The Great Commission : Matthew 28:16-end : Love Builds the Church

A sermon delivered on 4th June 2023 by Mary Rathbone

Last Sunday, we completed our long journey from Easter to Pentecost.

During this time, the Bible recorded how doubting Thomas could not believe Jesus had risen from the dead.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus only recognised the risen Christ was with them at the last moment.

Jesus taught fishermen how to catch fish and be fishers of men – meaning how to build his Church on earth.

This year we even had the glorious Coronation of King Charles to fit in with all the usual events.

Then Jesus ascended to heaven, and finally last week we heard how the gift of the Holy Spirit descended upon the people at the feast of Pentecost.

That’s a lot of drama going on since Easter, so now it might seem reasonable to assume that we can now slip into a quieter time in the Christian summer season.

But then, like an unexpected crash of cymbals at the end of a symphony, there is one more big thing.

We heard it in the gospel reading this morning; Jesus told his disciples that he now had full authority in heaven and earth and instructed them to spread the good news of what he has achieved for humankind to the four corners of the world and build his Church here on earth.

We are still at this point of the biblical timeline in the world today, of making disciples for Jesus whilst we anticipate his return in clouds of glory.

Despite persecution, the early Christians did amazingly well in starting and carrying on with the great commission to build the Church. 

And although faith seems to be dwindling in the West, a third of the world’s population are still devoted Christians – I wonder what Jesus would say to us, in the West, today about this?

I am pretty sure I know what St Paul would say. He would probably write us a stiff letter telling us to get our act together!

The Holy Trinity

Today we also celebrate the greatest mystery known to humankind, the Holy Trinity, which has existed since the beginning of time.

God is love, and that love is enmeshed within the three persons of the Holy Trinity, so God is one person but also three in one.

All three persons of the Trinity share their holy and perfect love for one another. They work together in complete unity and are equal partners who could not do without each other.

Because there would be no Church without God, who created heaven and earth.

Or Jesus, who offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Neither would there be a Church without the Holy Spirit, who came to inspire and guide us in our day-to-day lives.

Another way to describe the Holy Trinity could be as St Patrick did, so very successfully in Ireland, with the three-leaf clover. One leaf represents God, one Jesus, and one represents the Holy Spirit symbolising a Trinity of perfect love and unity.

What does this mean for us today?

Sadly, unlike the perfection of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, we mere humans are not perfect, and it is also a very human trait to downplay any worth and ability that we do have.

Because although we were made in the image of God, the world can easily distort our understanding of just how special each one of us is in his eyes, and we can become hyper-critical, even of ourselves. 

I know there have been times when even my worst critic could not have been as horrible to me as I can be to myself, but it does not have to be like this. 

Because God sees us entirely differently from how we see ourselves. He sees each of us as his unique creation with all the potential to achieve perfection.

This is a work in progress and can only gradually be achieved through humility, unity and love, which is the eternal essence of the Holy Trinity.

However, we often don’t take the time, or even know how perhaps, to love ourselves. But Jesus said we should love our neighbour; ‘as we love ourselves’.

This does not mean we should love ourselves more than we love God or worship ourselves and become self-centred and conceited. Rather, we should have personal love and respect in all humility as precious and unique child of God.

Because looking after ourselves is essential to being able to care for others. It’s a bit like the air stewards’ pre-flight briefing that says; in an emergency, we must put on our oxygen masks first before trying to help someone else.

The same applies to our spiritual well-being. If we do not love the person we are well enough, then we cannot love other people as well as God created us to.

Because, like Jesus, each one of us was created in God’s image, with the potential to dazzle with the fullness of his nature. How much of our potential we achieve is another thing, but we can only try our best day after day.

The more we understand and accept our unique worth in God’s eternal plans, the better we can fulfil our commission to tell the world of the promise we have in Jesus, as well as the gift we have of the Holy Spirit to guide us in the world today.

So now, as we finally travel on from Pentecost, I challenge you to reflect on whether you are as kind to yourself as you are to your neighbour.

Because as Jesus taught us to be kind and compassionate to others, so too he wants us to be kind and compassionate to ourselves.

In the name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen 

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