The sermon delivered at the Chapel of Good Shepherd at the General Seminary today by Hershey Andrael Mallette of the class of 2015:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the 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. —Matthew 28: 16-20
Today I stand before you with an incredible task. I am charged with bringing you all Good News when all I can think about is how I am angry, and sad.
But I am reminded of something that the beloved Professor Andrew Irving once said to me in the fall of Middler Year:
I remember coming in to class, frustrated and bewildered about any number of things that were happening in 2013… the school had no money, my classmates were transferring or withdrawing, and there was a cookie shortage in the refectory!
I came to class and much like I did today, I announced my vexation and misery.
And professor Irving said, “Hershey, Jesus did not promise you happiness.”
With that, Let us return to the text:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the 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.
after reading this again and again a little something stuck out,
And when I say a little something, I mean a very little something.
It’s that comma in the very last sentence of the book of Matthew that literally gives me pause. The comma or pause used in this last sentences sets off what is formally called a parenthetical element, but most of us would just call it extra information. But in this case, this added information adds focus to the original idea.
I am with you always, to the end of the age.
I once had a conversation with Mother Mitties about this comma, and she pointed out that in Greek there is no punctuation but since I don’t read Greek, I’ll trust the good Holy Ghost-filled people at the NRSV and they [added] a comma for a reason.
Either way, I offer you my own translation…
The Hershey Mallette Community Colloquial Version of Matthew 28:19-20:
Jesus says, “Go out into the streets, hit the blocks, every ghetto, every city, every sleepy suburban place; live with the people as you work to bring God’s Kingdom. Baptizing them, bring them into the familial bond of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Teach them about the freedom in God’s love. And know, I got your back, cause it just might take a while.”
I am with you always, to the end of the age.
If you leave here today, and remember nothing else that I have said, remember this!
Is Not A Microwave
But! Slow work does not mean you can say No to the work.
God is not a microwave. What I mean is, God seldom does anything instantaneously, rapidly or straightaway! I’m sure you know this, especially after spending any amount of time at General Theological Seminary.
God didn’t make the world in an instant.
God didn’t flood the earth, or recede the flood water the day after it rained.
God didn’t make Abraham a nation in prompt fashion
God is not a microwave
God didn’t deliver the people of Israel from Pharaoh instantaneously
God didn’t deliver Moses from the wilderness directly
God didn’t make Israel, Hear O immediately—how many times did the prophets say that to the same people? And Poor, poor Job…how long did the restoration of that one household take?
God is not a microwave
God didn’t restore Jerusalem over night
God didn’t make the dry bones live in an instant…it took time!
First they rattled,
Then the bones came together
Then the tendons and the sinews attached themselves
Then the flesh appeared
And the skin covered them
That’s four or five reconstructive steps and they still had no breath!
God is not in the business of rapidly, and carelessly creating or restoring things.
God didn’t bring any of us through our respective discernment processes quickly.
Emily Beekman and Kim Robey can testify that God has not inspired me to move speedily to submit any of my forms through out this entire three years!
And God must be taking sweet time fashioning every heart and mind in this room to know what it means to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with God.
I could go on and on and on about how slow our God is … but you get my point. God takes God’s time. So, knowing that we serve a God who will outwait us, and in our rush to smooth over, cover up and justify the pain of the past year, we cannot fall victim to the temptation of what theologian Dorothee Soelle calls Christian Sadomasochism. Christian Sadomasochism looks at any situation where God’s people are getting hurt, people are suffering, and say that it’s all for the best, because we’ll grow from the pain. We want to justify suffering so fast that we’ve almost already convinced ourselves that what that the events of this past year have actually made us a better General Seminary.
We’re almost convinced that the catastrophe that stunted the spiritual and material work of our community this year has been in our best interest. There aresuch things as growing pains. But there’s also unnecessary suffering that God did not intend for us. There is avoidable, worthless, man-made suffering. We’ve had our share of that this year. We cannot claim to be disciples of Christ and twist man-made pain into God-ordained suffering on a redemptive cross.
Friends, we now must make up for lost time!
Can you imagine a time in history when the world needed those of us who call ourselves disciples more than in this the past year? More than it does now? Social movements, resistance and revolution are erupting all across the nation and world. The people in the cities are crying out to God and to the church. And while cities and hearts were on fire, we have been stuck here in Chelsea Square wasting time trying to detangle ourselves from the webs of privilege and patriarchy that strangles the love of God.
James Baldwin writes, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed if it is not faced.” If we try to write the history of the past year as something we went through together and have now emerged on the other side as a stronger community and school, then we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.
God is not a microwave.
I am not precluding personal growth out of adversity. Lord knows, I wouldn’t be standing here on the shoulders of my ancestor, if I didn’t believe in that. There are no limits to God’s redemptive powers. But that doesn’t let us off the hook.
To love this school, to love this church, to love ourselves, we have to tell the truth about ourselves. The only hope we have is in God, who promises to outwait us. In Jesus, who came on Earth in solidarity with the marginalized, to make the dream of God known, and in the lavish gift of the Holy Spirit that fortifies us to fight structures of power, principalities and the spiritual forces of evil.
But God is not a microwave…
I think that is why Jesus says at the commissioning, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Yet! God’s slow work does not mean no work. The fact that God is slow, does not absolve us from the mission Jesus has given us. In fact, it means that our work is all the more urgent! We have no time to waste. We must listen to Jesus:
Teach people to love God, and each other,
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
This commissioning, is hard work, it is challenging!
How do we make disciples? Making disciples is more about what we are doing, than about indoctrinating, selling or convincing others that we have a good thing that they needed or should wanted.
We make disciples when we discipline ourselves to honor the particularities in the lives of all people in which God has entrusted to the care of community and hold their stories with reverence.
We make disciples when we welcome LGBTQ folks in our churches as family members and siblings and firmly and in love challenge those among us who seek to put limits on a limitless God.
We make disciples when we work for the freedom of the oppressed. When we personally and as an institution attend to the ways that racism, sexism and homophobia have weaved their way in to the fabric of our Episcopal Church lives.
I know we all think we are way too learned and sophisticated to ever be racist, sexist or homophobic. But before you tune me out listing in your brain all the black folk, women, queer folk and poor folk in your churches, stay here with me. If it were true, if we were too evolved to be racist, sexist or homophobic, then we wouldn’t need to proclaim good news to the hearts broken by the misuse of power and irresponsible exercise of privilege in this room, in this Church and let alone in this world.
This is not political work. This is spiritual work. If you leave saying you heard a political sermon this morning, you’ve missed the point. This is a matter of the soul, yours, mine, all of us here today.
The truth is, when we engage in the beautiful chaos of community, people will want to be with us. We will baptize them to welcome them to this family, making its slow dirge through time and space toward the Kingdom of God. We baptize in the name of Love that created all things, in the name of the One who embodied Love and in the name of the One who is the presence of Love in our everyday life. The thing that is so important and so incredible about baptism is that it is an experience that bonds us forever in love to God, and we have absolutely no idea what that means!
That is when the hard work of this mission continues…
Teaching disciples to obey all that Jesus commanded. Jesus commanded us to love God with all our heart soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. How do you teach this countercultural, non-instinctual, unpopular way of existence?
I have no clue. But here is what I have learned about love. I have learned, love is uncomfortable. And trying to make love comfortable is what makes it even more uncomfortable. Planning every outfit for dates with coordinating makeup and accessories. Trying to be on your best behavior and practicing your lines to make sure that what said is exactly the right thing in every situation. The desire for perfection, the desire for perpetual prettiness is what makes love unbearably uncomfortable. In fact it is a lie and there is no love in that.
I learned that meeting the uneasiness of connecting is love. That involves always knowing you could be wrong, lots of listening and knowing when you have said enough, and importantly, knowing when you need to take a break. Ultimately loving requires great amounts of self-awareness and honesty. It’s tedious, and it’s tense but it’s true.
I think teaching people about God’s love is all about the way we understand love in our closest relationships. Perhaps one way we embrace and teach Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor is through the super-slow work of creating trusting relationships in Church and community. This totally axes the top down shallow model of corporate church growth, where politics and proclivities are taboos. The love I think Jesus commands his disciples to live values mutuality, relationship and shared experience.
This love requires us to be in continual prayer to be delivered from the love of comfort; from pursuit of fortune and fame; from the fear of serving others; and from the fear of death or adversity. I believe, that is why at the end of the commissioning in Matthew, Jesus says, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This is hard, messy, slow work!
I am with you always, to the end of the age is the assurance that our marvelously, meticulous God is working through each and every one of us. With great care, and painstaking strategy, the God of providence is fulfilling the ultimate meaning of existence, within every eon, every era, and age.
The Good News is this—God has made provision for each of us, in the person of Jesus Christ. We approach this altar perhaps for the last time together, to present ourselves, our souls, and our bodies, to be made one body with Jesus in prayer so our habit becomes righteousness and our instinct kindness. So that with Jesus at the head our work may continue to bring the Kingdom
We disciples make our sacrifice of thanksgiving not just this graduation day, but daily. So, Let the spirit in you baptize all that you encounter in every ghetto, every city, and sleepy suburban place. Proclaim the freedom of our God in Jesus to every language, people and nation. And model the saving possibilities of following Jesus’ commandment to love in every situation.
That is our mission!! And it ain’t for the faint of heart, or for the compulsively tidy. And frankly, some days you just won’t be feeling it!
We go back to the text for help, the commissioning begins, “When [the disciples] saw [Jesus], they worshiped him, even though some doubted…” The disciples worshiped Jesus, even though some doubted. Our call is to do the same, knowing that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus!
We worship Jesus, even though we doubt
We worship Jesus, even though our school is in turmoil
We worship Jesus, even though it seems no one will come to our rescue.
We worship Jesus, even though our friends, mentors and colleagues are moving on.
We worship Jesus, even though you may not have a first call or a job.
We worship Jesus, even though our debt to income ratio is nuts!
We worship Jesus, even though black women and black men are being slain in the streets by state violence.
We worship Jesus, even though women make 80 percent of what men make EVEN in our Church.
We worship Jesus, even though there are those among us in the Church who wish for the return of the “glory days of the 1950’s”
We worship Jesus, even though justice seems far off!
We worship Jesus, even though…
We worship Jesus, even though our mission is hard, painful and grueling.
We worship Jesus, even though we may be sad and angry.
We worship Jesus, even though we have seen the worst and the ugliness of Church institution.
We worship Jesus, even though we doubt, and we make disciples, we baptize, and we teach love.
We worship Jesus, as we participate in the slow, attentive and compounding work of Love
This is our mission!
And this mission should give us pause…
Only because stopping is not an option.
Ms. Mallette’s bio, from Grace Church in New York City, where she is a pastoral resident:
Hershey Mallette is native North Carolinian. She was baptized and confirmed at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church in Raleigh NC. She was educated at North Carolina A&T State University, and Howard University before entering the M.Div. program at General Theological Seminary. She has worked with the National Episcopal Church to form and educate young adults of color and has interned with Canterbury Downtown student ministry at NYU. Hershey describes her spiritual journey as a life spiraling in control. Through the influences of sage grandparents and elders, many wise priests, loving friends and family and spirit-filled communities both spiritual and secular she is met and guided by God’s immeasurable grace each and every day! She currently serves the community at General Theological Seminary as Chief Sacristan and is honored to be here at Grace Church serving as Pastoral Resident.