The Journey of Discipleship (Trinity Sunday)

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One of the things that I’m really missing during this pandemic is the ability to go on a nice long journey over the summer.  But periodically, Facebook reminds me of some of the journeys I’ve been on in years past.  And those are great memories.  A lot of my friends on Facebook have also been re-posting the pictures of their past trips.  And it’s great to see the fun and enjoyment we’ve all had.

But as I look at my pictures, I realize I only post the fun and happy stuff about the journey – the great scenes, the wonderful food, and the friends I got to be with.  I don’t post the other stuff.

For example, I DON’T post pictures of me sitting on a plane for hours; or standing in long lines at Customs.  I don’t post about the many annoyances or delays.  And I don’t post about how much all this is costing me.  Those aren’t the fun parts of the journey.  And frankly, I want to forget them and not have Facebook remind me of them a couple years from now.

But, journeys – even ones we take for fun – involve all of those things.  A lot of the journey is long and boring.  There are often difficult things to endure.  And there’s a cost.  Those things just come with the journey.

Today’s Gospel reading for Trinity Sunday is appointed because it’s the only place in the entire New Testament which mentions the trinitarian formula as we use it: “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  But Jesus speaks these words as his final instructions to his disciples as he sends them out on a journey.

And this is the big one!  All the previous journeys Jesus sent his disciples on were short trips (about the length of our vacations) in which they were to return to Jesus, and then the journey would be over.

But these words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel are the first and final words the Risen Jesus speaks to his disciples after his Resurrection.  And in these words, he gives them instructions for how they’re to live on a journey which will never end.  It’s the journey of living into a new age as Jesus’ disciples.

And the journey that Jesus sends his first disciples on is also the journey we’re all called to, which is why we read this passage.  The journey of being a disciple isn’t a spectator sport for us to watch, but one to which Jesus calls us also to constant participation.  And often, journeys are hard and long and require doing things that we’d never post on Facebook.  But that’s what all important journeys entail.

The murder of George Floyd a couple of weeks ago exposes the reality that our country’s journey towards equality and racial justice has not progressed as far as many of us had hoped.  In some ways, it feels like there hasn’t been any progress at all on this journey.  What are we to do?

I don’t have quick or easy answers.  And maybe that’s the point.  Jesus calls us as his disciples to be willing to be involved in hard journeys for the long haul, not quick and easy side trips.  And that means we can’t just move on to the next thing when the media cycle ends.

But I think we can learn some helpful things from the journey Jesus was sending his disciples on in today’s Gospel reading.  And there are three things that I think it’s important to recognize about this journey.  Jesus sent his disciples on a journey that:

  • Included a lot of hard, boring and not such fun stuff.  Surely, there were lots of great moments in living as Jesus’ disciples in the world.  But there was also a lot of danger.  There were a lot of long and boring periods where nothing seemed to happen.  And for the most part, their journeys didn’t become famous (we know nothing, or almost nothing, about where most of the disciples went or what they did…)  But often, it was by doing the hard, long and not so exciting stuff that those disciples helped others to actually experience the presence of Jesus, because we know others became Christians because of them…

Sometimes, a journey is only successful because you’re willing to put in the research, endure the long time it takes and put up with the frustrations.  Most of that isn’t exciting and it doesn’t show up in social media feeds.  But it’s the work that counts.

I mean, it’s easy to get excited about national politics and who wins an election that everybody is paying attention to.

But if we’re really interested in living as disciples who want to change the trajectory of racial injustice, it means we need to do research and ask questions of local and state leaders like, “How do we recruit, train, supervise and disciple police officers in Maryland and Montgomery County?”  “What do we do to ensure a culture in our Law enforcement community that treats everybody equally?”  “What’s working well, and what needs to be changed?”  And how do I best go about lobbying for and supporting change?

I confess that I don’t know the answers to those questions.  But finding out, and then contacting and working with people who aren’t national celebrities, is part of living into the journey of being disciples of Jesus who make God’s love and justice a living reality in our communities…

  • Was for absolutely everybody in the world; but Jesus also told his disciples to pay special attention to those who had been left out.  Actually, the word “nations” was a loaded term in first century Judaism – it means “the others”; the Gentiles.  The people who most of Jesus’ followers would have admitted needed to hear the good news – but please Jesus, send somebody else (it’s worse in Luke’s account where Jesus specifically mentions Samaria…);  The point is that Jesus’ love, forgiveness and mercy really are for everybody, but to make that clear, Jesus’ disciples had to ensure that special attention was paid to those who had been left out or excluded …

And that’s why Christian disciples have always been called to make a special point of sharing God’s love – and ensuring that God’s justice – reaches people who have been endangered, left out and excluded.  Every day, we see examples of black people in our country who have been excluded, left out and endangered, and for whom the promise of equal protection under the law has not been fulfilled.  And so as disciples of Jesus, we really do need to pay special attention to the lives of those who we know are threatened, marginalized or endangered …

  • Required Jesus’ disciples to model Jesus’ behavior in their own lives each day.  Jesus says, “make disciples”, not just fill peoples’ heads with doctrines or enforce some kind of moral code.  Teach people to live as God’s children.  And you can’t do that unless you do it yourself…

In the end, the behavior we should expect from our elected leaders and our public servants, needs to be modeled by each one of us.  Discipleship has to mean more than posting righteous indignation on social media about the way others have acted.  Discipleship means that each one of us needs to act differently each day. And acting differently means not just what we do, but the words we use when we speak to others and about others. And it’s about the attitudes we convey.

It’s still going to be a long, hard journey from here.  But I’m actually encouraged by some signs of hope I haven’t really seen before, including:

  • Lots of white people are marching with black people to demand change …
  • Police officers are often joining protestors (which I totally get because I know how I feel when a few bad actors in the clergy make all Pastors look bad) …
  • Local leaders of both parties seem to be taking this more seriously as an issue…

But the best sign of hope is the promise of Jesus – “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” – that is, to the end of our journeys and beyond.  These aren’t the words of someone sending his disciples out on a fun vacation.  They’re words of promise for people who have tough work ahead of them in a long journey.

Jesus calls us to a journey of discipleship, but he doesn’t ask us to go alone.  He promises to be with us always, to strengthen us, and to give us stamina when the journey just seems long, hard and even boring.

But the journey of discipleship makes us part of God’s work in the world.  It gives us the opportunity to make Jesus real and visible in the lives of others.  And that journey is worth it!

So let’s keep up the journey.