This ship had been in the works for more than four years; plans were drawn, its hull was laid, it was launched and christened, and it had been through sea trials before we ever got to that day. On that day there was a huge celebration with red, white and blue bunting, a Navy band, rear admirals, speeches and photos, and a cake as long as I was tall at eleven years old.
For the shipbuilder it was the celebrated culmination of a lot of hard work, and it was time to turn the ship over to my father and the crew, as they began their service together. And for the 215 sailors and officers on board - well, I don’t know because I was eleven – but I imagine they were filled with anticipation and excitement, confident that their training had equipped them well for the work ahead and hopeful that they would serve their mission well.
Today’s Gospel text is often called the Great Commission, and I have to believe that, standing on that mountain with Jesus, the eleven disciples were experiencing some of that same excitement and anticipation, when Jesus told them to go out into the world and make disciples.
After all, they had spent three years following Jesus and witnessing how he spoke and taught, how he lived his life and loved the people he encountered. And he didn’t just command them to go; he coupled his command with a promise. He told them, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
It is that promise that gives us confidence that “no matter what and in whatever circumstances”, Christ is with us.[i]
But a lot of us don’t really believe that, do we?
Like the disciples who worshiped and doubted, we remember Jesus telling them, “you will not always have me [with you]” and, when we feel distant from God, we think it is because God has abandoned us. [ii] Because we cannot see the evidence of God’s presence, we assume God is absent.
But the author of Hebrews reminds us that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”[iii]
As followers of Jesus, we can go into the world with confidence and hope because God is abounding in steadfast love for us, and God promises that we do not go alone.
But, we do have to go.
The disciples couldn’t stay in Jerusalem; they followed Jesus north to the region of Galilee. We cannot stay in our building or on our church property, or even in our own comfortable circles of friends; God sends us to find our own “Galilee” – the place where others are, others who do not yet know God loves them.
Our commission is to invite people – of all ages –
to see God in their lives:
to awaken to the holy presence of God who loves us,
God who sheds tears at the violence in our world,
God who winces when we pierce each other with barbed words.
Maybe the summer offers us new opportunities to be attentive to this commissioning we’ve been given, and look, with some excitement and anticipation for those places where God may be leading us and those places where people are hurting and who might be changed by knowing they are not alone.
I don’t think we have to go far to find them.
With school out for the summer, I think of the children who have depended on free breakfast and lunch at their schools; and I am grateful for free summer lunch programs but I wonder if they know where to find them.
With the return of summer storms and power outages, I think of older neighbors who may be vulnerable to the soaring heat, but I don’t know how to offer help without treading on their privacy.
And, when even the shade temperatures reach the 90s, I think of people living without electricity or without clean or cold water, but I know we can’t afford to leave our outdoor spigots unlocked because they get left running wide open.
I don't know the answers to how to be present for all of these different people, but God does.
In the June newsletter I asked you to be praying for renewal in our congregation and in your life and to be listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Today’s gospel is more than mere encouragement. It is a commandment for us to step out into the world as Jesus’ followers and be different because of the promises we have from God.
Trusting in those promises, and confident that God will show us how to be in the world where we are needed, let us pray.
May we remember that you are with us always,
to the end of the age;
Give us courage to go out into the world
even though we don’t have all the answers;
and equip us to bear witness to your love and mercy
knowing that You look upon us and take delight in us as Your beloved children.
[i] Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, June 11, 2017.
[ii] Matthew 26:11
[iv] Adapted from Laughing Bird Liturgical Resources.