Have you ever been hard at work at something, concentrating, deep in thought, focused on a particular project and suddenly you are aware that someone, somewhere is watching you? It is as though some sort of sixth sense kicks in and you can feel the presence of someone or something close by.
One morning I was dozing peacefully in those moments before the alarm goes off…and suddenly, I had that feeling…like someone was there. Close by. I tried to convince myself that it was the haziness of a leftover dream but I could feel a hot breath on my face. When I opened my eyes I was greeted by the furry face of our household pet, tail wagging and eyes sparkling with the pleading look of “Let’s get up, I really want to go out and then to eat breakfast!” After jerking awake and peeling myself from the ceiling, it came to me. “Just a few more minutes,” I said. Then I had that feeling again. I had heard the dog leave the room and go down the hall but even with my eyes closed, it was clear that someone, somehow, was there. Maybe this happens to you? Today’s gospel reading tells us that Jesus will always be with us. May father before he died said that he would always be with me. Sometimes, in a very real way I can sense his presence, like when I am in the garage searching in my tool box for the right tool to get started on a repair project. I always called Dad from my garage to ask his advice as to how to tackle one of those home repair challenges. In fact, a few weeks after I had come home from his funeral, I told Nancy that I needed to call Grandpa to ask him to walk me through a home repair–he felt so near to me. Nancy reminded me, “Good luck with that one, Mom. You can call, but he probably won’t answer from heaven.” I wonder if this sense of presence is the way that Jesus intended to be here?
Think about it. Jesus gave the “Great Commission” to us all. He said that “all authority” had been given to him. He instructed his followers to go and create (make) disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of God (Father), the Word(Son) and the Holy Spirit. Then he proceeded to instruct his followers, that includes us today, to teach all new disciples to obey the Commandments that Jesus gave us. I wonder if Jesus knew how difficult a task he was laying on us, because almost like an afterthought he said, “Don’t worry because I will be with you always…even to the end of the age.”
Remember learning to ride a two wheeled bike and the security of the training wheels? They were great. Mine were borrowed from a neighbor with the promise that they would be returned in two weeks when my friend was going to get a new bike for her birthday. I could ride my bike and not have to worry for two weeks. The day came when I came out to ride my bike and Dad had removed the training wheels. Oh no! Where was my security now? Dad offered to hold the bike by the seat and to run along beside me while I rode. “Good,” I thought. Of course, by the time I got to the end of the driveway and looked back, he was at the other end of the driveway grinning. I had been on two wheels without him holding on and I did not realize it. I am with you always, huh? I don’t think so. Dad wasn’t holding the bike, but he was there. Not only was he there to pick me up if I fell he was really and truly there. I could “feel” it. Even though he was a couple of hundred feet away, I could sense his presence, watching me with a sense of satisfaction. I knew he was there.
Jesus calls his followers to go and create disciples. We are not to make, coerce, judge, manipulate or threaten people to follow Jesus. As partners with God, we are to create disciples in much the same way that God fashioned the world. God created, shaped and formed the world out of love. We are to create new disciples with love; to grow them, to nourish and lift them up gently, fully, wholly. The days of standing in the street and screaming about the end being near or whacking someone over the head (they have been hit by the Word of God) with a Bible as though you have some superior start in life over him/her. I actually observed these practices on the streets of downtown Detroit as I waited for the city bus to get me on the last leg of my morning bus journey to school. Nonetheless, the call is real and true. We are to go out and create disciples.
How do you feel about your responsibility as a Christian to go out and preach the gospel to those who have not heard it? How do you feel about asking/inviting people to come to church on Sunday, to invite them into your life, your faith community, into the transforming and healing love of God in Jesus Christ? It seems to me that many people are uncomfortable about it. Sometimes I feel like I could be on display or appear as a “goody two shoes” if I want to divert a person from a potentially harmful activity. I do not want to push my point of view too far and have people think I am aggressive or offensive. Why is it that we can go through a whole week without telling someone about the love we have experienced through God’s work in our church? Why do we go through a whole week without sharing the acceptance we have gained in the love of Jesus?
First, people do not like to be “E”vangelized. They stoned Stephan, beat Paul and even threw him into prison multiple times. This offering of God’s love can be risky business. People are so used to the pain and craziness of the world that they think it is “normal.” Anyone who suggests it can be different is considered a little bit crazy. That is why Jesus said, “I’ll be with you, even to the end of the age.” Does that mean now? Absolutely! Wherever we are, Jesus is present. You might become aware of it in the way I sensed the dog staring at me in my sleep. You may experience it like an unseen hand guiding you down the driveway. You may encounter the presence of the living Christ in a totally different and unique way, belonging to you alone, or you may have yet to experience that sense of presence.
I am here to say that as we examine the challenge to share the love we have in God, we need to know that love accompanies us wherever we go. It is real and we can share it with others humbly and gently by our actions and in our words. We are called to move forward, offering Christ to others. I have met people who declare they are atheists and do not need God. Most of them have not had experiences in life where they have been down and out in crisis. What they do not believe in is the Church as an institution. They reject the polity and hierarchical structure. It is not the church we are called to believe in. We are called to believe–to trust–in God’s love as it has been brought to us through Jesus Christ–and we learn about this love through the body of Christ–the Church and by worshiping and studying Scripture together. We need to claim anew the Great Commission, to reject manipulation and coercion, the evangelism of guilt and shame and to cast upon the waters of life new bread, new hope, new offers of gentleness and love–given to us by Jesus. We need to share the Christ we know in a loving faith community, to embrace ministries of compassion and justice with the Christ who holds us close and walks every step of the way–even to the cross to set us free from our sin. I challenge you, I double dare you to: “Go and create disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father/Creator, the Son/Word, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them about the love of God in Jesus Christ. “Don’t worry, Jesus will be with you every step of the way, forever, even to the end of the age.