our King is Jesus of Nazareth, the poor, dark skinned, itinerant teacher and healer, friend and champion of the vulnerable and outcast.  All authority has been given to him in order that God’s purposes in heaven and on earth are made manifest.  Whatever other allegiances we have, sports teams, political parties, racial and national identities, our first allegiance as Christians must be to Christ who is always on the side of love and peace and justice. (Let me repeat that.) For today, that means that we must not let our American patriotism get mixed up with our Christian calling nor let cynicism or despair lead to apathy or selfishness.  It means that Christ compels us to listen with humility to the voices of those suffering and to work together to bring about peace and healing.

The second “All” statement that Jesus makes is that we are to make disciples of ALL nations.  This verse is often called the Great Commission.  “The purpose of God is to be reconciled with all humanity, which includes every nationality and race. Jesus’ ministry was primarily limited to the Jewish people throughout Matthew’s gospel, but here the boundaries are now expanded to include all humanity.” (Richard Beaton, workingpreacher.org). This is not a call to impose Christianity and our way of doing things on other cultures. Our Christian history includes shameful acts of forced conversion amid oppression and conquests.  Instead, we are to go out into the world and invite people to recognize their place in the beloved community. We are to make disciples and be disciples together; students learning and growing together, sharing the love of God and living together in peace.  We are not to decide that some nations or some people are better than others.  All nations, all peoples are invited and welcomed into the community of God.

The third “All” statement is that we are to teach ALL that he commanded.  The Gospel of Matthew has five major sections of teachings, the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), Instructions for Mission (chapter 10), Parables about the Kingdom of God (chapter 13),  Teachings about life together (chapter 18), and the sermon about judgment (chapters 23-25) which ends with the parable of the sheep and the goats.  “For I was hungry and you give me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” (25:35-36).  Jesus’ teachings are not just for contemplation or to cross stitch and hang on our wall.  Jesus calls us to put our faith and what we have learned into concrete action.  For today that means contacting our elected leaders and speaking out against racism.  It means buying a book about white privilege and really reading it!  It means continuing to support our ministries for the vulnerable.  It means grounding all of our actions in the teaching of Jesus.

The last “All” statement assures us that we can do the job Jesus has given us because it comes with a promise. “Remember, I am with you ALWAYS, to the end of the age.”  This is one of the most comforting statements in all of Scripture.  Jesus promises to fulfill the name given to him way back at the beginning of the gospel in the story of his birth; Emmanuel, God with us.  Matthew’s whole Gospel story has been about God’s presence revealed through Jesus and now Jesus’ presence empowers us to take on the tasks Jesus has set before us. 

So, like that little band of disciples in Galilee, we, in this most extraordinary time of fear and conflict, have been given a job and a promise.  Jesus has brought us together, to this time and place, to share the good news of God’s love to all the world, to all people, of all hues.  The task is not an easy one.  It is a job that we share with each other and a promise that Christ shares with all.   As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, let us affirm that we will work together to share God’s love made know to us through Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.   We will take on this ministry today and every day, in all of our doings, in our work, our mission, our leisure, and our private time.

Let us pray,

 Holy Lord, Creator, Christ, and Spirit, we thank you today for the gift of participating with you in bringing about your vision for our world. Empower us to root out racism and work for justice and healing.  Help us to cling to your Spirit, at all times mindful of your power and grace.  Amen.