“Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell.”
by The Rev'd Dane E. Boston
In thanksgiving for the gift and privilege of three wonderful years as the curate of Christ Church in Greenwich, Connecticut, I share the sermon from my final Sunday. It was preached out-of-doors at the annual Mass-on-the-Grass.
A Sermon Preached on Trinity Sunday, June 15, 2014
By the Rev’d Dane E. Boston, Curate of Christ Church Greenwich
Texts: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
May I speak in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Today is Father’s Day. Today is Mass-on-the-Grass. Today we celebrate two baptisms. And today is my last day with you as a priest of Christ Church Greenwich.
Now any one of these occurrences by themselves would bring its own unique homiletical challenges. That all of these things should coalesce on this single day is proof, if anyone needed it, that God does indeed have a sense of humor.
But nevertheless, I am grateful for this day’s grand convergence, and I pray that we may, for a little while, push aside the many and varied distractions and difficulties we face as we worship out here in God’s beautiful world, and attend to the life-giving message that we have heard out of God’s living Word.
For if today is an unusually full Sunday, then it is also true that we have had two unusually full readings to match it. Do not let their brevity fool you–our Scripture today is packed with power and with promise.
We begin, appropriately, outdoors on a mountaintop in Galilee. The Risen Jesus has called his disciples up from Jerusalem, up from the Holy City, up from the place of his death and Resurrection, to the backwoods province where their relationship with him first began. St Matthew does not hide the difficulty of this encounter. For even though Jesus’ followers obeyed his command to go to Galilee–even though they worshiped when they saw him–nevertheless, “Some doubted.”
Can we blame them? After everything they had witnessed; after everything they had heard–after the devastating, brutal death of their teacher; after the astonishing, impossible news of his Resurrection, some of the disciples doubted. They doubted because they still could not grasp the meaning of Jesus’ mission. They doubted because they still could not understand the logic of his life. They doubted because in spite of the presence of the living Jesus in their midst, they still could not see how the death and Resurrection of one man could make a difference in a world still bound by the powers of Sin and Death. “When they saw him, they worshiped. But some doubted.”
How different is this from you and me today, brothers and sisters? For still today we struggle to grasp the full scope of Jesus’ life and ministry. Still today we fail to comprehend the full meaning of Jesus’ identity and intentions. Still today, as we look out upon a world riven and wracked by Sin and Death, we wonder and we question and we doubt the full force of Jesus’ death and Resurrection.
Yet on this Trinity Sunday, the Risen Jesus speaks his Great Commission directly into the doubts of his first followers, and into the doubts and distractions that cloud our hearts today. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus does not engage the incomprehension and confusion his friends experience. Jesus does not answer their questions or address their concerns. Jesus does not meet their doubts with an argument, but with an announcement. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
“We cannot see the way ahead,” cry the foolish, faithless disciples. Jesus responds, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” “We do not know what we should do next,” cry the silly, senseless followers. Jesus responds, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” “The powers of this world are too great! The forces of the Empire are so strong!” the frightened, faulty friends object. Jesus responds, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
This is not an answer meant to settle the doubts and satisfy the skeptics. It is an answer that resets the terms of the conversation entirely. For what matters now is not the doubt dwelling deep in the disciples’ hearts. What matters is the word of the Risen Jesus. What matters is not the questioning and the arguing and the contemplating of Jesus’ friends. What matters is the authority of the Risen Jesus. What matters is not the apparently insuperable powers that still hold sway in our world and in our lives. What matters is the announcement Jesus makes regarding himself.
And that announcement reverberates down to our time also. In the time of tragedy, when we struggle to see how life could have any meaning in the face of great loss, we hear the voice of Jesus: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” In the guilt of our sins, when the knowledge of what we have done and who we have been leaves us certain that God cannot, God could not reach us, we hear the voice of Jesus: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” In the day of our doubt, when the waiting seems too long and the promises go unfulfilled and we wonder and worry whether the whole business of faith is built on a lie, we hear the voice of Jesus: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
His words are no empty boast. His authority is no dead letter. It is an authority stronger than the powers and principalities of this world, and it is an authority that behaves unlike any authority we have known. Notice the task Jesus gives his friends based in his authority: “Go therefore and make 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 commanded you.” Having declared his authority to them, the Risen Jesus does not send them forth to kill and to conquer–to behave in the way that power and authority so often behave in our world. Instead, he sends them forth to disciple, to teach, and to baptize. He sends them forth to announce and to invite. He sends them forth not in domination but in relationship.
For what are the commandments that he has taught them? “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” In what name does he commission them to baptize? The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit–the three persons who are one God in their mutual giving and receiving.
Love, then, is at the center of Jesus’ authority. Love–the mutual giving and receiving of love–is at the very heart of the life of God.
This is the mystery at the heart of our faith. In spite of what we see in the world around us–in spite of what we see at work within us, God has called into loving relationship. God has revealed his very nature to us, and the content of that revelation is a love deeper than anything we have known. Jesus’ authority does not answer the doubts and darkness of his disciples: it cuts through them with a glimpse into the life of God, and a call to show forth and to proclaim that life in this world. Jesus’ authority does not bring his followers into perfect agreement and unbounded clarity: it calls them beyond what they can see and grasp for themselves to dwell in the dynamic unity of “the love that moves the sun and all the stars.”
And it rests on a promise: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” In this promise is our hope, dear people, because it declares to us that the God of all creation who came to seek us; the God who took on our flesh and walked among us; the God who taught and healed and transformed us; the God who endured the Cross and grave for us; the God who raised our nature to life everlasting; this great God of love revealed in the face of Jesus Christ and present in the power of the Holy Spirit will never leave us nor forsake us.
That authority, that love, that promise, is the only foundation of our life together in the Church. Confidence in that promise gave Paul the Apostle strength to commend his troublesome Corinthians to the care of God and one another. Confidence in that promise gives me strength to commend you, my beloved friends, to the same care and the same grace.
I can offer only thankfulness and praise to the One who called me to serve him and you in this place. I can offer only my deep gratitude to the people and the leaders of this parish for all that I have learned, and all the ways in which I have grown. Wherever God calls me in the years ahead–wherever my family and I find ourselves–we will carry with us the love and support of this community, this assembly of disciples rooted in the life of the Risen Jesus.
And we go from you in the sure and certain knowledge that the bonds between us are not based in the changes and chances of this life–in the accidents of proximity and the ephemera of professional relationships. But we are knit together in the life of the Living God. We are bound together in the unbreakable tether of the Holy Spirit. We are made one in the perfect oneness of the Holy Trinity.
And so, my brothers and sisters, farewell. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with you all, evermore.