Scripture: Matthew 28:16–20
I have told you before that I’m a list guy. Raise hands for those of you who love to make a good list. We have a pad of paper on our fridge in our kitchen. It has a magnet so we can put it right on the door and keep it handy. On the top of that paper are the words “Things to Do.” So, we put on it groceries we need to buy, or things that we shouldn’t forget. And as nice as it is to put a list on a phone, it is just not as satisfying to delete a thing as it is to get that pen and cross that baby off! There is something meaningful about seeing a list of things to do, and doing them!
If you are a list person, Matthew is your Gospel! Like we talked about last week, Matthew is a Gospel of action, of doing, of “Things to Do.” Think back over our list of sermons from Matthew the last few months. Here is our list:
- Live out of the counter-cultural wisdom of the Beatitudes.
- Be peacemakers. Be humble. Be meek.
- Do not practice hypocrisy like the Romans do.
- Do not spend your life running after things that cause more anxiety than they are worth.
- Do to others as you would have them do to you.
- Allow the yeast of the Kingdom to move and change and form you.
- Open your eyes to the Kingdom, even though it means coming down off the mountain.
- Forgive 70 times 7.
- Don’t keep score but allow God’s grace to fall to every worker in the vineyard.
- Take a seat at the banquet table, and allow others to find their place and their voice.
- Risk using your talents.
- Care for the least of these.
- Sing Hosanna for the special blessings that God gives you.
- Allow Jesus to deconstruct and turn over the tables of your heart.
- And finally, from the Easter story last week, do not fear but look for Jesus in the going.
That. Is. A. List! Talk about some “Things to Do!” And we could just have easily doubled the passages we studied, likewise doubling the list of tasks and actions that Jesus asks of us!
But wait, there’s more! How many of you have made a list where you start out writing really big, enough room for 10–12 things on the sheet of paper, but by the time you get to #9, you realize you are going to run out of room. So you start writing really small, and maybe go up on the side of the paper, squeezing everything in there? Congratulations! You are a “list-squisher!” But you have good company…Matthew was a list-squisher, too! At the end of Chapter 28, with this long list of actions to take and ways to live out our faith, you’d think Matthew is about done. But, no, look at the verbs in just these last few verses:
- Worship, even if it comes alongside of your doubt.
- Go, outside of your place of comfort, in order to share the good news of grace.
- Make disciples, helping others to follow in the ways of wisdom that Jesus has taught.
- Teach them, helping them understand how to live this life.
- Baptize, showing publicly and symbolically what it means to give everything to Jesus.
Matthew squishes another handful of verbs in there, even at the end. In his Gospel, Matthew has shown us what the life of faith might look like. He has shown us what it means to live according to this Jesus Mission. This Jesus Ethic. We often call this passage the Great Commission, but really the whole Gospel is naming our mission. Naming how we are to live this life. Like we said last week, we meet Jesus in the going. In the doing. On mission for Jesus. Worship. Go. Make. Teach. Baptize. Live this life! Yet, after all of this, there is one verb left!
But I am contractually obligated to say something more. I am dangerously close to invalidating my Reformer Membership Card, my Protestant Punch Card, if I don’t say something about salvation by grace vs. works. We have fought a ton of battles over whether or not the things that we do, the actions that we take, can make God love us more or less. And we have come down on the side of insisting that our salvation comes by grace, and not by works!
But that isn’t the battle that Matthew seems to be fighting. Remember that he is writing this Gospel some 20–30 years after Paul has written Romans about grace and works. Full disclosure…I wrote the first draft of this sermon before I realized that the pad of paper on our fridge—the one titled “Things to Do”—actually got used up and we replaced it with another similar one with a different title: “Make Good Use of Today.” That seems to be Matthew’s agenda. Now that we know about our salvation by grace, let’s make good use of today. Thus, all of these verbs. These actions. These Things to Do that make Good Use of our talents and gifts and life of faith.
But can you believe that there is still one verb left?
Before I get to the last verb in Matthew, I want to share with you one of the first verbs in Matthew. Remember all the way back to the first chapter of Matthew? When the angel shows up to talk to Joseph, and says that Mary will have a baby and he will be called “Emmanuel, God with us?” That seems to be one of the first verbs in the book of Matthew: God will be with us.
So it is no surprise then what the last verb of Matthew is, from the lips of Jesus:
“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The last verb in Matthew isn’t something for us to do. It isn’t an action for us to take, or a line for us to check off our list. It is God’s work. God’s action. God’s faithfulness. If Matthew reminds us of the good news of how we can see Jesus in the going and doing, he also reminds us that wherever we go, we are not alone. Regardless of all the things we do or don’t do, God still chooses us. God’s action is the first word in the story, and the last word in the story, and the most important word every step along the way.
Theologically, there is a word for this. There are at least a half dozen Biblical atonement theories: ways to look at the meaning of the incarnation, and the crucifixion, and the resurrection, and what that means for us. One of those is the theory of solidarity. What God did in Jesus was primarily about the radical notion of being with us. Of being born as one of us. Of living among us. Of God dying on the cross in the most embarrassingly human way possible. Of being so radically with us that we cannot help but experience love and power and grace. Anna Case-Winters explains it this way:
“Christ has been raised from the dead, transformed and yet the same person. In his resurrection is the promise of ours. We are convinced the life God wills for each of us is stronger than the death that destroys us. The glory of that life exceeds our imagination, but we know we shall be with Christ. So we treat death as a broken power. Its ultimate defeat is certain. In the face of death we grieve. Yet in hope we celebrate life. No life ends so tragically that its meaning and value are destroyed. Nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
God is so radically and inexplicably with us, living eternally in solidarity with us, that not even the power of death can keep God and God’s love separate from us. Matthew and Paul sing in harmony the song of God’s solidarity with us:
“I am with you always.”
But that isn’t what it says. How many of you have heard and maybe even memorized the Great Commission with these words? Always. A great translation, but one that misses something. Literally, what the Greek says is “all the days.” And maybe it’s just semantics, but I see a power in Jesus’ choice of words here. “I am with you all the days.”
Really? What about that day when my so-called friend outed me in front of my crush, and the whole class laughed including her? “I am with you…that day.”
What about the day that I realized that I hate my major and have wasted the last three and a half years of my life and I have no idea what I am supposed to do with the rest of my life? “I am with you…that day.”
What about the day that my marriage ended and I drank myself to sleep, not sure that I ever wanted to wake up? “I am with you…that day.”
What about the day that the doctor said there was no heartbeat? Once again. “I am with you…that day.”
What about the day that my boss harassed me in front of the senior leadership team and no one said a thing and I had a panic attack in the bathroom, alone and terrified? “I am with you…that day.”
What about the day that I buried my best friend. My spouse and the only person in the world who could understand me? What about day 42, when no one called anymore? What about Day 217, on our anniversary that used to be so special but now simply causes overwhelming pain? What about Day 365, when everyone says I am supposed to be over it, but I still barely make it out of bed and I wonder what must be wrong with me? “I am with you…all the days.”
“All the days.” I am with you all the days, regardless of how many Things you have crossed off your list. Regardless of how you feel you have failed in life or in faith. Regardless of the people who have told you that you don’t matter. Not even death itself can keep me from loving you. Even until the end of the age.
All the days.
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