3 Marks of Discipleship and 1 Small Truth

Trinity Sunday’s significance resides in the simple fact that no other Sunday highlights a dogma of faith. I’ve preached Trinity Sunday every year of my ministry, and rather than preaching it again, I’ve shifted my focus on Sunday to being a disciple—the other piece of Matthew’s Great Commission.

So here it is: A sermon for Trinity Sunday — Based on Matthew 28:16-20

Matthew ends his gospel not in Jerusalem like Mark and Luke, but back in Galilee.  Jesus had told the women he saw at the tomb that he would meet his disciples there.  So they do that; they head back north and, as we read, Jesus appears to them on this mountain.

When they see him, they worship him although some of them doubted.  We have no idea what caused their hesitation, with one foot immersed in the worship of Jesus and one in doubt.  But notice that it doesn’t stop Jesus from coming to them all.  “Go and make disciples of all nations,” he tells them, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  And that’s it.

Today is Trinity Sunday, the only Sunday in our liturgical year given entirely over to a doctrine of faith.  This reading from the end of Matthew is included due to its baptismal formulation—one of the only places in scripture where the Trinity is so clearly defined.  Rather than preaching on the Trinity this year, about the community the Trinity clearly embodies through perichoresis or the Divine Dance, I want to focus on the other really obvious component of this passage from Matthew.  The call to discipleship.

I’ve made it no secret that my primary mission as your priest is to make disciples.  When it comes down to it, everything we do here, the worship services, the meals we share, the book studies and education, the outreach and inreach and visits, all of it centers on making disciples of Jesus Christ.  This passage of scripture is called the Great Commission because all those who are disciples of Jesus are commissioned to make more disciples.  To spread the good news to all nations.  To make disciples by teaching them about Jesus commands, baptizing them and helping them to obey Jesus’ teachings.

Far too often the work of making disciples gets hoisted on to us ordained types.  That since we’ve earned a Master’s of Divinity (as if the Divine could somehow be mastered), it’s our job to form new followers of Jesus.  But that’s not how it works, and certainly that’s not what Jesus intended.  He gave all of his followers the Great Commission, even the ones who doubted.  In other words, if you want to be a disciple, then you need to make disciples.

But what does it look like to be a disciple of Jesus in 2014?  Is it any different than being a follower of Jesus back nearly 2000 years ago?  I think Jesus himself gives us a tip to what discipleship entails when he said, “Teach them to obey my commands.”  Being a disciple, being a true follower of Jesus, means not just hearing, believing or ascribing to his teachings, but obeying them, living them, having them become the focus of our lives.  So this morning I want to focus on three simple marks of discipleship and one small truth based on Jesus’ teaching.

 

#1: Love God and love your neighbor

We hear this one all the time, but here it is, the grand-daddy of all commandments.  You may remember that a lawyer asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment and he replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.   And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Everything hinges on these two, Jesus told that lawyer.  If you want to know what’s at the heart of the message of God, it’s this: love.

If you want to be a disciple, your first love, your first loyalty and concern, resides with God.  Not with your family—although they are a close, close second—not with your job or your bank account or your car or your stuff or your house or your brains or anything else.  If you want to be a disciple, God is first.

And then, Christ commands us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Some among us need to start at the second half of the verse: loving themselves.  I don’t mean that in a Narcissus go-check-out-your- reflection-for-hours-on-end sort of way.  But there are some in this world who loathe themselves, who think they have nothing within themselves that is lovable.  God looks on you and sees you as lovable beyond measure—God created you in God’s image and you are loved.  Don’t ever forget that.

Once we recognize that we are indeed lovable, Jesus wants us to love others in the same way.  To see every child, woman and man on this planet as lovable.  Regardless of their skin color or their financial status or any other way that we divide people into “us” and “them.”  Love.  As the world gets smaller and smaller, who we define as neighbor grows.  Every person is a child of God and our neighbor, and we need to love them.  To see them as human beings.  If you want to be a disciple, this must be where we start. Love.

 

#2 Don’t judge

This is a corollary of #1, but if we’re going to follow Jesus, then we must remember his words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Don’t judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”  We judge people a lot in our culture.  We judge based on their clothes or their weight or their looks or how much money we think they make or any number of issues.  Christians of many stripes create lists of who’s in and who’s out when it comes to Christ’s kingdom.

Jesus didn’t do this.  He never said to anyone, “Nope, sorry you can’t be a part of my kingdom.”  He spoke about the difficulty of rich people getting into heaven, he blasted the religious authorities on their hardness of heart and they way they excluded people, but Jesus declared that all who wanted to could come and follow him.  Not everyone did, but they self-selected.  The rich young ruler turned away from Jesus even though it broke Jesus’ heart.  Others turned around when the going got tough.

As a place of forming disciples, St. Mark’s will never turn any one away from coming here who wants to find Jesus and follow him on the way.  If you want to be a disciple of Jesus—even if you don’t know how to do that—you are welcome here.  No questions asked.

 

#3 Disciples make time for God

This might seem self-evident but if you want to be a disciple, you must make time for God in the daily rigors of your life.  I know it’s hard.  But Jesus himself went away often to be by himself in order to pray and be with God.  We cannot grow in the faith if we simply ignore this.

Our Book of Common Prayer can help you do this.  Besides the “Grubby Stripe” of the portion we use on Sunday mornings (seriously, look at the BCP in your pew right now and see what I mean), so much more is contained between those covers.  There are daily devotions requiring merely 5 minutes of your time in which you can pray and give thanks and ask God to be with you and those you love.  There’s the Daily Office, or the Divine Hours, slightly longer prayer rites that you can use throughout the day.  You can find prayers for when your sick or when you have a birthday or for young people or a whole host of things.  God wants to be in connection with you—that’s the point of the Trinity, by the way, God in community—and we do this in prayer.

We can also do this by reading holy scripture.  If you don’t have a Bible, you can get one just about anywhere (and certainly online).  Once you have one of your own, begin with Mark’s gospel.  It’s short, digestible and full of the life of Jesus.  Jesus has the words of eternal life, and they can become words that sustain us if we just take time to read them.

But to do any of this you’ll need to make God a priority.  It sounds simple enough, but God often takes a back seat to other things in our lives.  If you love soccer, it’s easy right now to find time to watch the World Cup.  If you enjoy gadgets, exploring new apps on your iPad becomes a priority.  Spending time with God can be  the same.  I truly believe that our hearts and souls yearn to be with God and that we often try to squelch this with other things, misinterpreting the cues given to us by the Spirit as something our culture can provide for us.

1 Small Truth: Sometimes disciples doubt

You heard it in our lesson.  Here are the disciples gathered in front of Jesus who has just been raised from the dead and some doubted.  The Greek is at best ambiguous about who doubted, was it all of the disciples, just a few or maybe someone else.  Regardless of how you parse it out, the Great Commission, the call to go and make disciples, is given to all present.  Even the ones who doubted.  There are times when all of us doubt, when the life of faith doesn’t make sense in the immediacy of the moment.  This is quite normal.  I, frankly, have trouble with Christians who say the opposite, that they never doubt, that their faith doesn’t waver.  Life brings up things that don’t make sense with a life of faith.  Just as Jesus didn’t reject the ones there on that mountain, he doesn’t reject us.  Instead, he promises to be with us all the days of our life, to be with us as we journey through the doubt into a place of trust.

So, in the end, Jesus tells us that we can be disciples if we simply choose to obey his commands.  That’s what the life of a disciple comes down to most of all: following Jesus.  Will we choose to be like our savior?  While it takes work and dedication, Jesus promises to be with us as we share his good news and continue in the life of our risen Lord.  May each of us here this morning choose to follow him more faithfully, and honor the Living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.