Challenge & Comfort

Trinity Sunday
June 7, 2020
Matthew 28:16-20

On Trinity Sunday 2012, I stepped into the pulpit of Holy Comforter for the first time. Today marks my eighth anniversary as your rector. Times sure have changed, haven’t they? Back then, my hair was buzzed short. Now, I’ve got this quarantine mop. Back then, we had the old church. Now we have the new church. More than half of you were not there on my first Sunday but have come since. In that time, we have challenged ourselves to dig deeper, to broaden our horizons, to do new things for the sake of the gospel. Many, many things have changed.

And yet, much has stayed the same. Week by week we have gathered to give thanks to the Lord God. The Prayer Book hasn’t changed. We still find comfort in talking with old friends, with brothers and sisters in Christ. 

As I reflect on my anniversary as your rector, I am feeling two things at once. Great awe for all the ways that we have changed. And great humility for the all the ways we’ve stayed the same. In these eight years the Lord God has challenged us and the Lord God has comforted us.

That must be what the disciples were feeling in that moment. Challenge and comfort. The story we just heard says that, after Easter, the disciples see the risen Lord Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. Even then, after all they had gone through, some of the disciples worship and some of them doubt. Two things at once. And in that final scene from the Gospel of Matthew, we hear both a word of challenge and a word of comfort.

First, Jesus lays out a challenge. “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 I have commanded.” This is no easy task. Jesus is sending them, out there, amongst the persecutors and disbelievers. Those disciples will lose their lives for Jesus as they carry out their mission to the world. 

But Jesus also comforts them. “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” No matter where they go, what they do, whoever they encounter, the Spirit of Jesus will not abandon them. 

Two things at once. Comfort and challenge. Worship and doubt. Sounds a lot like 2020, doesn’t it?

Over the past ten days, I have spent much time in conversation with you. And with much prayer I now offer this sermon. A sermon of both challenge and comfort. On this Sunday morning, with everything happening around us, we are gathered on a mountain in Galilee of sorts to hear the words of Jesus.

So, a word of challenge. Do not give in to the powers of sin. In this particular moment, I am asking us to honestly address our sin of prejudice. And do not say to yourselves that you have no prejudices. You do. I do. I have prejudices. It’s been this way since the Tower of Babel. I know this because prejudice is a sin and I am a sinner. We are sinners. The word of challenge I have for you today is to confess your sins, known and unknown, and address the prejudices that live within your hearts. Address the prejudices by which you see the world. Take a hard look at the stories you tell yourselves about other people and the systems that confirm our sinful prejudices. This is not about sides, this is about our souls. And I pray, I pray that God softens my heart and opens my eyes to see the world as God sees the world, in love. That is my word of challenge for us – confess our sins of prejudice.

And I have a word of comfort. This present evil age will not be victorious. As it is a sin, prejudice will be overcome by the Lord God Almighty. There will be a Kingdom of true justice, of true peace, of true love. That is God’s final answer. And in the meantime, the Spirit of Jesus will be with us always, until the end of the age.

A word of challenge and a word of comfort. To see what I mean, look no further than the cross. There, on the cross of Jesus, we see a persecuted man brutally executed. And make no mistake – the power of that oppressor was the power of prejudice, the power of hate, the power of sin. Today there is hurt and fear – because there is first sin. It’s just one chapter in a long story. You know the names: Cain and Abel, Pharaoh and the Hebrews, Pilate and Jesus. You know the stories: apartheid, the gulag, the lynching tree. The cross.

As Christians, we speak against the sin of prejudice because it crushes the powerless. And as Christians, we identify those who suffer with Christ upon the cross, as he suffers under the oppression of Rome.

We also speak against prejudice because it hurts those who are prejudiced. Think of the soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross. Right there in front of them is the Son of God and the Son of Man and they drive nails through his hands. Think of what that must have done to them. Think of how that must have messed with their heads. Think of how callous you have got to be to do that. Pontius Pilate, the emperor, the whole system has denied those soldiers the opportunity to see Jesus Christ for who he was; they don’t see another human being they just see another piece of flesh they’ve been ordered to crucify. This is the destructive and systemic nature of sin. Sin infects and harms everybody who is touched by it. Sin dehumanizes everybody. That is my word of challenge about the cross.

But in the cross, there is also comfort. The one who suffered under the power of sin unleashes a power of redemption. Dying upon the cross, Jesus gives us great comfort that sin itself has been judged and condemned. In the cross, Jesus overcomes the powers of evil. And at the foot of the cross, even that soldier responsible for making sure that Jesus was dead, even that sinner, proclaims Jesus as the Son of God. The comfort is that God can and will restore all people to the fullness of their God-given humanity. That is my word of comfort about the cross. 

The disciples worship and they doubt. Jesus gives a word of challenge and of comfort. On the cross we see the power of sin and the power of redemption.

So what are we to do with that? Well, there is only one thing to do, “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. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I could keep on preaching, and Lord knows I wrote a lot more than this. But in my eight years at Holy Comforter, Maggie has always told me to cut out the last few paragraphs of my sermons. That’s why I stopped asking her to read them. But this time, I’ll take her advice and end it here. Over all these years, I have preached some sermons of challenge and some of comfort. Today, I hope to have done both. For in love, on the cross, on that mountain in Galilee, God challenges and God comforts.

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