Bible Text: Matthew 28:16-20 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | Devotional
This week was supposed to be one of the most challenging, perhaps contentious, and definitely divisive meetings in the history of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Today, the 146th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada was supposed to begin. And following a year long process of voting by presbyteries on two important remits, the PCC was supposed to finally vote on both the allowance of performing same sex marriage and ordination of ministers who identify as LGBTQ+. Many of us were holding our breaths as results from the various presbyteries came in and we hoped that the denomination would find a way to move forward in unity. In fact, the Pentecostal statements I made last week about unity in diversity was the slogan at last year’s Assembly. And then the world changed in a period of months and for the first time in the denomination’s history, since 1875 the Assembly council made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Assembly. Some breathed a sigh of relief, some breathed sighs of pain that it would be another year of waiting, some see this as an opportunity to live in the space of the Spirit. Regardless, it is difficult when a future that one envisioned, no matter how challenging, changes and when those changes are completely out of our control. For most of us, our summers look completely different then what we had thought. Today is called Trinity Sunday in our church calendar and both of the Scripture passages not only acknowledge this Trinity and what it is but, help us understand how we live in relationship with the Trinity even when our future is uncertain or we are troubled.
First for some context regarding Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. The church in Corith gave Paul, more trouble than all his other churches put together. As we know from the first letter, no sooner would Paul get one issue straightened out that three more would show up. But you know, for all their problems the two letters to the Corinthians are some of Paul’s most profound pieces. While first Corinthians has words of kindness and wonderful language about love it also does not mince words. Some of what he wrote to them was hard for them to hear which results in a response from this congregation with basically, “who are you to tell us what to do?” Clearly they forgot that he was their founding pastor! And so, this second letter is filled with Paul defending and defining his leadership. What we heard this morning, however, is his final salutation. I presume that the reason it is included this Sunday is because it is one of the few passages in the entire Bible that articulates the Trinity. In fact, most of the other times when Paul or any of the other Epistle writers write a send off they neglect to mention the Holy Spirit. Thus this sign off fits in well with our celebration of Trinity Sunday. But what is important to me is Paul’s summation of the letter.
After Paul’s description of what Christian leadership looks like he tells the church in Corith how to move forward with this information. The future will still be challenging but here’s what you do. First you put things in order. Paul might as well had said, get your ducks in a row, create a list, or policy and work from there. That step seems easy enough. But then Paul says, listen to my appeal and agree with one another. Ok, but what if we just can’t. Perhaps we need to think a little differently about what it means to agree with one another. In First Corinthians Paul uses a similar turn of phrase but adds that they should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. I don’t think this is an appeal for uniformity. We can be diverse in our expressions and opinions but that they are always rooted in Christ. As it says in Philippians to have the same mind as Christ when he humbled himself and died for the sake of the world. We should have a humility about our opinions that allows us to find common ground. This unity then helps us with the third step in Paul’s summary which is to live in peace. As a result of those first three steps, putting things in order, agreeing with one another and living in peace, God’s presence will be felt and known, even in the chaos of an uncertain future. Unfortunately the final step that Paul’s tells this congregation to do is to greet one another will a holy kiss. Maybe not. But it is not about the kissing- it’s about the greeting and we can still greet one another with holiness. It reminds us that just as the Trinity works in relationship so do we. And sometimes relationships are hard.
This brings me to the Gospel reading which is another closing and summation. But it is that first sentence in our passage that comes with heartache. The disciples lived in relationship with Jesus and each other for approximately 3 years. They likely knew how to push each other’s buttons and how to lift each other up. Yet, Matthew 28:16 says, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee.” In Matthew, Judas’ betrayal affects Judas so much that he tries to take it back. He goes to the chief priests and tries to return the money but they refuse it. The remorse is so deep that Judas hangs himself. This line in Matthew 28 is the only acknowledgement that the disciples are no longer 12 but 11. Regardless of how they felt about Judas’ betrayal, his death would have affected them. Not to mention that they would still be grieving Jesus’ death. At this point in Matthew the disciples, have only heard rumours of Jesus’ resurrection. Calling the disciples “bewildered” doesn’t even begin to describe what they are going through. We hear that, when the next verse states that even as they see Jesus in person, some worship while others doubt. In their vulnerability and uncertainty Jesus shows up and “gets them sorted”- gets them organized for their future- as uncertain as it may be.
Jesus commissions them to make disciples, to baptize, to teach and obey and he finishes it all by saying, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” In the chaos of their future, Jesus is with them. In the uncertainty of our future as a denomination or as a people living during a pandemic Jesus is always with us. Joanna Love, who works with Wild goose publishing, the Iona community’s publishing company puts it like this, “The eleven disciples cannot possibly have been all on the same page in processing these life-changing events. At this devastating ending that also led into a remarkable beginning, they were not the finished article, but had to continue to learn, relearn, make mistakes, take risks, get it right, get it wrong, fall out, fail, and keep going. The only sure things for them and for us are that we belong to God and will never be abandoned.” We’ve got this, because the Trinity, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit has us. Amen