Gospel: Mt 28.16-20. Jesus says all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him and He gives the Great Commission to His disciples sending them out to make disciples of people of all nations. As Jesus came to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven, so when He ascends to the Father as King of His creation, He sends His disciples to implement this kingdom by means of the power of the Holy Spirit. In order to accomplish this challenging task, they (we) need to become the image-bearers of their God as revealed to them by Jesus the Messiah. This means that they must be transformed. How does that happen?
The following remarks are based on After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N.T.Wright, a book to which we are going to be referring throughout Pentecost. Thursday, January 15, 2009 was a beautiful cold day in New York City when at 15:26 local time flight 1549 of U.S. Airways took off from La Guardia Airport bound for Charlotte, N.C. with Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III at the controls of the Airbus A320. Everything was routine until two minutes after take-off the plane ran into a flock of Canada geese. Suddenly both engines lost power. Sully and his co-pilot had to make a series of instant decisions: to select the Hudson river as a landing site, to turn to the proper heading, shut sown the engines, activate a “ditch system,” and maintain the proper attitude of the plane with the wings perfectly level. And they were successful. No one was hurt. In accomplishing this feat, Sully was demonstrating a group of skills and habits acquired over many years that we could call virtues. Virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become “second nature.” None of the skills was innate; each had been acquired by disciplined training. The four classical virtues–courage, discipline (temperance), cool judgment (prudence), and the determination to do the right thing for others (justice)–were defined by Aristotle in the fourth century before Christ. Learning to navigate the world wisely and to become complete and mature human beings is the challenge we all face. This is what is meant by “character” and it means to become truly human. It is what we are “here for”–to realize our potentials as humans, to reflect God’s image through worship and in mission by “following Jesus.” It is the result of a transformation of our fallen nature by our disciplined effort empowered by the Holy Spirit. Through habits acquired by practice we possess virtues which in the aggregate reflect character. Character manifests itself especially at times of crisis and challenge. Manifesting the Christian virtues includes many that are different from those of pagan culture–as well as many of the same (including Aristotle’s). But the aggregate of them all is found throughout the behavior and relationships of the complete and mature Christian. Prolonged testing by many challenges and much help from the Holy Spirit result in Christian character. The Protestant doctrine of justification by grace through faith rather than works may deceive us into believing that we should not have to work at acquiring virtues and character. But the discipline we are talking about here is not “to earn our way to heaven” but to become the kind of people that are pleasing to the Lord. This is the process of sanctification which follows justification and which requires both our effort and the Lord’s.
Memory Verse: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rm 12.2).