Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
Probably, most of you have had an experience like this. You’re hard at work—concentrating deeply on something or other—when, suddenly, you sense that you are being watched.
When I was in pastoral ministry, this would happen to me several times a week—usually when I was in front of my office computer, putting together a sermon or a prayer or an order of service. I was on a roll! Wrapped up in the task at hand and almost oblivious to what was going on around me. Almost.
But then, somehow, I would become aware of a presence. And even before I looked, I just knew that somebody was standing in the hall peering through my doorway to see what I was doing … wondering if I had time to talk. Which was, after all, what I was there for.
I don’t know what makes me aware of another person’s presence. Usually it’s not because I see movement, or hear heavy breathing. It’s something else. It’s like some kind of sixth sense kicks in, and I can feel someone close by.
Do you know that feeling? It’s hard to describe as anything except “an awareness of presence.” And, for the life of me, I cannot figure out how it works.
I wonder: is this what the Lord meant when he promised to be with us, always?
Let’s think about this. Jesus issues these marching orders—this “Great Commission”—to all who believe. He says that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to him. He commands his followers to 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 then he says we must teach these new disciples, instructing them to obey the commandments that he has given us.
Well, Jesus must have realized the enormity of the task he was laying on us, because—right away—he utters these words that conclude the Gospel of Matthew: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll always be with you—no matter what.”
Years and years ago—when I was barely into my 20s—I had a good friend named Audrey who was a lifeguard and swimming instructor. Now, somehow I let it slip to Audrey that I had never learned to swim. Of course, she thought this was a terrible thing, my not being able to swim. So she wanted to teach me.
“I can’t float!” I said.
“I just sink,” I told her. “I just sink right down to the bottom.”
But she told me not to worry about that.
“Anybody can float,” she said. “You just have to be completely relaxed.”
Audrey had devised a plan. As I lay on my back in the water, she would support me with her arms. When she could tell that I was completely relaxed—and not a moment before—she would let her arms fall away from beneath me … and I would see that I could, indeed, float.
She kept insisting that we try this until, eventually, I gave in. So, I found myself on my back in a public pool, with Audrey’s arms underneath me, holding me upon the water’s surface.
“Don’t worry about a thing,” she said. “I’m right here.”
So my friend began the first step of teaching me to swim: making me believe that I could, in fact, float. And she was in no hurry about this. Gently supporting my tense body, she guided me through a leisurely, gentle—even tranquil—passage out into slightly deeper water.
I have to say, it was quite wonderful. I still remember that part of it. Gradually, all my fear of being in the water slipped away. I did relax. I was no longer concerned about anything, because I had my friend’s assurance: “Don’t worry. I’m right here.”
Then, once Audrey sensed that my anxiety had disappeared—and that I was completely relaxed, no longer fearful … she let her arms fall away from beneath me … and … serenely … blissfully … I sank!
Now, I might have serenely and blissfully sunk to the bottom of the pool—and maybe even into the next life—except Audrey was, in fact, right there.
And when she realized what was happening, she dragged me back to the surface and stood me on my feet (because, truly, all I had to do to save myself was stand up).
Then she looked at me in wide-eyed amazement and said: “I know what your problem is. You can’t float!”
I still can’t.
Somebody else told me that, if I had more body fat than muscle, then I would be able to float.
I now know that’s not true, either!
Anyway, the point of this anecdote is … actually, I guess there are two points.
First, Audrey did not let me drown. Just as she promised, she was right there to rescue me.
Second—even though she couldn’t teach me how to swim—Audrey did help me overcome my fear of being in the water. She fixed me up with some effective floatation devices, and impressed upon me that I should always use such things to buoy me up. Because of her, I learned to enjoy being in a swimming pool … and even a lake or an ocean.
This was an achievement of no small significance. And, still today, whenever I’m in—or near—a large body of water, I think about Audrey. I feel her presence. I recall her advice.
And, as I’m strapping on my lifejacket, I can almost feel her arms beneath me, holding me up. It’s like she is still “right there.”
She may not have turned me into a swimmer, but Audrey did show me how I could love the water as much as she did. Which is the important thing, I think.
Jesus calls his followers to go out and make disciples. As partners with God, we are to create disciples in much the same way that God created the world—in love. We are to create new disciples in a spirit of love.
We are to be with them to help them increase in faith—to grow in confidence toward God.
The call of Christ is real, and true—and urgent! We are to go out and make disciples. We are called to be evangelists. We are called—each one of us—to carry the good news to others.
I know this is a tall order—but the reality is inescapable: as Christians, we are called to bring the gospel to those who have not heard it. How do you feel about that?
How do you feel about your responsibility to invite people—not just to come to church on Sunday, but to invite them into your life? Into your community? Into the transforming love of God in Jesus Christ?
If you’re like me, it makes you uncomfortable. I would also guess that some of you are shy about naming yourselves publicly as Christian, let alone inviting others to join you.
Honestly, I know what that’s like. There have been times when I’ve seen an opportunity to witness for Christ—to offer the gift of Christian community to someone who could really use it … and I didn’t. I choked.
Why? Maybe because I didn’t want to come off looking like a door-to-door salesman. Or maybe because I’m afraid of looking foolish in front of someone who’s smarter than I am.
How about you? What are your reasons?
Why do you go through a whole week without asking someone to come to church?
Why do you go through a whole week without telling someone about the love you’ve experienced through God’s work in your life?
This is not an easy thing. People don’t like to be evangelized. They are so used to the dysfunction of this society that they think it’s normal, and anyone who suggests that it might be different, that there might be an alternative, is considered … well, just a little bit crazy … at best.
Suffice it to say that there are lots of reasons why we might be reluctant to put ourselves out there. But here’s where this Jesus thing comes in. Here’s why Jesus said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be with you.” Even until the end of the age.
Even to the end of the age! Does that mean now? Absolutely. Jesus is with us. Now. Here. Wherever you are, Jesus is present. Jesus is real. You might become aware of it in the same way I sense somebody’s eyes on me through my doorway. You may experience it like some unseen arms supporting you in the water. Or you may encounter the presence of the living Christ in a totally different and unique way.
But here’s the thing, my friends: as we share the love we have found in Christ, this same love accompanies us.
Wherever you are, with whomever you are, whatever joys or sorrows are visited upon your life, the power of the love of God in Christ Jesus is with you.
And this love stays. Forever. This love walks with you, sits with you, buoys you up, and calls you to share it. And the operative word here is “share.” Our call to evangelism is a summons to humility and gentleness. We are called to offer Christ as we surrender to the ways of Christ’s love.
So let’s accept the challenge. Let’s do what our Lord has asked us to do. Go, and make disciples. Go, in the name of the Father. Go, with the grace of the Son. Go, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Take Jesus with you into your community, into your school, into your workplace. Take Jesus with you, on vacation. Share him. Share him when you sit down for a meal, or when you sing around a campfire, or when you have a conversation.
Go—and teach others about God by showing them the love of Christ—the One who is with us always … even to the end of the age. Amen.