I am with you even to the end of the age, says Jesus in Matthew's account of the great commission, that wonderful direction of the risen Christ to go and make disciples of all nations. Now this may sound familiar, as this is the very section of Matthew which has become this parish’s guiding principle, that is, the frame through which we see all of our ministries. We exist in this parish to “go and make disciples of all nations.” But how are we to do that, in this post resurrection world? How are we to do that in this post COVID-19 world? We hear this morning from John's farewell discourse, a pre-crucifixion conversation with Jesus and his disciples on the night before his death, as Jesus prepares us yet again for his departure from us. But what does Matthew's great commission, our guiding principle in ministry to make disciples, and John’s farewell discourse have in common? Relationship. We are called into a transformative relationship this morning with each other and our world, a world we are sent out to in order to make an impact.
Life felt easy for us while Jesus was alive, sure there were those moments of challenge and testing when we went to new villages with him, but as his message grew, so did the crowds. Life seemed to work to a fevered pitch with Jesus around, it felt like we were impacting so many lives with him around to meet everyone. It felt like we were on top of the world! But as soon as we could blink, the joy turned to pain, the hosanna to crucify him, and here we are, post resurrection wondering how to live life without Jesus. In the last few weeks of Easter the lectionary or the universal schedule of readings in the church shifts our focus from the resurrection and into the coming pentecost or descent of the Spirit among us which is the animation of the church in the world. This Spirit, this force, this animation among us is both the most important and the hardest to discuss because of how challenging the concept is. Think about it for a moment, throughout our Christian journeys we have been exposed to many different images of the Spirit. Sometimes that's as a gust of wind, a flash of powerful light, or more commonly a dove like the one over this altar. Indeed we have seen lots of Christian art which depicts the “descent of the Holy Spirit” as a dove which represents the presence of God and God's favour with the person or scene being depicted. We saw this at Christ’s baptism when the dove descended on Jesus and the heavens declared that “this is God’s son, in whom God was well pleased.” Yet this is only one aspect of the Spirit's work among us, which is why we hear again the promised presence of this Spirit with us.
You see, the Spirit is more than just this hovering force above us out of reach or only reserved for the select few diehard Christians who seem to really get what's going on. Rather, the Spirit is the active force which is all around us, moving us, calling us, and sometimes dragging us, into new places and new ideas, new relationships, and through challenges we otherwise thought were impossible. Theologically speaking, the gift of the paraclete, greek for Spirit, is a divine accompaniment to us in our life. It's about God’s presence being permanently with us, as permanent as our own breath and our own blood, foundational to life. So we have the promise of a presence with us all the time, leading us and helping us develop into the fuller sense of God’s promise of our lives. Yet it is still more than just that. This Spirit, this promised presence this morning, calls you and I to relational leadership. Which at its core makes an impact on our world.
As we begin to really start imagining what life post COVID-19 isolation will mean for us, we are presented with a never before seen in our lifetime opportunity to impact change in our world by the way we choose to re-engage with our wider society. Jesus sent out the disciples in Matthew, in the same way he does us, to make disciples of all nations, nations which right now are isolated and fearful of the economics and social challenges of what COVID-19 has done. Our being sent out into this landscape today asks of us a very different kind of leadership, one that shifts from the model of distant relationship, to intimate relationship with everyone and everything we encounter. What I mean by this is, for far too long the church universal has expected that people should come to church because it’s what we do. Indeed in the early 20th century, it was socially legislated in Canada that the only things open on Sunday were church, and if you did not attend you were not trusted in the community. Those days are gone, but the ghost of those days still haunt us as we seek to define our worth in a world where numbers are king and return on investment and growth are the only key to success. Yet numbers are just numbers, return on investment is a random number based on assumptions on a future unknown, and growth without commitment is a fool's errand. Rather, we are being asked to imagine a church and a way of life where impact is the key driver of our metrics, where Sunday attendance is not the test of our viability, but the impact we have on our neighbourhood is what counts, an impact that sees us as a center of community, that place people naturally gravitate towards, rather than a center for community, that place we just rent out because it is convenient without a deeper connection. You see, relational leadership is about impact, an impact we are called to make today.
Being called to relational leadership is not about assuming some kind of position over other people, rather it starts inside of us with how we choose to show up to the situations our lives present us with. We can choose to go back to life after this pandemic and create wealth for the sake of wealth. To look after ourselves only to create more kingdoms built out of sand. To walk past the homeless and wish the police would keep the streets clean. To see the planet as our financial smorgasbord where we are given the right to do whatever we want, with whatever we want, to create money and jobs. To see others as merely vehicles to our own success. Yes, we can go back to that life, the life that we left behind before COVID-19, a life of no lasting impacts or we can choose to listen to the nudging of the Spirit which is calling us to live a life of impact which grows from relational leadership. We can choose to make friends differently, to shop differently, to use our economic abilities differently, to speak and work for the betterment of others, to live as if the most important thing that ever existed is our neighbour. Yes, we can and must choose differently, with the help of the Spirit, a presence we are told will abide with us today to unveil all of what God is doing to show us how to be his people of impact in the world.
But this isn't new for us, as we are a parish which is already trying to understand what it means to be impactful in our community today. From our daily presence here at the parish working in our gardens which are engaging our neighbours, to our neighbourhood ministry, and many more, we are choosing to create impact, reaching beyond ourselves and into the world to show the world who and what we are, as we walk alongside those we meet just as Christ walks alongside us. You see, this is the gift of the Spirit this morning, that it abides with us forever, it waits with us, dwells with us, as we grow and develop to serve the world we live in by impacting the change we want to see with the behaviours we learn together here. We have something the world needs to hear this morning church, that people are more than profits, that community is foundational to human existence, that all human life is wonderfully made in the image of God, and that we are all loved beyond our wildest imaginations by a God who calls us to live our lives with relational impact for the sake of the other. So church, on the edge of this pandemic, on this glorious holiday, in the beauty of this place we call home, how will you continue to seek out and live this relational life that you and I are called to this morning?