Remember, I am with you


June 11, 2017

Matthew 28:16-20

Do you remember?

Do you remember your first kiss? Do you remember the first time you saw your spouse? Do you remember the day your children were born? Do you remember the day they took their first steps?

There are certain memories that we keep ingrained in our minds. Things that we do not want to forget. Things that are very close to our hearts. These are the memories that we can even point to when we are in the waning years of our lives. These are the memories that have helped shape us as the people we are now.

Our memories are not necessarily always good. We remember those things in our history that have brought great pain, personal and collective. We commemorate the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and remember the lives lost. Last year on September 11, we remembered the fifteenth anniversary when four planes brought tragedy to our doorstep; the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, accounting for close to three thousand deaths. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando where 49 people were killed. We remember these dates because they mean something to us.

As we sat back and listened to this morning’s lessons, we entered into the collective memory of our ancestors and the great mystery of our God. The beginning of Genesis recalls the first creation story that is shared among the Hebrew people. It is our stories that we are called to share when Jesus gives the great commission to his disciples, “Go therefore 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 have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a).

While it has been used to direct us in our calling, the great commission has also been carried to an extreme where people have done almost anything to spread the gospel. Quite often early missionaries to Africa and South America would go into communities thinking they were following Jesus’ great commission. In reality, they would quite often do more harm than good. Jesus approached those he spoke to with love, albeit tough love sometimes. He also told the disciples that if a village was not open to listening to the gospel then turn around, shake the dust of your feet, and go on to the next village. Sometimes, the early missionaries forgot this little teaching.

They would do whatever it took to get people to come forward for an altar call, or at least the equivalent of it. This is how many African nations were colonized by Europeans. The awesome thing is that as these continents got to understand and be in relationship with the Trinity on their own terms Christianity started to really grow. The southern hemisphere and Asia are some of the fastest growing areas of Christianity in the world. Perhaps, they need to come to the United States and Europe as we see declining numbers in our churches and do mission work.

While we have focused on the great commission of the gospel text, that is not where the real power lies within it. We tend to skip right over what truly is the heart of the gospel.

What was that last sentence of our gospel lesson?

Oh, it is a promise! A promise that never ends. “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (vs 20b).

Robert H. Smith tells us, “I am with you” (28:20) assures readers ancient and modern that the apocalyptic worldview has been broken at a crucial point. The exalted Christ does not say, “I will come again later at the end of history after an immense absence.” Matthew’s Christ is a powerful presence in the midst of ongoing history, yoked to disciples (11:29), dwelling in their midst (1:23; 18:29), feeding them the richest food (26:26-28).[1]

From the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, we are reminded that God is with us. From our Christmas Celebration, Emmanuel (God with us), has entered into our world as one of us. Divine, yet human.

Willing to walk with us.

Willing to talk with us.

Willing to sit down and break bread with us.

Jesus shows humanity what it means for God to be with us. To be ever present and ever loving. Through Jesus’ death on the cross we encounter a God that shows a love for us that is unbounded. A love that requires nothing in return. A love that is so full of grace that we should be willing to share that love in return, not only with God, but with our sisters and brothers.

Our sisters and brothers of all races, nationalities, sexual orientation, disabilities, religions, and on and on and on.

This is the heart of our gospel lesson this morning. While out of this, we should be compelled to go make disciples. However, it all starts with a promise! A promise that Jesus is with us.

Not, Jesus was with us back some time ago.

Not, Jesus will be with us in the time to come.

Jesus is with us, here and now. Jesus will be with us in the bread and wine as we come forward for communion. Jesus will be with us as we walk out those doors to encounter what the next week will bring us. Jesus will never leave us. Jesus is the personification of the Holy Trinity, and in his promise, we are surrounded by the great mystery.

It is in that mystery that we place our faith and embrace the never-ending promise, God with us.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. Amen.

[1] Robert H. Smith, The End in Matthew (5:28 and 28:20): How to Preach it and How Not To. Word & World, Volume XIX, Number 3, Summer 1999


By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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