|Salvador Dali, Ascension (1958)|
Sermon for Year B, the Third Sunday of Easter
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
April 19, 2015
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
“...[T]hat repentance and forgiveness of sins
Is to be proclaimed in Jesus’ name to all nations.”
This was the mission Jesus gave to his disciples
When he showed up among them following the miracle of his resurrection.
Repentance and forgiveness proclaimed in Jesus’ name to everyone.
That mission has not changed.
What Luke gives us a taste of here is also known as The Great Commission,
And it finds its fullest expression at the end of the Gospel According to Matthew.
“The eleven followers went to Galilee,
To the mountain where Jesus told them to meet him;
And when they saw him, they bowed to the ground before him; although some hesitated.
Then Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying,
‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Therefore go and make followers of all the nations,
Baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
And teaching them to lay to heart all the commands that I have given you;
And remember, I myself am with you everyday until the close of the age.’”
Let’s slow that down for just a minute. Here’s the breakdown of the logic.
Jesus is the authority, and we do what he says;
So: what does he say?
He’s telling us, first of all, to GO, that is, to leave the place of proclamation,
And to MAKE disciples,
Which consists of BAPTIZING them into the household of God
And then INSTRUCTING them as to the faith.
Go ... make ... baptize ... instruct.
And what is the content of the faith in which they must be instructed?
Luke makes it clear: repentance and forgiveness proclaimed in Jesus’ name to everyone.
Now, I don’t think this could be any more plain.
And the whole thing seems to hinge on the notion
That the base of Jesus-followers will grow itself,
Because all of us disciples will be busily commending the faith that is in us,
As in 1 Peter 3:15: “Worship Christ as Lord of your life.
And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”
I look around me, therefore, and I am deeply conflicted.
Because I do not see a self-replicating and growing base of Jesus-followers.
I see very dedicated people who seem to have been commissioned
To serve individual congregations, or this or that cause,
But I have lost sight of any sort of growing, replicating base of followers.
At least, not in the numeric sense.
Why aren’t the followers of Jesus speaking up?
Why aren’t we following this most basic element of the Great Commission?
I see four causes.
One, Episcopalians (and there are many other Christians besides just Episcopalians!) –
Episcopalians have tended to let the following speak for the faith that is in them:
Buildings, organs, priests, choirs, food pantries, pews, bishops, prayer books.
Two, we live in a culture now in which all opinions are so equally valid
To the point where civil discourse is basically impossible;
“Conversation” is just people trying not to offend each other,
And the prevailing cultural stance is “Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.”
Gotta look cool at all times; no one can afford to be shocked by anything new.
So there’s no shocking us anymore; there is seemingly no new information,
Even though, of course, we say all the time that God is speaking Right Now.
Three, the rank behavior of some who call themselves Christians
But whose behavior is completely unchristian
Is enough to make us want to say, “Lord, save us from your followers!”
And four, despite hearing so much Scripture Sunday by Sunday,
And supposedly running to encounter it every day in our prayer lives,
We mostly defer to people who misuse the Bible’s every word in order to be annoying bullies.
This is quite a pickle!
That in an annoying, loud, and benumbed world where learning is no longer expected,
The only thing we have to use as a bullhorn is basically a couple of books.
Just when we remember that we do actually possess the prophetic voice
And the gift of proclamation of Christ,
We very often find we’re too afraid to use it.
Jesus as the incarnation of God is absolutely central to who we are as a people,
Yet his name is so besmirched by those who claim to follow him
That we don’t want to be confused for them.
By and large, all of this together has somehow taught us exactly the wrong message –
That it’s just too risky nowadays to risk for Christ;
And we have come to live off of the sacraments as a baby at the breast,
Who expects to be fed without ever having to rise in defense of his mother.
Go ... make disciples ... baptize ... instruct.
There is a massive, vastly distressing gap between belief and practice.
What Jesus instructed us to do and what we have done are miles apart,
And most days it’s about all we can do to haul ourselves up to confess it.
If Jesus Christ is the Lord of your life, proclaim it.
It’s right there, black and white, in his commissioning of us.
When you go from this place of proclamation, you go into the mission field.
It’s right out that door.
Bring them back here to be baptized. Then go back out again.
And memorize your points so you can make them plain, and instruct.
Saving knowledge: restoration, freedom, forgiveness.
What an amazing gift of God!
It is the job of each and every baptized person to do this.
No one skates away. No one walks between the raindrops.
We have the enormous privilege of being able to stand in this room and say,
“Praise to you, Lord Christ,” as we just did.
And so it is absolutely incumbent upon us all to follow through.
Each and every one.