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Sermon at the Ordination and Installation of Christopher Biernacki, 31 May

June 5, 2015 Leave a comment

There was no audio recording that I know of.

2 Timothy 4:1-8

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Oh, Chris.  What a great day for you, for Stephanie, for Our Redeemer, for your Mom and Dad.  What a LSB Icon_048great day for Heavenly Host, and a great day, I know for Pastor Paavola, who watched you grow up, encouraged you to study for the ministry and is now here to ordain you.  There is also a great deal of comfort for older pastors in watching younger pastors come to the altar of the Good Shepherd to enter into the office of holy ministry in much the same way we did however long ago it was for us.  It’s validating for us and for the Church, not just this congregation or the one you grew up in.  The work of the Gospel, the work of proclaiming the kingdom, goes on, is continued, today in you and Our Redeemer.

I chose for my text today, one of those touchstones for pastoral ministry, the beginning of 2 Timothy, chapter four.  [Read text.]  And I chose this text because it is the perfect encapsulation of the many different things that are happening today as you are ordained and installed here.  There’s both curb and guidance here as well as comfort for you, for the saints here at Our Redeemer, and for my brother pastors too.   We need both curb and guidance from God’s Word, as well as comfort.  And this text has that tone of wise mentor pastor speaking to his protégé about it.  And I can tell you as I close in on twenty years of ordained ministry that it really doesn’t matter, especially after the first few years, how long you’ve been doing this, these words from Paul today are sage counsel.  Come back to them over and over again, and you will not stray too far from what the Lord of the Church is doing in you today.

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom.”  “I charge you,” says Paul.  Other translations have “solemnly charge” you.  If this isn’t the kind of language appropriate for a day like today, I don’t know what could be.  Paul is using the formula of a solemn oath calling on Christ Jesus as righteous judge, His incarnation and His kingdom come.  And you had Gibbs so I know you know what Jesus’ kingdom is.  Yes, the pastor who watched you grow up is ordaining you today, but he is but the hands and mouth, not merely of the Church, but of the Lord of the Church to put you properly into this holy office of ministry, the predigamt, as we used to call it, the preaching office.  An office so set apart that we do not allow just anyone to hold it, to stand in it even for a moment, but “Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.”  (AC XIV)  Today is the certifying that your call from Jesus through the saints here at Our Redeemer is rightly ordered.  What we do today, we do for your congregation’s sake as much as we do for your sake and you’ll both need that assurance before long.

Apostle and Bishop and Pastor Paul says, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”  Brothers already ordained, is this not the case where you serve?

We live in changing times.  The talk of our vocation all over the Internet is the Pew Center confirming in a scientific survey what most pastors were already seeing and sharing anecdotally, a drop in identification as a Christian and a drop in affiliation with local congregations.  It sure seems like that’s the case and the folks at Pew said, “Nope, you’re not crazy.  We asked ‘em.  It’s happening.”  In my community, in Putnam County, in the county you grew up in, Chris, it’s happening.  I’m sure it’s happening here in Florence too, with Lauderdale County here, we rhinestones on the buckle of the Bible Belt.

Just after Easter, the phone rang and it was a pastor of a neighboring church out west of us, toward Baxter, and I guess it started out as a conversation, but he was calling every church in the county and trying to gather up their attendance numbers for Easter.  He was trying to put together a good figure for just how many people in Putnam County were in church on Easter Sunday.  Because I think it’s one thing to see a number like 70 percent in a Pew Research survey and completely another to get a real sense of what actually happened on a particular day in a particular place.  And so I asked him how it was shaking out.  He speculated with me that his best estimate was around 30 percent of the county was actually in church on Easter.  And that number shocked me and disturbed me.

It shocked me because I remember as a kid growing up just east of here in Georgia, we had to set up folding chairs down the aisles for Christmas and Easter.  It disturbed me because I don’t know of a church that has to do that these days.  And it’s not because they haven’t heard of Jesus; Jesus is on the billboards in our county and here too I’m sure.  It disturbs me because people are walking away from Jesus because the people no longer will endure the teachings of God become human flesh for the sake of saving sinners from their sin and the power of hell.  They will not put up with the teaching of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  They have not endured.  They’ve preferred instead the myths that come to pass for spirituality today.  You know them.  “You don’t need to confess you’re “a poor, miserable sinner” because you’re not a bad person.  You’re not nearly as bad as those mean people in the churches say you are.  You’re not nearly as in need of God’s forgiveness as some other people you know.  You need to find a more positive religion.  In fact, maybe you don’t need organized religion at all.  They’re all just a bunch of losers and hypocrites anyway.  You can believe in God on your own time and your own way and be a more authentic Christian.”  And when the people from Pew call they still say, “Yes, I’m a Christian.”  But is it any wonder now that more and more people are saying, “None,” when asked about their religious self-identification?  We live in changing times.  And what we see happening around us is not unprecedented if St. Paul is writing about it to young pastor Timothy.

But, “as for you” the Apostle says, “As for you, be serious about these things.”  Realize this is our lot.  We were born for this time.  We can bemoan all we like that it might have been easier 50 years ago in the US, but I might argue that’s probably true.  The situation we find ourselves in today did not happen overnight.  While for generations we took for granted that this nation was a Christian nation, cultural Christianity came to replace the true message of Gospel.  And when that cultural identity became threatened, we responded not with God’s truth but with identity politics, with power not with the authority of truth.  That is, we responded with a moral majority, not because it was moral but because it was the majority.  A Lutheran recognizes that instantly as a theology of glory rather than the theology of the cross.

And my experience has been, even among some “lifelong Lutherans”, people will not endure sound teaching.  They will not put up with you and the God who charges you today to preach the whole counsel of God, not endorsing their lifestyle choices and myths they have fallen into.  They will not put up with the sound teaching of Small Catechism.  They will not put up with a view of humanity as taught in the Old and New Testaments.  They won’t put up with it and they won’t put up with you.  But don’t worry, you don’t work for them but it’s not like you might think.

In ordination, you are given your orders, your charge.  Servants are charged with duties.  In the era of CEO pastors and church-sanctioned institutes for pastoral leadership, this may come as a bit of a shock.  We’re not the CEOs.  We’re the servants.  We are the servants of the King, his ministers.  That language of minister/ministry is entirely religious in our country but in many other countries that language of ministry and minister is less explicitly religious and more governmental.  In monarchies (you know, monarchies, the only Biblically justifiable government; (just think of all the myths we’ve fallen into), ministers serve the King and take charge over the King’s interests in that particular area.  Like in Britain they have a Foreign Minister and a Home Minister for foreign and domestic fairs.  Likewise, today the Lord is through the church giving you charge over the affairs of His kingdom here in Florence.  It’s not yours to do with as you please.  People of Florence, it’s not yours either.  It all belongs to the King, King Jesus.  And you and your pastor are, together, to go about the work of His kingdom here, proclaiming the King’s truth to people who would prefer to be entertained and who have already given up truth for myths.

And the goal of it all?  To be poured out like a drink offering, says Paul.  To be used up in service to the king.  It’s a powerful image.  Isn’t it?  It’s kind of like this little water bottle.  What’s its purpose?  I’m pretty sure it’s purpose is to do this.  [Take a drink.]  And the end result of course is this [crush and show crushed up bottle].  But the myths of our world say different, even in the church.  The myth says the purpose of the water bottle is something different, that it’s this [show a much larger filled water bottle] not this [show the little crushed up water bottle].  A life poured out in witness and mercy and in enduring life together vs. making a name for oneself and getting big.  [Show big water bottle] theology of glory.  [Show crushed up water bottle] theology of the cross.  Theology of the world vs. the theology of God’s kingdom.  Pride vs. faithfulness.  Theology of the cult of personality and church growth vs. the theology of servanthood.  Lord, I believe.  Help, Thou, my unbelief.  If you think this is easy, you haven’t had your first church council meeting.

I say this to say know always what the Gospel is and what it isn’t.  You might think it’s easy but it’s not always clear.  A newer, bigger building is not the Gospel.  It might help the work of the Gospel but it’s not the Gospel.  The Gospel is always this: because this is Jesus on the cross, poured out, dried up and crushed for sinners, even Lutherans, even pastors.

Chris, today you join the ranks of the King’s ministers, his servants.  Remember always that what you do is not your own.  Welcome people to His house.  Proclaim His word of rebuke and pardon.  Prepare his people to be welcomed at His table and served His very own Body and Blood.  Proclaim His will for wives and husbands, parents and children, leaders and citizens.  Help them figure out the ways the King is asking them to be poured out for the sake of others, and in the end rejoice with those who have finished their lives in such a way as they awaiting the crowning glory to come in the resurrection on the Last Day.  That is, preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God, that Jesus poured Himself out for us all.  Amen.

Message for the Fifth Lenten Midweek Service, Mar 25

March 27, 2015 Leave a comment

A message on Psalm 130

Note:  This Lenten series as been based on resources published in Concordia Pulpit Resources and has been adapted from them.  You can hear this message by clicking the embedded player below.

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Message for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Mar 15

March 27, 2015 Leave a comment

Sermon on John 3:14-21

Text John 3:14-21

 Note: this message can be heard by clicking the embedded player below.

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Forever 21The clothing chain Forever 21 prints it on the bottom of their shopping bags.  One of my favorite places on earth, In & Out Burger, prints it on the bottom of their cups.  It shows up on signs at sporting events.  It’s the whole Gospel in a nutshell.  Christian author, Max Lucado assures us it’s the most often quoted verse in the whole Bible.  John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his onlybegotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Certainly, this well-known passage tells us not only that God loved the world, but how he loved it and to what extent he loved it.  But as we see today, the most well-known Bible passage comes to us not as an isolated kernel of wisdom or even truth, but in a rich context that links it to the cross of Jesus Christ.rainydays

God does a new thing for the sake of His creation in sending Jesus but He does not do a completely unexpected thing.  Our reading today begins with direct reference to the Old Testament reading.   “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  The people of Israel had sinned against the Lord loathing his good gift of manna and so the Lord has sent fiery serpents to chastise them.  They were probably not literally serpents of fire but most likely serpents whose bite felt like fire.  They were dying from the bites and cried out to the Lord and the Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole and lift it up so the people could see it and when they beheld it, they were saved from perishing because of the serpents.  It’s a story every Israelite knew.  And Jesus reminded them of it as He began to explain how God would save people from perishing, how He planned to show His love for the whole world.  Even in Isaiah 52, the Lord says, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.”  (Isa 52:13)  So, “…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Just as Israel had been saved in the wilderness from the punishment for sin by beholding the serpent Moses had lifted up, so the whole world would now see the Son of Man high and lifted up on the cross for the sins of the world and trusting that sign not perish, but have eternal life.  Certainly the coming of Christ into the world to reestablish the kingdom of God is a new thing, but it is not a completely unexpected thing.

Atop Mt. Nebo, today.

Atop Mt. Nebo, today.

God loves the world this much, that He sent His onlybegotten Son into it to be lifted up on the cross, that whoever believes would not perish.  The depth of that kind of love is unfathomable to us.  This idea of God sacrificing His Son has led many otherwise earnest Christians to reject it, claiming it something akin to child abuse on the cosmic level.  Who could trust in, much less love such a God who would even ask much less command His onlybegotten Son to suffer in such a manner as Jesus did?  No they say, substitutionary atonement is a barbarism consistent only with a religion that says an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  It’s completely inconsistent with the New Testament idea that “God is love.”  That’s what they say, anyway.  And yet, God acted in the OT this way too.  Instead of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, God provided a ram there on Mt. Moriah, thus forever remembering that it was in that location that God provided.   It’s also worth noting Mt. Moriah is the same geographical location we know today as Mt. Zion, the temple mount in Jerusalem, mere steps away from Calvary where Jesus was crucified.  It is a hard thing to begin to understand the depth to which the Lord would go in order to free His creation from the curse of death but it is a necessary thing and a good thing to ponder during this Lenten season.  He loves the world this much; He did not withhold His Son.

So what do we do with such a clear teaching from the Lord?  Do we hear it?  Accept it?  Or do we reject it as blood religion superseded by a religion not of blood but love?  To do that mustn’t we disconnect it with how God acted in the past not just with Moses and Israel but even with Abraham and Isaac?  That won’t work will it?  Like Israel in the desert we grumble and moan against God’s Law, all of it, all Ten Commandments.  We despise His gifts, thinking these Styrofoam-tasting wafers akin to the loathsome manna Israel was sick of.  We despise His way of loving others as He has loved us.  This is the state we are in worthy only of a new knot of serpents to come and sting us with the fiery pain of death.

And yet here is the Lord lifted up on the cross for us.  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  That’s why I think it’s so important we keep actual crucifixes in our church and in our homes rather than mere empty crosses.  And lest we think crucifixes to be idolatry, we should remember it was the same God who forbade graven images who commanded a bronze serpent be fashioned and held up for the sake of the people—a beautiful divine irony worth pondering on its own.  No.  Looking at an empty pole would not have saved the Israelites just as looking to an empty cross does not immediately point us to the suffering of Jesus in our place.  And shortly now, the same body that was lifted up on the cross for us, the Lord Himself will give into our moths in, with, and under the bread of His Supper that we might not just behold eternal life won on the cross but taste and see the fruits of His cross for us.

Behold Jesus lifted up for you.  Behold a God who acts in love to remove from you the curse of His wrath for sin.  Behold a God who delights to give Himself, so that you would not be lost but have everlasting life with Him.  14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

That’s the Gospel in a nutshell.  It’s why we ask Christians to memorize it and understand it.  It’s why a man holds signs up at every football game he can get into.  It’s why Forever 21’s founder insists on this little attempt to spread the message of God’s love.  It’s why the Snyder family who controls In and Out Burger puts it on their cups as well as a bunch of other verses on their other cups and wrappers.  God loved the world this much.  How can you share the same message?  Amen.

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Sermon for Christian Education Sunday, Sept 28

September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Heavenly Host, Sept 28, 2014

Note: this sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below

or by downloading from the link provided.

68 Sermon for Christian Ed Sunday.mp3

jesus_kidsOn a thematic Sunday like today when we celebrate what God is doing among us and through us in our school, it’s easy to have a look at all three of our readings. There’s a common theme running through all three, the easiest to see being children and, more specifically, the nurture of children in the faith. Jesus and Moses and Peter are all proclaiming the same truth, the kingdom of God includes children, even young infants. God acts to include us in his covenantal kingdom and He gives His grace not because we can understand it but because we need it.

The Gospel reading today clearly tells us that our Lord has a place in the kingdom for children, even infants. The blessings of the kingdom of His grace are for them too. I’m not in classrooms every day, my other duties keep me from that but my wife is and the other teachers too will sometimes share with me some of the things kids say in response to having heard the Word of God in religion class or chapel or in some other subject as it comes up, even science or social studies or literature. Some of the middle school children just finished reading C. S. Lewis’, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a story written by a leading Christian thinker of the last century. Lewis is clever to present significant Christian themes like the holiness of God. In a seen at Mr. and Mrs. Beaver’s house, Lucy gets quite nervous about all this talk of a great Lion prowling around the kingdom and she asks, “Is Aslan safe?” And Mr. Beaver responds,

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

And let me just say, kids understand God in a different way than we do because their whole lives are dependent upon others providing for them for everything they need—food shelter, clothing—everything. Younger children even more so; they’re not even aware of just how much is provided for them. It’s when we get older that we realize all that we have doesn’t just appear. It’s a mistake to think that all we have comes purely through our own efforts. All we have is because God has given it to us. This is the same theme that connects us back to our Old Testament reading for today.

Israel needs to make sure that they pass down from one generation to the next the account of all that the Lord has done for them. Especially once they enter the Promised Land, the successive generations will only know that it was the Lord who provided so richly. So the Lord instructs them to teach diligently, to recount regularly the testimonies of the Lord.

“Teach these words that I command to your children, diligently.” Hebrew verbs can be fun and this one is. What we have in English as two words, diligently teach, the Hebrew wraps up all in one word. The idea is one of drill, recounting, or repetition. The classical idea that repetition is the mother of learning is not far off. But the Hebrew adds an idea of sharpening like you have to do to a blade over a whetstone. The blade doesn’t get sharp the first time over the stone. Moms and dads, Teachers, that’s why you have to repeat yourselves so much. I’m thinking of drilling multiplication tables, Shurley grammar jingles, and yes, you really to have to put your name on your paper, every time, by now you should know the drill. But what has been a constant in educational theory for millennia first came from the Lord as a command to Israel to drill their children in the Lord’s promises and the Lord’s commands. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Dt 6:4–5) “These words” you should drill into your children. And to this day, observant Jews repeat twice daily at evening and morning prayers, the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” From our heritage, Luther’s instruction in the catechism to recite the Ten Commandments every morning, is in keeping with this idea along with the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer at one’s morning prayers. I’ve been at the bedside of more than one elderly saint who had dementia so bad, they’d forgotten the names of family members but they had not forgotten the Lord’s Prayer and the song, “Jesus Loves Me.” It is true that what we learn first, we forget last.

Parents then and now are to teach God’s Word faithfully and repeatedly to their offspring so that God will continually dwell with His people. Daily living presents numerous opportunities to talk to our children about what God has done—even the most mundane events. As Christians, we should take every opportunity to discuss what God has done through Christ, no matter where we are or what we are doing.[1] The goal of all this repetition was for Israel to remember that it was the Lord who had provided such wonderful gifts when the entered the Promised Land. For us, the goal is similar, it is the Lord who provides us what we need to sustain this body and life. It is the Lord who has rescued us and brought us into His kingdom. A daily recounting makes sure that faith is caught as much as taught.

There are significant passages in Scripture that should be familiar to us and act like touchstones for us so that we don’t lose our way among lists of kings or genealogies. Peter’s Pentecost sermon should be one of those. In our second reading today, that begins, “Now when they hear this…” the “this” they heard was Peter’s Pentecost sermon in which He had proclaimed the truth about Jesus as God’s Messiah and Jesus’ identity as the Lord Himself. It was this Jesus, Peter said, that the crowd had crucified some 50 days earlier. This was the word that had cut them to the heart and worked remorse in them over their sin. And Peter proclaimed the Good News of God’s salvation, that baptism in the name of Jesus brought with it the gift of the Holy Spirit and that this gift was for them and for their children. For their children, that’s our common thread today. The Lord pours out the Holy Spirit on us and on our children when we hear His Word. The Lord is acting to call to Himself through the Holy Spirit. And we’ve arrived at the crux of the Gospel itself. Not only has God acted to rescue sinners from their sins by sending Jesus to the cross to die in their place and to give them His perfect righteousness, God doesn’t stop with just providing the means of salvation. A big part of the outpouring of grace of God is that He doesn’t stop and wait for us to get wise on our own. He actively calls and gathers to Himself those needing salvation and growth in holy living. He enlightens our minds and warms our heart by the preaching of His Word to encourage us not to get lost in the Scriptures among the kings’ lists but to hear again and again, repeatedly, every week, through diligent teaching and preaching, God loves us in Christ Jesus.

We did not dig the deep wells of salvation. We did not plant the great vineyard of Christ’s blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins. We did not build the city of God, the great house He has invited into to dwell with Him forever. He did. And that’s the reason we drill it every week. It is the difference between a religion centered on our own abilities and a faith given by God. It is the difference between right teaching and false teaching. It is the difference between following the Lord God and following after other gods we make for ourselves. It is the difference between faith and unbelief.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. This Jesus who was crucified for us is Lord. Amen.

[1] Edward A. Engelbrecht, The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 288.

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 8, 2014 1 comment

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  It’s probably not who you think.

 

Note: the audio for the sermon can be heard by clicking the player below

or by downloading from this link

63 Sermon for Pentecost 13.mp3

 

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Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

July 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Romans 8:12-17

Note: the sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below

or by right clicking and downloading the file to your computer or device

51 Sermon for Sunday Pent 5.mp3

 

Also, I’d like to note that the content of this sermon came from a sermon series on Romans published by Dr. Schmitt at Concordia Seminary.  After being in and out of the pulpit for some 17 years I’m trying to challenge myself to preach a little differently than I learned to.  Breaking old habits is hard.  So I’m learning on Dr. Schmitt this summer to try to work through some different ideas about preaching and hopeful change the structure of my sermons for next half of my work in the Lord’s kingdom.

 

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Festival of the Holy Trinity

June 17, 2014 2 comments

Matthew 28:16-20

June 15, 2014

 

Note:  below is the audio and the text for the sermon from Sunday.  You can listen to it by clicking the embedded player below

or downloading it at the link here:

Sermon for Holy Trinity

 

TrinityIn the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is from the Gospel just read, Matthew 28.  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded of you.”  This is our text.

These are the last lines of Matthew’s Gospel.  Otherwise known as the Great Commission, Jesus mandates his eleven disciples to make more disciples just before he ascended into heaven.  This text is full of meaning and instruction.  A lifetime of discipleship would not exhaust the words of our Lord to his disciples.  And it is perhaps especially fitting that this text was chosen as the Gospel reading on Holy Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost.  Sitting at the point in the church year in between readings that focus us on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, it is fitting that Holy Trinity Sunday and this reading from Matthew start the church off on the second half of the year when readings call our attention to the teachings of Jesus and our life in Christ.  What is a disciple?  How do you make disciples?  What is a disciple to do in order to be a true disciple.  All this and more packed solidly into the Great Commission from Jesus.  We’d better get started.

Now even if we nothing of Jesus of Nazareth, we should know a great deal more about him simply by reading this passage of scripture.  The eleven, there are eleven now, 12 minus one, had gone out to the mountain where Jesus had told the women he would be back in verse 7.  And when they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.  Just this line tells us so much about faith, the early church, and one simple fact.  Jesus is divine.  Jesus is God.  Jesus is the Lord.  Who was Jesus for the past three years?  A traveling Jewish prophet with a group of disciples from Galilee.  They were certainly not the sort of folks you would expect to take over the world.  Only one thing can explain the radical shift from traveling group of disciples to leaders of a world-wide missionary church in a matter of a month and that is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and this passage and Pentecost.  The eleven had been down in Judea, other evangelists record some of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in Judea, but Matthew records this one in Galilee where it all began for them.  The eleven would no longer be following a penniless preacher; they would be going to all nations to make fellow disciples of Jesus.  That in itself is amazing and more about that in a minute.  But first, what’s a disciple?  Where to we get that word?  Discipulus, Latin for pupil, and from discere, Latin for to teach.  What then ultimately is a disciple?  A student.  In the old days, it meant a follower, a groupie if you will but in the academic sense.  Plato was a disciple of Socrates and Aristotle, of Plato.  And Jesus says make more disciples.  More people from every nation should follow after me and hear my preaching through you and receive my healing through you and come to a knowledge of faith and salvation and thus accomplish the will of my Father who sent me, through you.  Who are disciples today?  You are.  We all are.

Some people would say that Jesus didn’t really say this.  They say it’s a later addition to the text by the early church.  But I say to you, if Jesus didn’t really say it, I have no business standing here before you today and we’d all be better off at home reading the Sunday paper or gardening.  Because if Jesus didn’t command it, then I have no reason to try to make disciples.  Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  That same authority is the authority by which I stand before you this morning confident that in my attempts this morning to teach everything Jesus has commanded us, I am carrying out our Lord’s desire to continue to make you his disciples.

How is the Christian church to make disciples?  What does Jesus command?  Baptize and teach; that’s how you make a disciple.  Baptism without teaching is not what Jesus commands.  To be baptized and then to never darken the door of a church again is not what Jesus is mandating.  And yet, teaching without baptism is another way to get it wrong.  One’s discipleship is in question if one rejects the Lord’s command to be baptized.  This is simple.  Make disciples by baptizing and teaching.  And the Christian church has never not known baptism.  Acts chapter 2 on the day of Pentecost after Peter’s preaching to the masses gathered there they ask, what shall we do, then brothers?  And Peter’s response is “repent and be baptized.”  Why?  Because Jesus said so.  And into what shall we be baptized?

This is a good question because here is the heart of the passage before us.  “Baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Can you quickly scan scripture in your mind and think of a more forceful proclamation of the divinity of Jesus Christ?  Here the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are listed as co-equal and the Spirit as a separate person also.  Trinitarian theology is not a construct of the early Christian church; it is at the heart of the scriptures and the revelation of our God about himself to us.  Three divine persons but of the same divine essence.  Baptize into the name, singular, not the names, plural.  There are not three gods but one God.  “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one.”  Baptize into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not in the name of an impersonal divine power or force.  God bestows His name on us.  Just as the great “I Am,” bestowed his name on Israel and gave it to them as a gift that He might be known by name.  Here is the pure gift of God, that he bestows on us his name and we can know him as he was have us know him.

Pick up a grasshopper in your hand and imagine what that grasshopper thinks.  One, that your power holds him fast in your grip and two, the instinctive reaction that you can crush and destroy him at will.  Think about this for a minute, what would we know about God if not for the revelation of his name to us?  He would be the God of tsunamis, and earthquakes and cyclones and rainbows.  We wouldn’t know much more than a capricious God, angry most of the time and in a good mood sometimes when the stars twinkle at night.  The power of God is unmistakable.  All people have this little voice, this conscience that says, we ought to.  We ought to make something of ourselves.  We are answerable to this Creator whose voice we hear that we ought and we have every reason to be afraid of that ultimate voice.

Would you really kill the grasshopper just for the fun of it?  Of course not.  But how will that grasshopper know your true nature, your kind heart toward it?  So too the question about what is God really like?  And the first and immediate and I would say only satisfactory answer is Jesus of Nazareth.  Here was a man who claimed to be God, said things only God can say, did things only God can do and accepted worship that belongs only to God.  The only possibilities says CS Lewis are “Lord, Lunatic or Liar.”  He who is God from all eternity was made flesh and dwelled among us.  In Jesus, God was seen and heard and touched.  Here is the answer to what God is like.  God became a man, went to the cross, and suffered the agony of hell as sin’s punishment.  He died for us who were heretofore mere grasshoppers in the hand.  He died for sinners.  He died for you and me.

There is no greater love imaginable, and that my friends in Christ, is what God is like, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Forgiven we are no longer afraid of God.  We know him as Father because of our status as his children through our brother Jesus.

When we come to know those things we are being made into disciples. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.