Sermon for the beginning of Missionary Training: The Trinity teaches us that God is all about relationship

“Go therefore therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Within this lesson is an invitation and an assurance, but to hear them we need to unpack.  Before we can hear the invitation and the assurance we need to unpack our anxieties and our theological baggage.  These are the lessons for Trinity Sunday, and often we hear a high minded theological sermon.  You won’t get high minded theology from me today.  Hearing this lesson, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you are anxious.   I won’t be surprised if your anxiety has something to do with Jesus’ Great Commission, his invitation to go make disciples.  Why do we have to call this a “missionary” training?  Nine years ago, when I sat right where you’re sitting, I was anxious about that word, missionary, about the implications and the baggage that word carries.  I was not excited to tell my friends and families I was going to be a “missionary.”

The musical “The Book of Mormon” focuses on the young adult zeal within the Latter Day Saints church to go to all the nations and baptize.  That zeal tends to make Episcopalians nervous.  

Don’t worry.  As part of this training you won’t be issued an inflatable pool to baptize the nations.  Well, let’s face it, we’re Episcopalians.  Most of us weren’t baptized in pools.  The bishop of California recently showed me a tiny silver baptismal bowl that the first missionary bishop from San Francisco used to take on his horseback rides through the diocese to baptize the new Californians.  It’s even smaller than the bird baths we usually use in our churches.  You won’t be issued a baptismal bowl either.  The Episcopal church does not have a quota for you to convert and baptize.  So I invite you, if you can, to put away that anxiety, and to hear the invitation at the heart of this reading.

“Go to all the nations, and make disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus meets his rag tag little group of 11, now having lost one of the twelve, on an unspecified mountaintop in backwater region of Galilee.  He tells them to go to ALL the nations.  The word he uses, nations, isn’t nation-states like we think of them.  It means, more exactly, ALL the Gentiles, ALL of the people who aren’t like you.  Go to them, Jesus says.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Leave behind your own people.  Go.  I imagine that little group felt a bit like you do, nervous, maybe a little incredulous.  Jesus is uncompromising. ALL he says.  The word is repeated three times in the lesson, it’s a theme.  Go to ALL the people.

Jesus is inviting his disciples, he’s inviting us, to learn something about God in this lesson.  God desires relationship with us, but not just with us, with the whole world.  You’ll hear it in the Eucharistic prayer in a few minutes, a short recounting of God’s work in the world.  God creates the world, and then God consistently breaks into the world.  Through Abraham and Sarah, through the word of the prophets, through the history of Israel, especially through Jesus, and then through Jesus’ disciples. God is always, always, coming to creation.  God constantly invites ALL people into relationship.  All the power, all the glory, is ultimately a proclamation that God is all in with us.

This is really the mystery at the heart of the Trinity.  Through all of the high theology, the questions of people and substance, and co-existence, the real teaching is this: God is all about relationship.  Meister Eckhart the great mystic once explained the Trinity poetically this way, and please excuse the gendered pronouns.  Eckhart lived a long time ago: “The Father  of laughed, and the Son was born.  The Father and Son then laughed together, and the Spirit was born.  The three then started laughing and humanity was born.”

The Trinity Icon by Rublev: God is all about relationship.

That description is one of the better explanations of Gods life, because the Trinity is all about relationship.  God is not some static principle, but as they say in Spanish “es una dynamica.”  God is dynamic.

The phrase in Spanish is more than just the English word “dynamic.”  In Spanish “dynamica” calls to mind the beauties and the difficulties of relationship.  Anyone who is in, or has been in a serious relationship can tell you…there are lots of “dynamics.”  I am always surprised when people tell me they don’t believe in God anymore because something happened that caused them to doubt.  I want to say, “have you never been in a relationship?” Or “have you never had a deep friendship.”  Like any relationship, the relationship God invites us into is not easy.  I suspect there are quite of few of us, who, if asked to specify our relationship with God on Facebook, would select the option “it’s complicated.”

But that is more than okay, that is what God wants.  God, following the Christian tradition, and  the doctrine of the Trinity, and the story of Jesus’ great commission is a God who wants relationship, a God who is constantly present to the messiness of history, the God who is constantly present to the messiness of our lives.  God is always already with us.  As Thomas Merton used to say, “God is closer to us than our breath.”  We get to God when we learn to be present to God in our own lives, and in the world.  That is when God shows up.  Jesus says to his disciples: I will be with you always.  Always.  Literally ALL days, there is that word ALL again.  

You see, for Jesus, the laughter of the Trinity, the relationship of God is not done.  Go make disciples of ALL nations he says.  Go to all the people.  God is not content to be present to a small group of eleven.  God wants the whole world.  Notice Jesus does not say, go make believers of all nation or go make theologians of all nations, what does he say?  Go make disciples.  The action in this last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew echoes the action of the beginning of Jesus’ story, the calling of the disciples.  Jesus does not say, “come I will teach you my theology” or “come, I will teach you the right way to live”  Jesus does not say to Simon and Andrew on the lakeside or to the Sons of Zebedee on their father’s boat “come, I will teach you English,” or “come I will teach you about economic development.”  Jesus says simply “follow me.”  Making disciples, I venture, for Jesus is about finding companions in the journey. 

Go into all the world.  Go to all the people.  Go find fellow journeyers. Go make friends.  Go build relationships.  That, in the end, is what God is all about.  One of the hardest things I had to accept as a YASC volunteer was that I was pretty useless to the people of Honduras.  College had filled me with all sorts of expectation, all sorts of ego.  College can do that.  I really though, going into YASC that I was going to change the world.  And YASC frustrated me, because I was often not useful. The Kingdom did not come it it’s fullness because I got on a plane to Honduras.  Often, in Honduras, I was in the way.  That was hard to accept.

What I learned over time was that what mattered was not any knowledge I brought.  In fact my “knowledge” got me in trouble because more often than not it was wrapped in cultural bias, in an assumption that I knew better.  Beware the thought, “I know how to do this better.”  That thought is often the enemy of God’s mission.  That thought does not help build relationships.  What I learned, over time, was that I was in YASC to build relationships, relationships and friendships with people who were very different than me.  

And the invitation at the heart of this lesson is simple. Go all in.  Go all in to these relationships.  Now, this is tricky.  Cultural differences are real.  You will encounter in yourself, and in others, the real wounds that separate us from one another.  The wounds of all of those isms and phobias, all of the wounds that separate us from one another.  Those wounds make relationship difficult.  You will encounter them in others, and more frighteningly, in yourself.  Don’t let them stop you.  Keep working on going all in.  Keep building relationships.  Keep searching for deep friendship.  Keep opening up.

The invitation is to go into relationships that are challenging to build.  The invitation is to let go of our biases, our opinions.  The invitation is to let go of our programs, our western knowledge. The invitation is to go out there into the world, into all nations, not seeking to build some American idea of justice, not seeking to bring any particular farming method, or plan for development.  The invitation is to go make friends. 

The assurance is that Jesus will be with you, always.  God is always already with us.  God is already with the people you are going to meet.  God is already with you. The journey is a journey not of distance but of depth.  Depth of relationship.  Meister Eckhart teaches us that when God laughed, the Son was born.  When the Son and the Father laughed, the Spirit was born.  When the three of them laughed together, humanity was born.  What will be born when people learn to laugh together? When we laugh together across race and religion and gender and all of the false separations?  When we laugh the deep knowing laughter that can only be shared by deep friends?  When we laugh together with God, what can be born?  Go.  Find out.


Published by Mike Angell

The Rev. Mike Angell is rector of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in St. Louis.

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