“The best of all, is God is with us.” –John Wesley
“Ours is a with-God life and we must choose: God is with us- will we be with God?” –Richard Foster
“The disciples are to remember that the mission on which Jesus sends them is not one on which they must go alone. He is the resurrected Lord who will always be with those entrusted to witness to him and his work. He was in the beginning, which means that he can promise to be at the end of the age. But the age that he will be present at the end of is the age inaugurated by his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection. On that basis and that basis alone Christians are sent to the world with the message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is present.’” -Stanley Hauerwas
Be Not So Fearful by Bill Fay
Matthew: Churchbook (Vol 2) by F. Dale Bruner
Strong & Weak by Andy Crouch
The Art of Reading Scripture by Ellen F Davis & Richard B Hays
Matthew by Stanley Hauerwas
Reading Backwards by Richard B Hays
Can These Bones Live?: A Theology in Outline by Robert Jenson
Miracles by C.S. Lewis
The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by Michael Licona
Prototype by Jonathan Martin
Resurrection & Moral Order by Oliver O’Donovan
Living the Resurrection by Eugene Peterson
Practice Resurrection by Eugene Peterson
Resurrection and the Son of God by N.T. Wright (academic)
Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (accessible)
Audio recording failed, here is the transcript of this sermon:
These past several weeks we’ve been exploring the ways the four gospel writers tell the story of the resurrection. Each has their own way of trying to bring us into the mystery. None describe in detail the actual occurrences verbatim as they happen. It seems the revolution will not be televised and neither will the resurrection of Jesus. Like the disciples and guards and government officials in this morning we’re left with an empty tomb and a story to stitch together. We can bring our skepticism or we can bring our willingness to have our expectations surprised and subverted. We can, of course, be open to experiencing the sort of miracle that is the most hopeful hope for a human being: that death doesn’t necessarily win in the end. And then we can work backwards from that to strip away all of the things we do and ways we are that are determined by our fears of death. All the vanity based around these broken and unreliable bodies. All the defense mechanisms we hold up to avoid pain or vulnerability. All the sinful power and subtle violence we wield to move ourselves up the food chain. If the resurrection happened, and this is the “big if” which St Paul hinges basically all of the life of faith on, then all of these solid things we once took for granted are fake, phony, and passing. God’s Spirit raising Jesus from the dead changes everything!
I hope over this past month that you’ve become a better Scripture reader. That the Spirit has breathed into the words on the page and warmed your hearts and renewed your imaginations. That you’ve seen how these evangelists tell the resurrection in their gospel stories as the key to everything before, each in their own way. How the new thing God has done and is doing in Jesus is really just the fulfillment of the old thing. And so we’ve been included in the Grand Story of God doing outrageous things, and in the cross and resurrection, THE outrageous thing, to be WITH and to include you and I in his MISSION to renew Creation from Sin & Death.
Today we focus on Matthew…Some have described Matthew’s program or style as creating an annotated Study Bible, pointing out places here and there even with references to where God is now acting in Jesus in fulfilment with the way he acted in Israel. Others have described Matthew’s telling of the good news as “a training manual for prophets.” Unwaveringly tied to the Story, but with eyes to see and ears to hear how that Story is being enacted and furthered here and now. Calling us to be ever aware that God is indeed WITH us.
That’s been the key to Matthew this whole time, even as Mary welcomes God into her womb, and Joseph dreams the crazy dream of a divine stepson, the promise is happening (Is 7:14): the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us.’”
God, in the form of the Christ-child, is of course also WITH Mary and Joseph in their flight from Egypt (Hos 11:1) and Herod’s imperial anxiety leading to the genocide of baby boys across his territory, just as God was WITH his people Israel in fire by night and pillar of smoke by day in their Exodus from Pharaoh’s death-dealing cruelty. Even as Rachel weeps (Mt 2:15, Jer 31:15) and won’t be comforted for the destruction and killing happening all around, God is in their midst. God is WITH them. God is WITH us now in the midst of this sort of pain and persecution. This sort of societal decay. This sort of cruelty at the hands of the powerful. God is bringing them out of death and into life. It is this impulse, that is the keystone of the Christian life. It is this assurance that caused John Wesley to be able to peacefully but powerfully proclaim on his deathbed, “The best of all, is God is WITH us.” Not God’s power or his providence, but his WITH-NESS.
And it is precisely this WITH-ness, that forms the basis of our lives: the whole gospel, might just be summed title of an old Bill Fay song: “be not so fearful.” If God is WITH YOU, be not so fearful.
It is this fearlessness in Jesus’ presence that is being taught to the disciples in the boat. It is only when literally everything around them is sinking that the disciples say what any disciple should say: “Lord, save us! We are perishing. (Mt 8:25)” An appeal and a submission to Jesus’ authority: “Lord, be who you say you are, and be that FOR us! But more importantly, be WITH us. And take us from what looks like certain suffering and death into life.”
A little while later in Matthew’s gospel we find Jesus walking on water, which causes Peter to try to join him and fail, but ultimately leads to the disciples, again doing what any decent disciple should do, worship him. Because again, his authority is starting to come through to them. In the midst of a thoroughly Jewish gospel, written in obviously Jewish terms, the raw materials are starting to come through, for God’s people, the Jews, the only one with authority over the sea and sky, the weather and creation, was the one who participated in Creation and whom now had entered into it.
The disciples are inspiring for us, for how much they struggle and get it wrong but also for the rare occasion when they get it right: submission & worship, a rugged hope and commitment to learning in the presence of a Present and Powerful Savior. That’s what discipleship looks like for Matthew and us. If and since, God is with us, we are to become sponges, learners, apprentices, doing what he does and loving how he loves, growing into the full stature of Christ (Eph 4:13).
There is another strange and uncomfortable WITH-NESS of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. That Jesus is WITH humanity like the temple, but more so. Needless to say that was a controversial thing to even allude to. The temple was literally sacred. It was a life and death thing to keep it holy. After all, this was the overlap between heaven and earth. The thin place where God was sure to show up and be WITH his people.
In Jesus’ ministry he starts to reconfigure this understanding. Playing a new improvisation off the old theme…because something huge was afoot, the kingdom of the heavens is at hand. The overlap is the here and now. Sabbath rest and God’s presence and sacrifice and holiness are all being remade to look and feel like Jesus. On Calvary, the veil has been torn, the temple of Christ’s body is being leveled, not a stone to be left on another stone, because God is going to rebuild the new temple on the cornerstone of the new Human. The Kingdom for which we pray, is coming on Earth as it is in Heaven.
That’s why, that almond-shaped space in the middle of the Venn diagram, [which I was recently taught by my friend, J.R. Briggs, is called a “MANDORLA”] that’s why that shape in medieval art and iconography becomes the space of Christ. This is Christ’s quintessential WITH-NESS. He being our Emmanuel in the intersection between the Heavens and the Earth. Our mediator, our ever-present-help in times of need.
Another powerful way that Matthew considers Christ’s WITH-NESS in his gospel comes to through his presence with the poor. Whether it’s blessing and building his kingdom around the least, lost, last, littlest, and nearest to death in the Beatitudes or tells of a future when King’s servants ask their Master: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ His reply being: ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’ (Mt 25:31-46).
And then in the next chapter, as the woman in Bethany extravagantly anoints him with her expensive perfume and gets rebuked for her wastefulness by the disciples, Jesus enigmatically replies: “You always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me.” (Mt 26:11) I think that mostly gets interpreted to let us off the hook for not only caring for the poor but being with them. It relieves us of our savior complexes, and that’s not a bad thing. But perhaps, more mysteriously it also implies that Christ’s presence in and among the poor, the poor in Spirit, and those made poor by injustice, will be equally lasting.
All of this WITH-NESS, then finds it’s culmination, it’s perfection, in the resurrection of Jesus. I don’t really know what to do with a great deal of Matthew’s record of the aftermath of the resurrection: earthquakes and thunder and lightning…angels and live men acting like dead men and dead men acting like live men…there seems to be a great reversal at hand. IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT…And to top it off, way before HOUSE of CARDS came to Netflix, Matthew knew that no drama was complete without a government cover-up conspiracy, because imagine the PR hit the empire would take if they couldn’t get rid of a threat. Their kingdom might start to crumble…
And in the midst of this disorientation and reordering, the trauma and drama, we find the resurrected Jesus WITH his disciples, allaying their fears, receiving their worship, and sending them to Galilee.
Once in Galilee, even in his presence, Matthew isn’t very squeamish to report that Jesus’ 11 closest friends saw him, some worshipped him and some doubted. Frankly, I’d be a little worried if all of this just automatically computed. That said, I’m also reassured that DOUBT is also not a valid dismissal of WITH-NESS. And Jesus’ presence isn’t necessarily a silver bullet out of our doubt or fear, but is an assurance and a hope and a profound source of joy.
We then receive Jesus’ parting shot, his great commission:
“I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
Here a later line from that same Bill Fay song comes to mind: “And when you wake up you will find you can run.” Run because you have a message. Run to the ends of the earth, because the good news is that good and that novel. Take it to panta ta ethne. All the nations, because Israel has been reconfigured around Jesus, the True Israel and is calling Gentiles unto the Father. And the calling is to join Jesus. Join in that death and resurrection. Be baptized… which means COME AND DIE and then RISE AND GO.
That life you’ve been joined into is a going, life of SENT-NESS. The Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father sending his only begotten Son, the Son pouring out his Spirit on all flesh, the Spirit sending us on mission and drawing us to the Father. We’re to become disciples, obedient learners in this Way, on this Way. And if that sounds scary, that unknown, vulnerable, risky SENT-NESS, be assured of Christ’s faithful promise of WITH-NESS: the whole history that Matthew has laid out, his whole life as Emmanuel, God with us.
Because Jesus has made eternal life possible, by dying and rising, we live lives where Christ’s presence is so very available to us by his Spirit, and we enter into and continue his mission of proclamation and witness to everyone. And that mission will be shaped by Christ’s presence and Christ’s presence will be shaped by that sending…
The disciples are to remember that the mission on which Jesus sends them is not one on which they must go alone. He is the resurrected Lord who will always be with those entrusted to witness to him and his work. He was in the beginning, which means that he can promise to be at the end of the age. But the age that he will be present at the end of is the age inaugurated by his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection. On that basis and that basis alone Christians are sent to the world with the message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is present.” –Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew