|Sermon - January 15, 2012||| Print ||
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I do not remember if I had ever told you that one. I was at the United Church’s General Council in 2003 at Wolfville, Nova Scotia. During a debate, I do not remember what was the topic, someone went to the microphone and declared that the principal aim of our Church was to give a voice to those who are not heard by our society. My answer to that comment was, “I taught we were a worshipping community dedicated to follow Jesus’ teachings”. As you can guess, me and my big mouth, did not make many friends with that day. Sometimes I look at us and I wonder what Jesus would say if he came back and looks at us today. According to the Gospels, he was not looking to create a new Church or new institution. He said nothing about membership, writing manuals of rules and regulations, establishing new programs or maintaining buildings. Instead, Jesus spent his whole ministry to present a simple message to those who wanted to listen and to follow him.
This morning, we have heard the last few verses of the Gospel according to Matthew. This passage is maybe familiar to you because many seen in it the climax of the proclamation of Jesus’ message. After his resurrection, the author of this text tells us that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and said to them “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” The disciples went back to Galilee and Jesus appeared to them, as promised, on a mountain. There, Jesus does not display representations of his power, share bread or invite his disciples to touch his body. He rather gives his final instructions to his disciples in what is called the Great Commission. He says, “Go therefore and makes 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 that I have command you.”
In the Great Commission we can find the basis of one of the Church’s most important practices, the baptism of infants and adults in the name of the Triune God. Since the early Church, new believers were welcomed in the great family of God in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. By this gesture, individuals of every generation accepted to belong, to be under the protection, to be claimed by no one less than God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. We have come to believe that our baptism is more than a simple rite of passage or a good excuse to organize a great party. It is a statement that announces the new existence of an individual under God’s love. It is both a commitment and a gift that sustain us in our life. In short, our baptism is a sacrament that brings us closer to God.
The word baptism comes from the Greek “baptizo”, which can be translated by “immerse”. Since its beginnings, the Christian Church responded to the Great Commission by immersing new believers in water or simply sprinkling a few drops on their forehead. However, being immersed in the name God can also be understood as an act of immersing someone into the person of God, and this is done, not necessarily with water, but with words. Jesus invites us to flood people with a new understanding of God’s character revealed in the words and the deeds of the saints of all ages. New believers are invited to be immersed into God’s very being and person; to experience more deeply God’s love; to become intimate with all that God is: God above us, God beside us, and God within us.
Contrarily to the beliefs of some, one does not have to go through a long and structured program or to know all the details of the latest statement of faith to receive this great gift. Baptism is a testimony of the beginning of a new life. For this reason, it should not be seen as a one-time event but as an on-going process. Nobody receives, through baptism, a V.I.P. pass to Heaven. It is only the first step of a journey that is reinforced by the teachings of the stories of Jesus and all the disciples who followed him. We teach those stories, especially to children, not to indoctrinate them or make sure they will eventually take our place on the various committees of our congregation, but to make sure they know about God’s love for humanity and how to live in accordance to the great principles of the God’s realm. With those teachings we hope they can grow in wisdom and mature into a deeper relationship with Jesus the Christ.
Furthermore, this invitation to join the great family of God is not limited to a restricted group. Throughout the Gospels narrative, Jesus encounters many men and women who believed that God belongs to their own little group and that the Jews where the only saved people. With the Great Commission, such limitations are no longer valid and acceptable. In front of his disciples, Jesus did not say, “make disciples who have exactly the same values than us”. He did not say, “make disciples who speak exactly the same language than us”. He did not say, “make disciples who look exactly like us”. No. Jesus said, “make disciples of all nations”. As Jesus’ followers, we are invited to go into all nations of the world and to transmit the knowledge and interpretation about the kingdom of God. Based on this instruction, all disciples of Jesus the Christ are called to be involved in this universal mission. We are commissioned to go from the comfort of our homes to the ends of the earth, spreading the good news of God, to journey with our sister and brother of faith and to be members of the same body.
Of course, this task is not easy. To be this kind of disciples demands a great deal of effort and boldness. Fortunately, we have the assurance that we are not alone on this journey. Jesus ended his Great Commission with an amazing promise. He said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the ages.” This is not the first time we are reminded to this important truth. At the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew, we are told that Jesus’ name is Emmanuel, God with us. Latter on, Jesus told his disciples that, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”. At the end of this morning’s story, Jesus’ last word to his friends is that he will be present at his disciples’ side every step, and this forever.
When we ask ourselves for the reasons we exist as a Church, we can go back to the last words of Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew, which can be summarized in four simple mandates: Go, make disciples, baptize and teach. The mission in the Church should as simple as this. This is why we accept to spend our Sunday mornings together, why we like to teach each other the stories of Jesus and why we like to baptize, to immerse adults and children into God’s love for all humanity. Amen.