Crossroads Mission - Commissioning of Mission Teams at Sheffield Cathedral
10th September 2015
The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York's address from the Crossroads Mission Commissioning Event.
Matthew’s Gospel is the Gospel of Mountains and Hills. And we are all standing at the crossroads on a hill. In fact on seven hills. We are in Sheffield. Sheffield, like Rome, is famous for its seven hills. It is from the mountain that Jesus commissions his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations.
I believe we have come to this hill of Sheffield directed by our Lord, and from this hill He sends us out in the coming three days to share Christ, here, there and everywhere across this city and diocese.
In our reading from Matthew 28, we heard the end of the gospel story. These are the last words of Jesus to his fearful friends; and in this last meeting our Lord does three things.
First he assured them, and us, of his power. Surely nothing was outside the power of him who had died – went to hell and back - and had conquered death. Now they were the servants of a Master whose authority upon earth and in heaven was beyond all question.
“All authority” Jesus said, “in heaven and on earth is given to me.” Yes, that same power that brought order out of chaos in creation, overshadowed Mary and she conceived the Son of God, filled our Lord with power from on high at his baptism and led him daily in his life, raised him from the dead. Yes, that same power is assured to us as the Advocate, to be with us for ever. God is knowable and wants to be known. He is completely get-at-able. And he can be encountered.
And so we can live in peace with all, put things in order and agree with each other, because the God of love and peace promises to be with us.
Holy and deeply affectionate towards one another for the grace, that unmerited favour, of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of the Father, and the communion or generous sharing of the Holy Spirit is with us.
Because we are God’s children, we share in great treasures as co-heirs with Christ. God has already given us his best gift - Himself - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This self-giving love offers us the most holy, undivided Trinity and encourages us to ask God for whatever we need.
All Christian understanding of God has grown out of encountering God. People never sat down and speculated “I wonder what God is like.”
God’s self-disclosure demanded a response in words, in liturgy, in creeds, and in deeds. Even these are still inadequate to express the glory and splendour of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Godhead revealed in Holy Scripture is a Godhead of glorious inward Love. It’s no sublime solitude. It’s infinite and eternal communion. “God is love” (John 4:8,16), is the true message of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
The Holy Trinity pours himself forth, in love, for the salvation of us sinners. The Father gives the Son in love. The Son unites Himself to us sinners in love. The Holy Spirit opens the sinners’ hearts to their Redeemer’s glory. It’s a Trinity of saving-creative-love.
The risen Lord assured them and us of his power.
A story is told of a woodpecker that had been pecking away at a huge oak tree. Suddenly there was a mighty gale-force wind and the big oak tree was uprooted and fell flat on the ground. ‘My oh my,’ said the woodpecker, ‘I never realised what power I had in my beak.’
Our Lord promised the Holy Spirit, that he will in many ways give strength to his friends. The Holy Spirit is the comforter: the strengthener.
Secondly, the risen Lord assured them and us of his authority: He gave them a great commission. He sent them out to make all the world his disciples – his friends. The commission of Jesus is to win everyone for himself.
We are children of God, assured of Christ’s power with a commission to make everyone his friend, because we are ‘heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ - provided we suffer with him that we may also be glorified with him.’
There is a price to pay for being identified with Jesus Christ. To live as Jesus did - serving others, giving up one’s rights, resisting pressure to conform to the world - always exacts a price. Nothing we suffer, however, can compare to the sufferings and passion of our Lord which resulted in our salvation.
He assured them of his power; He gave them a Commission: “Go and make all nations my disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
This verse is the most explicit reference to the Holy Trinity in the New Testament, summing up in a brief formula what is implied in the Ascension, that the Holy Spirit comes from God through the risen and ascended Christ and that it is into this mysterious working of the one God that Christians are baptised. And as baptised members of the body of Christ, we have been commissioned to go out and tell our friends what God has done for us in Christ.
Simply telling our story: “Beggars telling other beggars where we have found bread.” Be a real witness.
But a real witness is not just of words but of deeds. When Stanley the explorer had discovered Livingstone in Central Africa and had spent some time with him he said, ‘If I had been with him any longer, I would have been compelled to be a Christian, and he never spoke to me about it at all.’ The witness of a person’s life is irresistible. That’s why St Francis of Assisi said to his monks, ‘Go and preach the Gospel to all. Use words if you must.’
The life and witness of the Northern Saints speak to us of their discipleship which had such power in our Northern Province. Paulinus, for example, is said to have baptized 3000 Anglo-Saxon people at the Lady’s Well, Holystone – including the Northumbrian King Edwin. What illustrious company we are all in today!
Paulinus, Aidan, Cuthbert and Hilda are all people who took Christ’s great commission very seriously. They went out to make disciples in every area – and particularly in the wild and remote parts of England where many villages were rarely visited by a Christian minister.
I thank God for the Northern Saints and for their willingness to go everywhere with love in their heart and a readiness to share the good news of the Gospel. Where would we be without them and others like them? And remember Christ calls us all to do the same. What we have been given by God is too wonderful to be kept secret and locked up in our hearts and church buildings.
The risen Lord assured his disciples and us of his power; he gave them and us a great commission.
Thirdly, our Lord promised his disciples and us a presence. It must have been a staggering thing for the eleven humble Galileans to be sent forth to the conquest of the world. Even as they heard it, their hearts must have failed them. But, no sooner was the command given, than the promise followed.
They were sent out - as we are - on the greatest task in history - to make everyone God’s friend - but with them was the greatest presence in the world ”Look! I am with you throughout all the days up to the consummation of the age.”
Dearly beloved friends, who are called to be saints in Christ Jesus, let the light of the Risen and Ascended Lord shine through you - for that’s what a saint is. Yes, you are saints for the ascended Lord has assured us of his power. He has assured us of his authority and given us a great commission born out of love to make the whole world his friends.
He has promised us a presence, the power of the Holy Spirit. In his strength, let us rededicate our lives to love him and follow him. And what a privilege to share in the life of the blessed and glorious Trinity.
So, when the saints go marching in, we definitely want to be among their number.
Come and participate in the Life of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Please stand and let us wait for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit as we listen to the Taizé Chant, Veni Sancte Spiritus.