Brother and Sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
“They worshiped him, but some doubted.”
We usually don’t think of doubt fitting in with our faith and worship, do we?
Yet, we see faith and doubt intermingled here as the disciples worship Jesus in this spectacular moment as they see the risen Lord face-to-face.
Do you notice how Jesus responds to their doubt?
Jesus doesn’t address it at all; he simply speaks to them. There is no dismissal of those who are doubting before Jesus moves on with instruction. There is no loyalty check for these eleven who had abandoned Jesus in his time of death. Jesus speaks to them all with a mission known as the Great Commission, commanding them to go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded.
Imagine hearing that as a disciple in doubt! You are already struggling through your own doubts as you worship Christ and now you are supposed to go make disciples of others? How am I equipped for that work?
Do you know that feeling? Do you know what it is like to worship and serve God in the midst of doubt?
I think we all know that experience if we are honest with ourselves.
But Christ has a promise in this work for the disciples and for us. “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This is a divine promise from our Lord and Savior and it is important to hear the context in which Jesus says this. These are the closing words of the gospel of Matthew.
In the start of Matthew, Jesus is given the name “Emmanuel: God with us” and the same remains true at the end of Matthew’s account. This is who Jesus is: God with us. Jesus’ story continues with the same promise to be with his people.
God is bringing the holy to us in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Again, looking to the context of these words, the disciples met the risen Lord at a mountain.
Mountains were a place of holy encounter throughout Jewish history. In Exodus, Moses encounters God in a burning bush on a mountain. Moses later receives the commandments on a mountain.
This place of holy encounter continues with Jesus. Jesus teaches the people from a mountain in the sermon on the mount. Jesus is transfigured to show his divine identity on a mountain. And now, Jesus meets with the disciples at a mountain in Galilee.
This is a place of holy encounter as Jesus promises: “I am with you.”
But the promise doesn’t stay on the mountain.
When Jesus teaches people in the sermon on the mount, he then goes back down the mountain to care for people, heal the sick, and continue his ministry with the people. When Jesus is transfigured and Peter says they should stay on the mountain, Jesus says ‘no’ and goes back down the mountain to minister to the people and face his coming arrest, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ words may be from a mountain here, but his movement is back down the mountain and among the people, continuing God’s story with us.
Jesus sends his disciples into the world and says, “I am with you.”
God is not staying on the mountain.
We receive the same command and promise. God is with us as we are sent into the world to make disciples of all nations.
I certainly understand those who have heard this Great Commission to make disciples of all nations and had a moment of pause. There has been much harm throughout history by those who claim to be living out the calling to spread the teachings and baptism of Jesus.
This is the evil that happens when people create their own holy mountain to stand on.
Instead of receiving the mission and promise of Christ, they stand on another societal or religious ideology in which ultimate authority is claimed. This masquerades in the name of racism, sexism, classism, or countless other mechanisms of belief and authority in which trust is placed. The mission of God is hijacked and weaponized to claim ultimate authority for something that is not God. This is a great evil. This mission is of human origin. It is why when some think of Christianity they think of a judgmental club rather than a vibrant group of faith who love the Creator and long to serve in the purposes of God as they follow Christ back out into the world.
The promise from Jesus, “I am with you,” is a promise of God’s presence in God’s mission. It is not an invitation to claim Christ on our side in our own missions.
It is intimidating to drop our other claims of authority and look to God alone. It can seem that there is just too much going wrong in the world for a flawed person like me to make a difference.
But Jesus isn’t just sending us flawed and doubting people into the world. We are claimed in the grace of Christ as forgiven and we are promised that Jesus is with us in this work. This work is from, about, and with the One who has ultimate authority. This mission is from the One who Promises, “I am with you.”
This mission is not possible for us alone, but is possible for the One who defeats death itself.
This is God’s mission for God’s church. It is baptizing in the name of the Triune God and teaching all that Jesus commanded.
Those commands of Christ include his beautiful summary of the commandments. “Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”
If those commands are carried in this Great Commission, God remains higher than any other claim of authority. Love of God is first as we make and become disciples of Christ. God always comes first.
If we love our neighbor as ourselves as we do this work, we meet them just like Jesus met the disciples. We simply offer this free gift of God in baptismal promise to be with us and the calling we are sent into together. There are no pre-requisites; there is the presence and promise of Christ.
We are called to the same mountain as those first disciples, at the foot of something holy, witnessing the risen Lord who calls us into work. Despite our doubts and lack of understanding, Jesus says, “You! Yes, I want you to do this work and I am with you!”
We each receive the same commission.
We are sent into this work with a promise of Christ with us. So, what does that look like as we make disciples of all nations? What does it look like for Jesus to be with us in this work?
This looks like loving God and our neighbor.
This looks like forgiving 70 times 7 times.
This looks like healing and caring for the sick.
This looks like feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, visiting the prisoner, and clothing the naked.
This looks like admitting we need Christ with us to save us from sin and send us out.
So as we go out into God’s mission let us remember that in forgiveness, in doubt, and in our work Jesus promises, “I am with you always.” Thanks be to God. Amen