Trinity Sunday Sermon
Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
In my present position as chaplain at Unionvilla Nursing Home, I frequently have the privilege of being with people in the last hours of their lives. What they say, if they are able, in those last hours varies greatly.
If you were certain that death was just moments away, what would you say in those final moments?
- Would what comes out of your mouth be something flippant or
- would you have profound words of wisdom; the gathered wisdom of a lifetime that you wanted to pass on to your family and friends?
For Ludwig von Beethoven his last words were: “Friends applaud, the comedy is over.” Ludwig, an atheist, was referring to the priest who was performing the Last Rites over him.
Oscar Wilde’s last words, (as he sipped champagne on his deathbed) were: “Now, I am dying beyond my means.” And it’s reported that he also complained to an attendant: “Either this wallpaper goes, or I do!”
The last words of dying men and women tend either to be meaningless or, -on occasion, profound words of wisdom. When Voltaire was on his deathbed, a priest tried to get him to renounce Satan, to which Voltaire replied: “Now, now my good man, this is no time to make enemies.”
Jesus, (on the other hand), used the precious moments before He returned to His Father in heaven to commission His disciples and faithful followers. He gave them an assignment; an assignment which would provide both purpose and direction for their lives. “Go,” He said, “and make disciples of all nations.....”
- It took the 13th century philosophy and theologian, Thomas Aquinas, 50 volumes to explain the Christian faith.
- In the last century, the German theologian, Karl Barth, took 20 volumes to do very much the same thing.
- But Jesus summed up the role and responsibility of Christians in just a two sentences. Let’s hear again what He said:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 you.”
First century Christians certainly understood what Jesus meant when He spoke these words. And they sensed the urgency of the mission He’d given them. They knew that Jesus was passing on to them the work He had begun. So now it was their duty and responsibility to spread the Good News of the Gospel to the whole world, and to do it as quickly as possible.
And that’s exactly what they did. History record that in less than 300 years, (not only had they taken the Gospel of Christ to all the major cities and towns of the mighty Roman Empire); but because of the power of that message, it had overwhelmed the whole Empire. Even the emperor had become a Christian!
It's to the credit of those early Christians, that they not only understood the assignment Christ gave them, but they took it seriously; and because they did, they established the ground work to ensure that the Gospel was passed on down through the centuries, so that today, one-third of the world’s population worships Christ as Lord and Saviour.
But I wonder, how well are we doing today?
Friends, whether we realize it or not, the future of the Christian church is in our hands. So we need to stop and think about how well we're responding to Christ’s Commission?
Unfortunately, if the truth be known, (both here in North America and also in Europe), we’re doing very well; which is ironic when you consider that most of us are constantly texting friends and acquaintances, telling them all kinds of unimportant things, such as :
- what we ate for supper;
- what movies we’ve seen,
- what clothes we’re wearing today, and
- just about everything else in our private lives.
Yet very few us are willing to speak out about our faith. In fact, we may even question our right to impose our beliefs on other people.
Tolerance has become the watch word of our society. We’re told in school, in the media, and in the workplace that, because Canada is a multi-cultural society, we have to be tolerant of the beliefs and opinions of other people. It’s actually become socially unacceptable to attempt to influence someone elses personal beliefs.
I’ve just completed a compulsory training programme (as part of my work at Unionvilla). Throughout the course, it was made very clear that staff aren’t permitted to impose their belief system on any of the residents; which, if you happen to be a Chaplain, complicates your work.
In 1963, (the year I was ordained), it was very common for clergy to enter public school class rooms for the purpose of teaching the basics of Christianity to students. But today, even classroom teachers are not allowed to talk about their faith in front of their students. Ironically, it’s easier for an atheist to communicate his views, than for a Christian to share the Good News of Christ.
So the question I’d have us consider this morning, is in such an environment, how can we share the Good News of the Gospel?
I'm pretty sure that in the back recesses of the minds of most sincere Christians there echoes the voice of Jesus telling us to: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Most of us know that the primary purpose of every Christian congregation is to carry out this assignment. It’s the work we were meant to do. But how can we obey Christ, without offending people who hold other beliefs? Is it an impossible task in our day?
Most of us, I'm sure, have had personal dealings with the Jehovah Witnesses. They’ve probably knocked on your door sometime in the not too distant past. Jehovah Witnesses take Jesus’ Great Commission very seriously. And so, they arm themselves with memorized scripts, and then march out, two by two into neighbourhoods all across the country, confronting unsuspecting householders with a call for repentance.
That they offend large numbers of the population by this direct approach, is well known. Is what they do successful? Well no, not according to the statistics I’ve been able to find, for it appears that their numbers are actually declining; which seems to suggest that the direct approach to spreading the Gospel doesn’t work at all well in the 21st century.
Closer to home, (right here in our own community), we have a more successful model. The Pentecostal church on 16th Ave., known as ‘The Bridge’, is a congregation that also takes Christ’s commission very seriously. But unlike the Jehovah Witnesses, this congregation is growing; as is evident from the recent enlargement of their church building.
If you were to attend a worship service at the Bridge, you’d see that they have a multi-racial congregation, composed primarily of younger families.
One of the secrets of their success is, no doubt, the fact that they offer a complimentary morning breakfast, both before and between services every Sunday morning. Free food has a way of attracting crowds.
But another, more important factor that lies behind their success is the strong emphasis on helping their parishioners in times of difficulty. You’ll see evidence of this help:
- in the pastoral prayers,
- in the pastor’s message, and most importantly
- in the support which members extend to one another.
- Also contributing to their growth, is the activity of the members who regularly invite their friends and neighbours to come with them to church services.
You see, witnessing to your faith, doesn’t have to be confrontational. But it does have to be enthusiastic. If we’re enthusiastic about what’s happening here at Central, our enthusiasm will be contagious, and will encourage others to join us.
Think about it. If you were to suddenly discover a wonderful new cure for diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease, or Alzheimer’s wouldn’t you be excited to share that knowledge with as many people as you could? Of course you would, especially if you knew the treatment would save lives. So why shouldn’t we respond the same way to the life-saving message of the Gospel?
This past year, we’ve been concerned about the decline in the number of young families attending our services, and rightly so. There is good reason for our concern. Did you know, that according to one recent survey, 19 out of every 20 people who become Christians do so before the age of 24? (Leadership, V. 1, p.55.)
If this is true, then it's easy to understand why it is so important for us to tell children and young people about the love of Jesus; and tell it to them before they leave home and go out into the world on their own. If they don’t learn about Christ when they’re young, chances are they never will accept Him as their Lord. So having young children in our Sunday School is vital to the future, not only of our congregation, but for the whole Christian Church.
So the question remains what's the best way to do it? How can we do our part to ensure that the message of God’s love is passed on to as many young children as possible?
It’s probably not possible for us to change the public school system, or society’s attitude towards tolerance; certainly not in the near future. But we can attract people to our congregation by sharing our enthusiasm for what’s happening here. If we’re excited about our worship services; and enthusiastic about the fellowship we experience; and if we share this enthusiasm with friends and co-workers, then it will be much easier to invite them to worship with us.
Some years ago, a survey was taken at a Billy Graham crusade. Only one question was asked: “What is the primary reason you don’t witness about your faith? The answers provide a clue as to why our church attendance is declining:
- 9% of the respondents said they were too busy to do it;
- 28% felt a lack of knowledge to share;
- 12% were ashamed because their own lives weren’t Christ-like.
- None said they just didn’t care; but
- a whopping 51% said that they were afraid of how other people would react!
III‘I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS’
Fear of the reaction of others, is not something new. The Bible is full of stories of people who were unwilling to respond to God’s call because of their fear of what others might think:
- When God called Moses, his response was: “I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?” (Exodus 6:30);
- When Jeremiah was called , his reply was: “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” (Jeremiah 1:6) , and
- When Jonah was called, he ran away and headed for Tarshish. And we know where that landed him, in the belly of a whale.
But when Moses, and Jeremiah and Jonah finally did accept God’s call, each one discovered that when God issues a call, He also provides all the support necessary to carry out His mission. That’s why, when Jesus issued His final command to His followers before leaving them, He concluded with the words: “and I am with you always.”
And so, while taking an aggressive approach to communicating our faith, may push us way beyond our comfort zone, we need to remember that whenever Christ sends out His disciples, He promises: “And I will be with you always.”
Numerous times during His ministry Christ promised that when He was gone, He would be with us in spirit. That’s why He sent the Holy Spirit, to empower us to do, what we, (using only our own resources), are unable to do.
In the first chapter of Acts, verse 8 Jesus says:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
I’d like to leave you with a true story. On Sept. 14, 1860, Charles Blondin became the first person to cross over Niagara Falls on a tightrope. It was a rope that stretched 11,000 feet (more than a quarter mile) across the mighty Niagara Falls.
People on both sides, watched as he first walked across on stilts; then on a bicycle; once even blindfolded. And some reports even claim he crossed over carrying a stove on which he cooked an omelet.
On lookers on both sides of the falls, “oohed and aahed” as he accomplished these feats of daring. Then Blondin spoke to the crowd, asking: “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?” The crowd responded with a loud “Yes!”
So then, Blondin asked: “Well then, who will volunteer to get into the wheelbarrow & cross over with me?”
Instantly the crowd fell silent. It's reported that not a single person dared to step forward.
Many believed Blondin had the skill to carry someone across the Falls in that wheel barrow, but no one was willing to translate that faith into action.
Friends, many of us believe our congregation can be rebuilt. We may also believe that there are many young families in the community who can be attracted to our church. But until we back up our faith with action, our faith is little more than words; and nothing is going to happen.
So, how many of us are willing to do what is necessary to draw people into our fellowship? Let's make sure that our faith is more than mere words?