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Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday – June 7, 2020

Matthew 28:16-20

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday – the only Sunday in the church year dedicated to a doctrine. This doctrine deserves its own Sunday, as it teaches us some important things about who God is. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God exists as a relationship. At the core of God’s very being is a relationship of love and unity between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There’s a lot more that can be said about the doctrine of the Trinity, but this is its essence: God is three distinct persons but exists together as one, bound together in eternal love.

On this Holy Trinity Sunday we hear our Lord Jesus give what is often called “The Great Commission.” He gives his disciples their marching orders. He gives his church its calling. We are to make disciples. We are to baptize. We are to teach. And we are to do all of this in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Part of what it means to do ministry in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is to do it on behalf of God. We are God’s agents. We are God’s instruments. But there’s another element to what it means to do all these things in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It also means we are to do it all in the character of the Holy Trinity.

Recall when Jesus invited his disciples to pray “in his name.” Whenever they pray “in his name,” he told them, they would receive everything they asked for. But Jesus’ name isn’t a code word to get free stuff! To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in his character, it is to pray for the things that he would want for us.

So it is with doing ministry in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We not only do it on behalf of God, by God’s authority, we are also called to do it in the character of the Holy Trinity. And so we are to do it all united as one in the eternal love of God.

We are to take this love to all peoples. “Make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said. The English word “nations” suggests other countries, other places you can locate on a map, and that is certainly part of it, but the original Greek word is ethnos, which can also mean ethnicity or race.  Jesus was telling these disciples to get this love of God out to the Gentiles, out to those who were not ethnically Jewish. And so the church isn’t just to send missionaries off to other lands. This love of God is to be shared with people of other races, people who might live very near to us.

I really wrestled with how to faithfully observe this Trinity Sunday and stay faithful to the text in front of me while also trying to say something about what our country has been going through this past week, with several consecutive nights of rioting in our cities. I think most of you know that I am very careful to not try to make a given scripture passage say something it doesn’t just so I can spout off on the hot issue of the moment. But I see a legitimate connection in language of the Great Commission and what our country has been experiencing recently. Jesus calls his church to make disciples of all nations, all ethnicities, all races. We are to do ministry in the character of the Holy Trinity as we seek to bring the love of God to all people, whatever their nationality, or ethnicity, or skin color. This means we cannot ignore the experiences of those who are crying out in pain right now. We cannot ignore the experiences of our African-American neighbors.

Has the rioting gone way beyond what happened to George Floyd? Absolutely. Are there other forces hijacking the protests? Absolutely. Are there people fanning the flames for their own selfish purposes? Yes. Is this a complicated issue with many strands, many factors? Also, yes. All of that is true.

But what started all of this was watching an unarmed and handcuffed black man die in broad daylight with a white police officer’s knee on his neck while he begged them to stop, saying he couldn’t breathe, finally crying out for his mother before he died. This ripped scabs off of deep African-American wounds across the country. It stirred up all kinds of pain that has been simmering below the surface for a long time.

I listened to a recent press conference with Russell Wilson, the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson is someone I have long admired, not only as an athlete but as a person and as someone who has been very public about his Christian faith. He isn’t an activist or a politician, so he doesn’t have an ax to grind or a platform to advance. But he spoke very emotionally about what George Floyd’s death stirred up in him. He talked about how when he was a young boy, how his dad taught him to never put his hands in his pockets whenever he was in a store because people would think he was stealing. Russell Wilson didn’t grow up in the hood. He went to a private school! His dad was a lawyer! But because of the color of his skin he faced greater scrutiny. He was often looked upon with suspicion.  I’ve been raising three boys and never once has it ever occurred to me to tell my boys keep their hands out of their pockets at the store.

Wilson went on to talk about being at a breakfast buffet at a nice restaurant just days after the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2014. He went up to get some breakfast and an older white man said, “This isn’t for you.” This was in California. In 2014. Russell Wilson had just won the biggest contest on planet earth, but because of the color of his skin someone thought he shouldn’t be at the fancy breakfast bar.

There was so much pain in his voice when he shared all of this. That pain is something we as Christians cannot ignore, especially from a fellow brother in Christ.

Russell Wilson said something else in his press conference that jumped out at me. Two things, actually: He said he didn’t have all the answers, and he said he just wanted to love like Jesus.

I don’t have all the answers either. I don’t have all the answers about the mystery of the Trinity, that’s for sure! I don’t have all the answers about our current cultural moment either, which is indeed very complicated. There are a lot of factors I cannot address because I just don’t know enough about them. I don’t have all the answers, so I hope I don’t sound self-righteous or badgering or more woke-than-thou. I hate when people do that – especially pastors!

But if we are going to do ministry in the character of the Holy Trinity, if we are going to share the eternal love of God with all nationalities, all ethnicities, all races, we cannot ignore their pain – even when it comes out sideways. Before we can baptize and teach effectively, we need to listen and love.  To do ministry in this sacred name that has been revealed to us is to strive to love like Jesus: humbly, selflessly, sacrificially, and with special concern for those who are vulnerable or hurting most.

This is a tall order. The Great Commission always has been. But Jesus doesn’t just give us orders to follow. He also gives us a promise: “I am with you always,” he says, “even to the end of the age.”

Christ is with us in this hard time, when the crises just seem to keep piling up.

Even as we don’t have all the answers, Christ is with us: loving us, forgiving us, and empowering us for ministry in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church