2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Of the 140,000 people in Abbotsford, about 35,000 are Sikhs. The oldest historic building in Abbotsford is not a church but the Gurdwara on South Fraser Way. It is a national historic site.
While the temple shows that at least in Canada Christians have long lived alongside neighbours of other faiths, we are still not sure about how we may share our faith with our neighbours of the Sikh faith, another faith, or no faith at all. And two of the reasons why we are having a hard time are that
– we used to be the dominant culture – even when we lived alongside others – and are still getting used to the culture shift that has taken place,
– and secondly that we still consider faith to largely be a private matter.
“Everyone must be allowed to believe what they believe,” is a conviction we share and this conviction seems to suggest that everyone must just carry on as they have and that anything else would sow strife. Two things we don’t talk about, religion and politics. Both topics have to do with pretty much everything and if we don’t talk about these two, there is little of substance left to talk about.
Of course, there are good reasons not to talk about our faith with others. Somewhere I have a cartoon in which two well dressed missionaries stand at the front door of a house and say to the one who opens the door for them, “Hi. We’re here to quote from the Bible and make you feel like a piece of dirt, may we come in?”
I do fear that some folks out there give the rest of us a bad name. Bill Chu tells of how he became interested in First Nations was through an encounter in China Town when he was a new immigrant to Vancouver from Hong Kong in the nineteenseventies. A poor aboriginal man asked him for money, he invited him for lunch, and the man accepted the invitation. As they sit down and the food is about to arrive, Bill thinks about how he could help the man and decides to tell him about Jesus. The man looks at him and says to him, “Oh, you are one of them,” gets up and leaves.
Bill says that’s when he began to learn about residential schools and Canada’s colonial history. He wanted to learn what the man had meant when he had said, “you are one of them.”
In today’s Gospel reading the risen Christ give his disciples what ever since we have called The Great Commission. “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.”
It is a text that is tragically connected with colonialism. But it is also a text that reminds the church that the church does not exist for its own sake, that it is sent.
That is good for the church to remember in a time in which we worry about tomorrow, mourn for days past, and seek institutional survival. It is good for a church to hear in an age that no longer has a cohesive story1 and where therefore many stories abound, some the product of the entertainment industry and aimed at a consumer market, and many stories in our fragmented world telling us of good guys and bad guys whereby the bad guys are always the others.
I remember a minor debate we had at seminary. One of our New Testament profs stated that because of the history of Christian anti-Semitism Christians could not evangelize Jews. Of course, there is the other question whether we need to, since the Jews are God’s people (though it did not keep Peter from preaching in Jerusalem). One of my classmates suggested that not to tell the story would be theological capitulation. What he meant was that if we cannot tell the story we might as well pack up and go home.
I think both of them were right. We have a story to tell but perhaps we must start not by telling it to others but by telling it to each other. Because in telling the story we remember the story, and remembering the story will shape us.
The great South-African missiologist David Bosch makes this point about our text. The Great Commission, he says, summarizes the essence of mission for Matthew: Make disciples, baptize, and teach.
Bosch points out that Jesus never preaches to his disciples (nor in the synagogue!). When Jesus is with his disciples (and in the synagogue) he teaches. Jesus’ teaching, however, is not an academic exercise. It is not about the right doctrine, as important as doctrine is to Lutherans. Bosch says that orthopraxis becomes the yardstick for orthodoxy. Jesus’ teaching is about doing the will of God. And only in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer do we find the petition, “Your will be done.” Only in Matthew do we learn ‘not everyone who says Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of heaven but those who do the will of my Father.’ This is important because it helps us gain a better understanding of the Great Commission we find at the end of Matthew’s Gospel.2
What does it mean to do the will of the Father? Jesus lives it and by living with his disciples teaches it. Again, not an academic exercise but a practise, an apprenticeship, a mentoring. What does it look like? At the heart of the Sermon on the Mount is the twofold commandment of love: Love of God and love of neighbour. Love is not legalism but embodied in relationship. We see that God’s relationship with Godself and with the world is perfect love. Discipleship takes place not in the classroom but in the world.
A few years ago a few of us in Abbotsford published a book on, “Being the Church in Abbotsford”.3 I wrote about interfaith relationships and the point I made was that in order to love my neighbour I must care about my neighbour, and caring includes an interest not in proselytizing but in relationship. That relationship is the place where we live our story and where others would see it.
Two more things:
I mentioned a little while ago when we had sold our house and looked at these ridiculous sums of money that I felt privileged. What I did not tell you then was that I also wondered whether prophetic speech is possible from a position of privilege. In this sense the marginalization of the church may actually be a good thing for the church because we are given the chance to practise discipleship anew. We no longer have to please anyone, we just need to remember, tell, and live the story by which we are saved.
The other thing is this, and it comes from a First Nations theologian in the US. He points out that the Great Commission begins with these words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” And he reminds us of whom all authority is given to: Jesus, not us.4 Remembering this will help us to tell and live the story with humility.
Thanks be to God.
2David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission, Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis (1991), p. 65ff