Isaiah 40:12-17, 27-end; Matthew 28:16-20
The Triune God, a powerhouse of mission.
Some years ago I was appointed as priest in charge of a church on a council estate in south London. We needed to find a way to reach out to the local people, beyond those who were already attending a weekly eucharist, so Katrina and I started a new service of the word. We had no music, so I played the saxophone. We had no children, except our own. We had no support from the existing congregation, but we did it anyway, for the sake of those who would come. And come they did, slowly but steadily. It was Pentecost morning and I introduced the service saying we would be looking at God the Holy Spirit that day. A man at the back said, hang on a minute Phil, he said. We know about God, yeah, and you’ve told us a bit about his Son Jesus, but who the heck is this Holy Spirit?
On this Trinity Sunday, we remember that we worship a God who is Father Son and Spirit. And this God, all 3 persons that he is, is about mission. Our first strategic priority as a Diocese is to grow authentic disciples, confident in sharing their faith. How does that work? And what difference might that make to us here in the Itchen Valley?
1. The Loving father: made us and loves us.
The image from our first reading is one of a master-craftsman, working steadily on his workbench. He is the one who marked off the heavens, who measured the water of the deep in the hollow of his hand. This reading comes at a time of real pressure for God’s people. Isaiah brings them these words just before they are taken away into Exile in Babylon. And into this unstable moment, he speaks to strengthen them to go on. God was committing himself to those called to be a shop window for his love and his rule.
In these days of globalisation, or being able to see the dreadful happenings in Iraq or South Sudan at first hand for example, our missional God wants us to remember and take comfort that though he is so powerful, he knows us and loves us. Even the diminutive nation of Israel is known and loved by God, even though it is much more a David to Babylon’s Goliath.
We are created, known and loved by God as his people. And not only us, but those who have yet to hear the good news of what he has done for them: those outside the church, those struggling to find him through the lenses of other faiths, even those who are intent on destroying what he intended for good.
Whatever the response of the people here to the good news that God brings, they are still loved by him, and he has called us to showcase a different way of life which shows them his love and his rule.
2. The Saviour Son: rescued us and sends us.
In the gospel reading, Jesus on the mountain top in Galilee begins a new age in the life of the people of God: go, he said, and make disciples of all nations – and baptise them (notice the Trinitarian link here), that is once they too have become disciples, then mark their entry into the life of the church by baptism, and then teach them about what I have been teaching you!
Jesus, God become a human being with all its limitations, lived among us and made friends with the outcasts and those who did not go any where near the Temple, or the Synagogue. And through his death on the cross, and then his amazing resurrection from the dead, he moved into a new phase in his work – to be the King of Kings for ever, and Lord of lords, the King of heaven. And before he disappears he commissions his followers (and there were probably more than just the 11 present) to go in his name with his authority.
And the people responded to his risen presence: some worshipped him, but some doubted, or hesitated. They just weren’t sure it was him or that he wasn’t a ghost, or that it wasn’t just an illusion. And today there are those in the church who hesitate and who are unsure of his risen reality, and his commission to go too.
That commission still stands today – we are still called to make disciples. What is a disciple? People say “learner”, but the word is much more akin to an apprentice, who is also part of a guild where he or she learns good practice and finds encouragement. I would express it like this – a disciple is someone walking with Jesus, becoming like Jesus. Not all are evangelists. But we are called to witness to what we know about God, to explain what the Christian faith means as we see it. God has to change people’s hearts – we can’t do that!
One of the key problems we have today in the church is that we find it hard to talk about our faith. And one aspect of that is managing other peoples’ silence. I was having my hair cut this last week and as the hairdresser chatted she asked me what I did. I answered I was a consultant. She came back to it again a couple of minutes later: what do you do? I said I was a consultant to churches across Hampshire and the Channel Islands. There was a long silence and she moved on. Our job is to be ready to speak and trust God to be at work in people’s lives. Perhaps that will impact her in the future.
I will go back to the same barbers and who knows if I get her again? Whatever else I trust that God will use that encounter to draw her closer to his love. I’ve done my bit – he needs to do his bit. We all need to do our bit and be ready to explain what our faith is about to others, without being embarrassed or tongue-tied.
Jesus rescued his people and sends them in his name, to be for him in the world made by the Father.
3. The Missionary Spirit: comforts us and equips us.
The Holy Spirit is another one like Jesus, so Jesus himself tells us – I will send another comforter like me, to be with you for ever. The Holy Spirit is given to the church so that they can continue the saving plan of God. Yes of course it’s great that we have someone alongside (remember Emmaus) to help us, and to have some amazing spiritual experiences. But to what end? To live out our lives, and to finish Jesus’ work before he returns as King in great power and glory.
The Archbishop of Canterbury says that we need to reclaim the word “evangelism”. He says it has become a dirty word even in churches, and we need to get it back, with what it really means. I think we need to use the E word in our own F contexts. We need to Evangelise people among our Friends, together. That means we need to be ready to live as disciples at home with our families, at work with our colleagues, among our friends when we relax, in fact wherever we are. It’s like a stick of rock – wherever you cut it, it says for example Aberystwyth. Wherever we are in our week, we need to live for Christ, and that means showing what it means to follow him in practice.
Each generation needs the truth about this triune God to be explained to them in their language. We need creativity – and the Holy Spirit, as well as strengthening us to say what we know of God, also gives us the creativity we need to engage with people if we ask him.
In my last church I suggested we had a black-tie dinner to invite friends in the community to. People were wary, so much so that the first time we did it no one asked any of their friends. The second time though they did as they had enjoyed the experience, and every year after that the event was full. One year we got a Christian illusionist to talk about his faith – and the guests brought to the dinner were unfazed by that, even enjoyed it. We must always press on and look for new ways to engage with the changing culture of those around us.
The Holy Spirit strengthens us to go on following Jesus, walking with him and becoming like him, and leads us as we seek to be creative in reaching those who have not yet discovered the saving love of Jesus.
Back to were we started…After the question from the floor, I explained God as Father Son and Holy Spirit using the mug I had in my hand left over from coffee beforehand. Some years later I returned to find some of the people, now confirmed members of the church and going on as followers of Christ. God must have been at work. Any work dependant on us is doomed to fail, but if it is dependant on him it will bear fruit on due season.