Meditation on Matthew 28:16-18
Trinity Sunday: June 7, 2020
The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, Ohio 43812
Pastor Karen Crawford
It was warm and humid on Friday and late in the day when the tree trimmers arrived. They are farmers working a side job, said one man who shimmied up the large tree in our front yard without a ladder or bucket truck. He just used a rope, a harness, a chainsaw, and a lot of sweat effort. The other guy, Rick, stayed on the ground picking up the branches as they fell and feeding them into the mulcher, which reminded me of the gruesome scene in the movie, Fargo. When they were done, the young guy asked me if we had any more work for them to do.
And I said, “How much time do you have???” I took him on a tour around our yard, and in the end, he and Rick had trimmed 4 trees, plus removed two baby trees off our 60 or 70-year old ornamental cherry tree growing too close to our house.
When they had finished, it was glaringly obvious that I had more trimming and clean-up to do. Specifically, you could now see how overgrown the forsythia was and all the weeds that had grown up behind and under them. So for the next few hours, though I had already spent the morning digging, planting and weeding, I cut back the forsythia until, I too, was covered in dirt and sweat—and too tired to do anymore.
The next day was Saturday, my sermon writing and recording day, so I knew I needed help if I wanted the job finished any time soon. I asked my son, Jacob. My plan was to show him what I needed done on Saturday morning, and then go back inside and work on my service, but it was an awful job I gave him, raking, bending, lifting and cutting the branches to fill the trash bins. And it was Florida hot! The worst part of the job was that mixed with the branches I had cut were all kinds of wild vines, including poison ivy.
Well, I ended up staying outside with him for several hours, helping him and being careful not to touch the poison ivy with anything but a long rake. And even after I went inside to shower and work at my computer, I came back out to bring Jacob a raspberry popsicle and a lawn chair to rest in the shade.
I can’t ask him to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. And I know how much easier it is to do unpleasant jobs when you have help, someone to keep you company during the labor, encourage you to keep going when you are ready to give up, and rest when you need it.
And the Risen Christ is like this, too. He would never ask us to do something that he isn’t willing to do and, in fact, has already done and is still doing. He gives his disciples, at the end of the gospel of Matthew, final instructions for the work of making disciples of the world. He tells them exactly what he wants them to do and what it means to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the promised Holy Spirit that would empower and guide them every step. This is Jesus teaching us about the Trinity, the God who is three-in-one, the God who came down to us in human form and suffered and died so we may be reconciled with him.
Jesus says, “I want you to teach them everything I taught you—to obey all my commands.” What comes to mind is his Greatest Command—love God with all heart, soul, mind and might and neighbors as ourselves. But he also said to love our enemies and pray for them. What hard labor this is—to do the work of love. This is a labor only possible with the Lord’s help.
Here’s the good news! We have his help. He didn’t leave us with a big job to do by ourselves, with no encouragement when we are tired, no refreshment, and no rest and peace with His loving Spirit when we are ready to give up. For Christ says, “Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This week marks the anniversary of the historic Communion on June 10, 1983 that reunited the Presbyterian Church that had been split since the Civil War. They were “ending a family separation which had kept them apart for 122 years” says the General Assembly Daily News of the Presbyterian Church (USA), one day after the event. The front-page headline proclaims, “We Are One Church Again!” Thousands of Presbyterians, 54 groups, would gather, not just at The World Congress Center in Atlanta, but at 24 different locations across the United States and Puerto Rico to participate in the “largest satellite simultaneous communion service ever held.”
The Rev. John F. Anderson, Jr. would share a message, “Let Us Break Bread Together,” for the newly gathered Church of 3.4 million members. The early church called the Lord’s Supper “communion,” he said, “because the community of believers was restored again and again. They called it ‘eucharist’ because the good favor, the amazing grace of forgiveness and acceptance was experienced every time the family circle was reunited.” “Pride, prejudice, power politics, hurt feelings, and hard lines caused one family after another to leave the family table,” the Rev. Anderson said to thousands of Presbyterians via satellite.
But the reality was that the headline of being One Church Again was not quite true, at least not in the way it was meant. Other Presbyterians, anticipating the reunion, had up and left. Ten years before, in 1973, a group of Presbyterians concerned with growing “liberal tendencies” in the Southern Church formed the Presbyterian Church in America or PCA. In 1981, two years before the 195th GA met in Atlanta, another group of conservative Presbyterians from both the Northern and Southern churches formed the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or EPC. More would leave after 1983. In 2012, just a year after I was ordained in the PC(USA), a group of pastors within the denomination left to form ECO:A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
Yes, the visible church is still struggling to live as One. But somehow, God is using our divisive tendencies to send us out—and obey Christ’s Great Commission of Matthew 28. Jesus, to me, never seemed like the megachurch kind of guy as megachurches are today—stadium sized worship centers filled with people who hardly know one another, if at all. Jesus was all about ministry in small groups, person to person, relationships, training up leaders—women and men, young and older—and sending them out with His power.
With the racial unrest, protests, military response and angry rhetoric since the death of an African American arrested by white police officers, the injustice suffered by the oppressed has been brought to light, once again. It’s like when I had my trees trimmed, and suddenly I could see what had been covered up. Prejudice and hatred were never gone from our society. Evil is still here in the world—the power and principalities of darkness. It’s not a time for discouragement or to sit back and do nothing. It just means we have more work to do as followers of Christ. And we need to invite others to join with us! This is a time to bear witness to our faith and our commissioning to labor for him. Our Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is doing a new thing. Our Triune God isn’t finished, yet. We should expect to continue to work for peace and justice, revealing the Kingdom and God’s love, until our Savior comes again.
The communion we celebrate today is not so unlike the “satellite simultaneous communion service” held in June 1983. Communion has always been the celebration of Christ’s presence in and with us and with all the saints in every time and place. As one person mentioned in our Chasing Vines book study this week, every time we have communion, it is like we are feasting at the big banquet table in heaven; it is a foretaste of what is to come. Our virtual communion is STILL a reunion of the family of God, a re-membering of Christ’s Body, broken and given for us, his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins.
During communion today, open your heart and let the Spirit build up your faith, bring hope and healing, and make us One Church, Again.
Let us break bread together—and be renewed and equipped to be Christ’s Body for the world. And to remember Christ’s words as he sent out his beloved, as lambs amidst the wolves. “I will be with you always even to the end of the age.”
Let us pray.
Holy Triune God, Three-in-One, do your work in us now. In our communion, as we remember what you have done for us and give you thanks, make us, once again, one in Your Body. Forgive us for our pride and divisive ways, for being intolerant of differences of belief and practice and for opposing uncomfortable change, though it may be your will. Help us, now, to work for peace and justice in our community and world. Empower us to witness to your present and coming Kingdom through our words and acts of kindness. Lord, we pray your Spirit would draw others closer to you and that hearts would be cleansed of the hate and prejudice that stirs people to acts of violence and cruelty. Equip us and send us out to make disciples of all the nations, beginning right here in our homes and hometowns. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.