To “Give a Witness” is to offer a testimony about what God is doing in your life and in the world. It’s also a good way of thinking about this morning’s text, in which Jesus gives the “Great Commission.”
“Go 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’ve commanded you.”
What memories does this passage stir? When did you first hear it? How does this verse speak to you today?
Just a few moments ago we commissioned the delegates for the General Assembly in Nashville, and the theme of this assembly is “Tell It!”, which is another way of saying “give a witness.” What stories would you want to tell about what God is doing today?
Giving a Witness to a Relational God
Although by tradition this is Trinity Sunday, Disciples of Christ have always been a bit ambivalent about the Trinity. In fact, Alexander Campbell changed the words of our opening hymn so that we wouldn’t be singing praise to the Blessed Trinity. So, while I know that not everyone is comfortable with the Trinity or understand how the doctrine works, it’s been the dominant way for Christians to define the nature and the activity of the God we meet in Jesus Christ.
Now, I’m not planning to offer a lecture this morning on the intricacies of Trinitarian doctrine, but this doctrine invites us to consider that there is diversity within the unity that is God, and that in God’s very being there is this powerful relational element that draws us into God’s orbit so that we might share in God’s relational presence, so that we can be in partnership with God.
And if the Great Commission offers a baptismal formula that speaks of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Paul’s closing benediction from 2 Corinthians gives further definition of what it means for God to be Trinity:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:13 CEB).
As we tell our story of what God is doing in our midst, Paul reminds us that grace, love, and fellowship are important markers of this presence. It is in the presence and the power of this God that we go forth into the world, and as we do, we carry with us this message of Jesus: “I’ll be with you until the end of the age.”
Motown and Peace Week
The Great Commission begins with the words “Go and make disciples.” In other words, don’t stay where you’re at, but go into the world and draw the world into God’s vision of a new realm, where justice and peace, love, and grace are the predominant values. It’s an invitation to join with God in the work of transforming the world in which we live so that it might be reflective of God’s realm.
And since our calling this morning is to give a witness, I want to share some stories about what I saw God doing this past week during Peace Week. The great thing about this story I want to tell is that many of you got to share in it.
So, before I tell my version of the story, I’d like everyone who participated in Motown Mission's Peace Week in some way to stand, if you’re able. If you cooked or served a meal at Metropolitan United Methodist Church, or you sat with the participants and shared in a meal, or provided financial support, or colored book marks to give to the participants, or if you went down to Northwestern Christian Church or United Christian Church and did a little painting or pull weeds – please stand. There are others, including Alex McCauslin, who aren’t able to be with us this morning who also shared in this work, and everyone who participated in this story participated in the wonderful work that God is doing in our midst in partnership with God’s people.
While we’re giving our witness, I’d like to point out some people who have joined us for worship this morning from Rippling Hope Ministries. Rippling Hope, which is led by Carl and Robin Zerweck, provided the on-the-ground leadership and support for the mission teams that came to Detroit from Lexington and Indianapolis and central Michigan. Two of the groups were Disciple and one was United Methodist.
What happened this past week is the result of a series of partnerships that began developing over the past two and half years, and which ultimately included Motown Mission, Rippling Hope, Northwestern Christian Church, the churches of the Michigan Region, and CWCC. Together we provided an opportunity for mission teams to come to Detroit, so that people could be blessed, whether it was through service or through receiving these services. And what began this week is only the beginning!
So, let me give my testimony. I had the opportunity to share in a dinner that CWCC provided for the mission teams as they arrived on Sunday afternoon. With this initial burst of hospitality, which then extended to Tuesday evening – and as I understand it, included a few breakfasts along the way – the week was underway. Later, on Wednesday morning, I went down to Northwestern Christian Church to see what was happening onsite, because I was hearing good things. When I got there Karen of Rippling Hope put me to work painting, which I did until Carl Zerweck stopped by and invited me to go over to United Christian Church to see the work being done on their parsonage. In both places I saw young people hard at work creating inviting spaces for ministry to occur. In both places I heard words of deep appreciation for the gifts that the mission teams had brought to these communities.
I also heard how the mission teams had gone out into the neighborhood around Northwestern, picking up trash and doing painting and repair work on homes suggested by the local Block Club. From everything that I heard, the people of the neighborhood were truly blessed not only by the work, but the fact that these strangers from out of town cared enough to come and help. And not only that, but Eugene told me that the State Representative from that district stopped by and expressed his appreciation and invited Eugene, Carl, and me to meet with him to talk more about what this ministry is doing in that neighborhood.
Yes, God is at work and this past week we got to join in the work that God is doing in Detroit. That was the theme of the celebration this past Friday evening as we gathered with the mission teams at Northwestern to bring their week to a close with dinner and a celebration in worship, where stories of God’s work got shared. From what I can see and what I’ve heard, this was a smashing success!
Now, the summer isn’t over, and there are still opportunities for us to join in the work both at Motown and through Rippling Hope. I’m sure that Carl would be glad to tell you how you could be involved – there is hammering to be done, painting to be done, and of course, meals to be served. You can talk with him after service – he’ll be the one who gave the benediction.
Then on the 29th of this month, we’ll have the opportunity to debrief our experiences. I’ve asked both Carl Gladstone of Motown and Carl Zerweck of Rippling Hope to join us for this conversation, so we can start planning for next year (if not before). Finally, in regard to Peace Week, on behalf of Motown and the Mission teams who gathered this week in Detroit, I want to thank you for what you did to make this dream a reality.
In a moment we’ll sing one of the great mission hymns of the church: “We’ve a story to tell to the nations. “ I know this hymn sounds a bit triumphalist, but if you can get past this language, the hymn offers an invitation to consider the story that we have been given by God, a story that invites our neighbors into discipleship through baptism and through obedience to the commandments of Jesus.
Now may “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” as you “go and make disciples of the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” knowing that Jesus has promised to be with us to the end of the ages.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
June 19, 2011