I’ve always loved the old standards – I heard my parents sitting at the piano and singing and playing many of them:
Beautiful Brown Eyes, I Dream of Jeannie, Blue Skies…. but one of my very favorites is this one:
I’ll be loving you Always
With a love that’s true Always.
When the things you’ve planned
Need a helping hand
I will understand,
That’s the song, and that’s the word today: Always. The song was a wedding present from Irving Berlin to his wife.
So ALWAYS is a promise – like the vows we make to one another – for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health – for better and for worse….
And ALWAYS is Jesus’ promise to us, at the very end of gospel: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
It’s right there in this short passage of scripture – which in four verses, gives us both promise and challenge.
There they are, just eleven disciples, on the mountain with Jesus. And there they worship him.
But some of them are doubting.
(I wonder about that. – Even Jesus rising from the dead can’t totally erase their doubt.)
There Jesus promises them that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him
– even though there will be plenty of opportunities to doubt this reality
– when their mission does not seem as successful as it should be – when they are being questioned
– there Jesus tells them to go into all the world and make disciples – all the world – just eleven of them
– and then he gives us this promise. ALWAYS.
It’s so re-assuring to hear isn’t it?
I suppose that’s why it’s one of my favorite songs.
But I wonder if we really believe it, and I don’t mean just believe that it’s true, but really LIVE as if it’s true.
I imagine that there are times when we do – there are times when we can’t help it because that’s all we have.
There are times when relationships fray, when the diagnosis is grim, when it is clear that we have taken on a task that is beyond us. And then it’s all we can do: trust God.
But oftentimes we believe that God is with us while at the same time also sort of suspecting that everything is really up to us.
I imagine that this is an occupational hazard for pastors – with our often-long hours and high expectations,
it’s easy for us to come to believe that the ministry of the church and its success (whatever that looks like) depends on us, more than God.
Today is Trinity Sunday, and I imagine that our gospel reading for today was chosen for just this reason.
Matthew 28 names the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Jesus doesn’t explain the Trinity and he doesn’t instruct the disciples in the correct theology of the Trinity.
He just tells them that it is in this name that they baptize, that it is in this name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that they go.
Theologians have written oceans of books on this subject, and I could try to explain it,
but I suspect that at the end, the sermon would be both awfully boring, and also incomprehensible.
How can God be both one and three? Don’t even try to figure it out.
But here’s what I will say:
The first Christians starting speaking this way about God because of what they were experiencing.
They believed in one God because they were all good Jewish men and women.
But they were experiencing something in life and ministry of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit.
God was still God, Jesus, a human being, was a part of their experience of God now, and it was the Spirit who kept making Jesus’ presence real in their lives.
They experienced a relationship with God that was somehow different, because of Jesus.
Maybe that’s why, when I hear Jesus’ promise at the end of the gospel of Matthew, I immediately think of this song, and that leads me to the promises of marriage.
The cross and resurrection are God’s commitment to be with us ALWAYS, through everything, and in everything.
And this commitment is important not only in our individual lives, but also as a community of faith, as together we fulfill Jesus’ instructions, to go into all he world…
When I talk with couples getting married, one of the exercises we often do is one called Couple Goals.
There each person names 3 personal goals, and three couple goals, and they talk about how they are going to fulfill them together. The idea is to get them thinking that they are a team, that their lives are inextricably connected.
God’s life is inextricably connected with ours.
God became one of us, and suffered all that we suffer, and when he rose, he sealed the promise, “I am with you always.”
Even death won’t separate us. And we are inextricably connected with God’s mission – it is us who God sends into the world to bear his image, his message, and his love.
I can’t imagine how the disciples thought they were going to fulfill this mission – only eleven of them, some of them doubting, and a whole world in front of them.
They could only do it by the mercy and grace of God.
And there is the promise. “I am with you always.” ALWAYS.
I used to visit a retired pastor and his wife.
I remember how, when I first came to church, they sat in one of the front rows and he would always take notes during my sermons which was just a little intimidating.
Then later I found out that he was taking notes because he always called one of his daughters on Sunday evening so that they could compare notes on the Sunday Sermon.
His wife began to have dementia, and when she went into a nursing home, he came to visit her every day.
On the rare occasions that he couldn’t be there, he sent one of their children
. But every day he visited her and stayed the day by her side. When I came to visit with communion, I experienced this.
I could see her anxiety and her fear, and how she would say, “Don’t leave me. I’m afraid.”
And he would repeat, over and over, “I’m not going anywhere. You can’t get rid of me.”
And then we would share communion, and he would help her remember the words, and the promises, too.
For better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…. That’s the way it is with God, and us. Always.
Go therefore into all the world… it is our shared mission, always. AMEN