Matthew 28:1-10, 16-20
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
April 17, 2022 – Easter

Rev. John Ortberg is a surfer as well as a pastor.

Very early one morning he went to one of his favorite surfing spots.  He saw no one around but a muscular mountain of a man practicing martial arts on the beach.  Floating on his board and studying the break of the waves, he was startled to hear the sound of splashing and to see a tiny wisp of a boy paddle up to him out of nowhere.  He couldn’t believe such a little guy was all by himself in that isolated stretch of the ocean.  The kid lined up his board next to John’s, introduced himself and struck up a conversation.  John asked Shane how long he’d been surfing.  “Seven years,” Shane replied.  Surprised, John asked, “How old are you?”  “Eight.”  John stared at him; but Shane didn’t notice and continued, “What I like about surfing is that’s so peaceful.  And you meet lots of nice people.”  Eventually, John asked, “Shane, how did you get here?”  “My Dad brought me,” Shane said.  Then he turned toward the shore and waved to the Goliath doing martial arts.  The big man waved back, and called out across the water, “Hey, son!”

John then understood how Shane could be on his own and yet at home on an often dangerous sea.  It wasn’t Shane’s size.  It wasn’t Shane’s skill.  It was the one who was there for him on the sand, keeping a close eye on him.  Shane wasn’t really alone after all.

And neither are we who seek to keep up a friendship with the resurrected and still-living Jesus.  He’s forever there for us, and keeping an eye on how we’re doing.

That first Easter, everyone thought Jesus was gone for good.  They’d seen the Romans finish Him off with their typical efficiency.  No one expected to see Jesus again.  But some women came to pay their last respects.  They were stunned and stressed to find Jesus’ tomb open and vacated, and then to hear an angel announce that Jesus had risen from the dead.

When the angel charged them to go quickly and tell the others about it, they were too discombobulated to disobey.  On their way to pass on the news, they ran into Jesus Himself, as alive as they’d ever seen Him!  He greeted them, welcomed their embrace and then urged them to hurry along to the others.

Some weeks later, up in Galilee, Jesus met with His disciples one last time before He returned to heaven.  He urged those disciples to do what He had before urged the women to do: share the good news too good to keep to oneself.  He told the disciples to go and make Him some more disciples “of all nations”.

It was a daunting assignment beyond their capabilities.  But Jesus gave them a game-changing promise and, with the last commandment He gave on earth, He told them to hold on to it. “Remember,” He said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus was saying He was forever alive, and would forever be at their side to impart to them His power to live beyond their potential.  His presence would be their strength in their weakness, their peace in their fearfulness, their courage in their cowardice, their love for others in their self-absorbed indifference.

If the Bible speaks the truth, Jesus is always there for those who mean to follow Him, and His faithful friendship sustains them through every challenge and elevates their game with infusions of His own life force.  Let me tell you about someone who knows this reality firsthand.

Kate Bowler teaches history at Duke, and is raising a son with her husband.  Most importantly, she lives out of a friendship with Jesus, whose love supports her in both the blessedness and the cursedness of her life.

Six years ago, at the age of 35, Kate was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.  She had been hoping for a long life with her husband and son and a long career teaching and writing.  She had never expected to face a terminal illness at such a young age.  But, she testifies, her friendship with Jesus enables her to accept the frailty and uncertainty of her own life with joy and peace and to appreciate the frailty and uncertainty of everyone else’s life with empathy and genuine active concern.

Yes, Kate has at times been angry about her cancer; but “mostly”, to use her word, she gives thanks for how the Lord’s presence upholds her.  Her awareness of His nearness and steadfast love keeps her from panicking or raging or resorting to quick fixes like overeating or overdrinking.  It gives her hope and even cheerfulness.

If you choose to befriend this living Jesus, He will sometimes deliver you from your difficulties.  But, more often, He will leave you in them and then both comfort you and fortify you for them.  He will console you with the sense that you’re not on your own in dealing with them.  He will be with you to bolster and empower you to handle them and to make them serve your best interests.  His caring will carry you through the worst of this world, and His grace will enable you to enjoy its best to the max.

At times we who follow Jesus keenly feel His presence, and at other times we only feel His absence.  But, as we persevere in the risk of faith, even when His presence is undetectable, we count on His in fact being there for us 24/7 and working in all things for good.  For He’s not the kind to pop in and out of our life.

So we who dare to believe stay on the lookout for the risen and living Jesus, and try again and again to be present to His presence.  If we can do just that much, we will – we swear! – again and again experience His companionship and supernatural help.  Will you dare to believe He’s forever there for you?

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