Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped 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.”
My sermon from Trinity Sunday (June 11, 2017) on Matthew 28:16-20. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.
What’s the last thing you forgot? I…don’t remember. I’m sure, if you asked my kids or my spouse or checked my email inbox which is my default to-do list, I’m sure you’d find the last thing I forgot to do. But when we frame forgetting in this way, we make forgetting seem like it’s only about a promise we broke or it’s something that happened when the busyness of life got in our way. But forgetting is more than that. Forgetting can feel like we’ve lost something. This week I stumbled on an article from the New Yorker written by Kathryn Schulz with the title “When Things Go Missing.” It’s an essay that starts in Portland in the summer when suddenly, according to Kathryn, everything “fell out of place.” She writes:
My first day in town, I left the keys to [my] truck on the counter of a coffee shop. The next day, I left the keys to the house in the front door. A few days after that, warming up in the midday sun at an outdoor café, I took off the long-sleeved shirt I’d been wearing, only to leave it hanging over the back of the chair when I headed home. When I returned to claim it, I discovered that I’d left my wallet behind as well….later that afternoon I stopped by a sporting-goods store to buy a lock for my new bike and left my wallet sitting next to the cash register. I got the wallet back, but the next day I lost the bike lock. I’d just arrived home and removed it from its packaging when my phone rang; I stepped away to take the call, and when I returned, some time later, the lock had vanished. This was annoying, because I was planning to bike downtown that evening, to attend an event at Powell’s, Portland’s famous bookstore. Eventually, having spent an absurd amount of time looking for the lock and failing to find it, I gave up and drove the truck downtown instead. I parked, went to the event, hung around talking for a while afterward, browsed the bookshelves, walked outside into a lovely summer evening, and could not find the truck anywhere.
Even on our best days, we’re forgetting something. One insurance company claims that we misplace nine objects every single day. That means, by the time [we’re] [Marcus is] sixty, [we’ll] [he’ll] have lost up to two hundred thousand things. Now, we mostly find the things we lose. But looking for things takes time. When you add up all the time we will spend in our lives looking for things we’ve lost, we’ll spent almost six months looking for our keys and wallets. We’re good at losing things because we’re good at forgetting. But we shouldn’t limit forgetting to just losing things. Forgetting can also be heartbreaking. I’ve witnessed an illness causing someone to forget their own name. I’ve been at the bedside of people who forgot how to speak English and instead, started speaking Spanish and Swedish and all these other languages they hadn’t spoken since they were six. Many of us have parents or siblings or loved ones who have forgotten who we are and who, at the same time, seem to have lost who they are too. Forgetting can be as simple as asking a friend to call our cell-phone because we have no idea where it is in our house. And forgetting can be as terrifying as losing who we are.
Which is why I struggle with our translation of Jesus’ last words in the gospel according to Matthew today. Jesus, after his death on the cross, after his resurrection, and after he has spent time showing his followers that the brokenness of this world is not the final chapter God has planned for us, Jesus makes one more public statement. He gathers his friends on a mountain top because, in Matthew, that’s where important things happen. Some of his followers are excited to be there. Others…don’t really know what’s going on. Even though Jesus is right in front of them, some of his friends doubt. But Jesus pulls them all together because he has one more thing to say. In a few short sentences, Jesus explains who he is. Jesus gives his followers a list of things to do. And then he ends on a word of promise, a promise that our translation today begins with the words: “And remember…”
Now, there is something powerful about remembering, especially during difficult times. When life is hard, we can remember that Jesus lived and died for you not because you are perfect but because Jesus loves you. Jesus is there with you while your heart breaks because his heart is breaking too. That’s… who Jesus is. But the words, “And remember…” can also be a tad terrifying because it seems as if Jesus is giving us a task to do that we’re not always cut out for. I mean, I have literally forgotten where I have put my shoes. And I have sent texts to my spouse, telling her to bring the plastic collar I wear around my neck, this collar that signifies my role as a pastor, because…I forgot it and left it at home. Jesus is asking an awful lot of us when he asks us to remember because there are times when we won’t. There are times when we can’t. And there are times when we’re experiencing so much joy and so much sadness that Jesus will be the last thing on our minds. When we take a step back and look at our entire life of faith, it’s easier to talk about what we’ve lost rather than what we remember because losses linger. Loved ones die. Friends move away. Relationships end. We lose our jobs, our sense of stability, and our bodies no longer work the way they use to as we get older, ill, and frail. As Kathryn Schulz writes further in her article, “We lose things because we are flawed; because we are human; because we have things to lose.” I’m not sure Jesus should rely on our ability to remember because forgetting and loss is sometimes all we have.
But I don’t think that’s what Jesus is doing in these last verses from Matthew. The Greek word that our translation translates as “Remember…” isn’t usually used in that way. Instead, it’s an interjection. It’s a shout. It’s the same word that announces the sudden appearance of an angel and lets us know that Jesus’ friends freaked out when the prophets Moses and Elijah showed up on a mountain. The word really means “Look! See! Hey, over here!” It’s pointing out something that is sudden, exciting, and totally unexpected. It’s a word to that let’s us know that whatever follows it, matters. Jesus doesn’t order his disciples to remember his promises, as if our actions can somehow make these promises true or not. Instead, Jesus is saying: “look! I am with you. I will be with you. And you cannot lose me like you will lose your car keys…or even your memory.” Once God knows us, we cannot stop God from coming to us. Once Jesus claims us in our baptism, we can’t ever stop him from loving us. Our faith and the relationship God has with each of us is too important for God to leave up only to us. Instead, God takes the initiative to claim us, to hold us, and to live with us because God says we are worth more than we will ever know. Our relationship with God doesn’t depend or being with something that we do or rely on whether we can remember who God is. Our relationship depends only on the promises God gives to us – a promise made real in the gift of faith itself. This faith moves us, this faith transforms us, this faith pushes us into the promise Jesus makes here. “Look! See! Hey, this is important.” No matter where we are, or what we do, or where we go – Jesus promises that little Marcus and all of us will never be alone.