Sermon - 23rd October 2011
Go, Grow and Give - A sermon on the Great Commission
Scripture - Matthew 28:21-26
Rev Andy Braunston
[An audio version of this sermon is also available. Please go to Spirituality > Audio and Video.]
Every year at the Pride festival here in Manchester, as hundreds of people march for and demonstrate diversity some Christian fundamentalists regale the parade with Biblical references and condemnations. They clearly felt that God wanted them to condemn our people as we prepared to party. I have to admire their nerve as the crowd gave back as good as they got – especially the Salford Ladies United Temperance Society (a group of gay men who dress up as very conservative middle age and middle class women), but it saddens me to feel that the only thing that many of our people would hear from Christians were words of condemnation, not words of love. It makes the reading we just heard seem more appropriate than normal to us.
Jesus’ words were the last he gave to His disciples and are known now as the “Great Commission”. These were Jesus’ instructions to his disciples then and are still instructions for those who dare to follow Jesus into the mission fields of our world now. They undergird the mission of MCC to proclaim Christian salvation, build Christian community and engage in Christian salvation. Our mission is how we try to enact Jesus’ words in our own lives.
Jesus tells us to do three things, to go, to grow and to give.
First we are told to go – to all nations. When we think of the word nation we think in terms of modern nation states, the French, the English, the Americans etc. But the Greek word here is wider than that, it means peoples or tribes. It’s the word where we get “ethnicity” from. In our context it means an instruction to go to our tribe, our people, our community.
Jesus doesn’t tell us just to go to married folks with 2.4 children, but to all people. For us it means reaching out to our people with the message of God’s love and acceptance, the idea that they can have a Christian spirituality without being made to feel uncomfortable or condemned.
It means saying, without condemnation, that there is more to life than a pill or a bottle.
It means saying that we can be valued for more than what we look like or how much we earn.
It is about saying that we can experience unconditional love.
It is about declaring we are made in God’s own image and that image is good.
St Augustine once said that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. Our task as those committed to following Jesus now is to help people find their rest in God with words of love, not condemnation, to offer them, to use the slogan we put on the screen each week, faith without fear, passion without prejudice and holiness without hatred.
We go in various ways. Of course there is our outreach every year at the Pride festival, but week after week we “go” via our webpage. We have around 1,000 hits a week to our website as people from all over the world explore our ministry from the safety of their own computers. Those at a distance can only engage with us via the web, others come along. We go when we tell others about our faith in God, our understanding of the Christian faith, and about our church. That’s a task for all of us.
The second thing Jesus tell us to do in this passage is to grow.
We grow all the time, our cells grow and divide in our bodies. Our intellect and experience grows as we get older and hopefully we get a little wiser. As we grow we realise that many of the ideas we once held, no longer hold water. I am always suspicious of religious people that think they have nothing more to learn about their faith – of course liberals are as bad at this as the conservatives. God leads us on a journey of discovery as we learn more about ourselves and more about Him. This means we have to be willing to grow as we are taught new things and new perspectives.
But we also grow as a congregation. Almost every week we have visitors who come along and check us out. There are many reasons why a visitor might come back – why did you come back?
Some of these things we don’t have much control over! We can’t make people find God – but we can create a service and experience of worship where people are able to relax in God’s presence and open themselves up to Him if they wish. We do allow people to be themselves here, to worship in peace without having to worry about what others may say about our relationships or gender. But the single most important thing we can do is to help people make friends here.
The social time can be very scary for a newer person as they wonder if they will be made welcome, if people will talk to them and open up their friendship groups to allow others in. We are only here now because people made an effort to welcome us, to open up their friendship networks to include us and to allow us to play a part in the church. We need to do this to others.
There is always a tension on Sundays between wanting to catch up with our friends and welcome new folks; but this tension can be resolved through introducing the newer folks to our friends so that our circles become ever wider. This is a key facet to our growth as a congregation; a part that we can all play in our growth and development.
Finally we are told to give. We are told in the passage that we have to give of ourselves in order to teach others and make disciples of them. Sometimes this is the most difficult thing to do. We give of ourselves every time we listen to someone in pain, every time we help someone take the first steps into a new lifestyle, every time we let someone cry on our shoulders. We give of ourselves simply by choosing to spend time in church instead of the million and one other things that take our time over our weekends.
But we also give of our talents as well as our time. We give when we greet a new person, we give when we volunteer to help clear up after worship we give, when we volunteer to greet people before worship on the door, or sing in the choir, or do a reading or lead the prayers, or train to preach or lead worship or celebrate Holy Communion we give. As our congregation continues to grow and develop we will do so through the giving of our time and our talents. Building community, engaging in social action, proclaiming salvation all involves giving of time and talents.
But it also involves the giving of our finances. Someone once said to me that we can measure our spiritual maturity through what we do with our money. It’s quite a challenging thought! We work hard for our money and we live in a society which seems to value money and wealth above all else. We live in troubling times with spending cuts, threats of redundancies and many services being under threat. Inflation goes up but salaries don’t. Benefits are cut; so it’s a difficult time to remind us all that the Gospel requires us to give! Yet the marvellous thing about our church is that we have risen to the challenge of giving. Over the Summer we’ve had four new standing orders amounting to £150 a month. We’ve seen people make more of an effort to extra in the envelopes and to make up for weeks they’ve missed church – it all makes a difference.
We are only in MCC because generations of MCC folk before us gave and allowed ministry to happen. If it wasn’t for those who have gone before us and prepared the way to create a healthy, well-functioning church with a culture of generosity we wouldn’t be here now. Our challenge is to be the “previous generation” for those who are still to come and we do that through the gift of our time, our talents and our treasure.
If we are to fulfil MCC’s mission to proclaim Christian salvation, build Christian community, and engage in Christian social action then we need to go, to grow and to give. We go to our community to tell them of the news of God’s great love, we grow in our understanding of the faith and as a church as we proactively welcome the newcomer in our midst and we give of our time, our talents and our treasure. We do these things in response to the call of the Lord so that our ministry can continue to make such a difference to our people.