With You

March 29, 2009

 

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 28: 18-20

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our title and our topic today is two words, two words I want you to remember, please – “With You.”

 

Let me ask you a question. We’ve been studying about the Bible, and it’s been my hope that this series of sermons would inspire us all to love the Bible more and read the Bible more. But here’s my question: If you were on a desert island for a period of time, and you had all the things you needed, but you were only allowed one verse of the Bible to take with you – couldn’t take the Bible, could only take one verse – which one would it be? Which would be the verse that you could take strength from? Which would be the verse that would inspire you?

 

If your reaction was like mine, you’d say, “Well, there are a whole lot of verses I want to take with me.” But, oh no! This is the rule. Only one. What would it be for you? I invite you to think about that. What would be the special verse that you give you hope and restore your faith? Which one would it be?

 

I’d like to tell you today about the verse that it would be for me. I’d like to invite you to take a look at it with me, the last verse in Matthew, chapter 28, the last verse in the book of Matthew. Let’s start at verse 18:

 

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

Read that last sentence again. “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Friend, this is it. This is the one verse I’d want to take with me to that desert island. This is the one verse that I would want for inspiration, the words of the Lord Jesus, just before He ascended into heaven. After Easter, after the resurrection, just before He ascended from this earthly plain, He said to His followers, “I am with you always, even to the end of time.”

 

I hope you’ll take that with you. I hope you’ll commit that verse to your heart. It is the foundation of my faith. How about yours? Jesus made us this promise, that here on earth and in the world to come, He would be with us and we would be with Him.

 

Confirmation class, I implore you to write these words on your heart. “Jesus said, ‘I am with you always,’” and that’s the truth. The Bible tells us so.

 

May I tell you the story of the person who introduced that verse to me? Last week we talked about that encounter with God that was introduced by the words, “If with all your heart you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” Those words powered me for years. But as I grew in the faith, I found that something was missing. I looked at Christian people, and I saw this joy that they had in Jesus, this faith that they had in Him, and I didn’t quite get it. And I wanted some of that for myself.  So I had this great opportunity that I want to tell you about.

 

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to be on a retreat with Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. He wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. How many of you have heard of Dr. Peale? I had the great privilege of being on a retreat with him, along with a bunch of other ministers. And during the retreat, I thought, I’m going to ask Dr. Peale about this. So I went to him one day and caught him in the hall and said, “Dr. Peale, do you think you could spare just a few minutes for me, to tell me about your faith in Jesus?”

 

And he said, “Why sure, young man, you come see me after lunch and we’ll talk together.”

 

I thought, great! So lunchtime came, and I went over to talk to Dr. Peale. A bunch of people surrounded Dr. Peale and scurried him away, and he waved to me and said to me, “Come see me after dinner.”

 

Dinner came, and I went over to him, and a bunch of people gathered around him and escorted him out of the room. He said, “Come see me after breakfast.”

 

Well, you know what happened after breakfast. The retreat was ending, and I thought, “Well, it’s okay. He gave a wonderful sermon, and that was a blessing to me.”

 

We were told that any of the ministers who wanted to come from the retreat at Pawling down to the church in New York City, to Marble Collegiate Church, could do so and could hear Dr. Peale preach. I decided to do it.

 

We were seated in the packed church. People were in the fellowship hall; people were downstairs watching on closed circuit TV, and Dr. Peale was about to deliver his sermon. They were the announcements, and Dr. Peale said, “At the retreat this weekend, there was a minister there who wanted to talk to me. I have no idea whether he’s here in the congregation or not, but if he is, he can come see me in my office after the service.” Can you imagine? Could it be? Did he mean me?

 

Well, I made my way down to the office, and in front of Dr. Peale’s office stood two large, distinguished-looking, well-dressed gentlemen with their arms folded. These were the ushers. And I said, “I think I may be the person that Dr. Peale was talking about.  Maybe.”

 

“Let us check,” they said. They went into the office and talked to Dr. Peale and came out and said, “Yes, you may go in.”

 

I got to go into Dr. Peale’s office, and I said, “Dr. Peale, thank you for seeing me. Can you tell me about Jesus? Tell me about your personal faith in Jesus Christ. Please?”

 

He said, “Yes, I will, young man.” Dr. Peale reached for his Bible and opened it to the last few words of the book of Matthew. He pointed to it, and he said, “Here it is. Here is the basis of my faith. ‘Jesus said, ‘I am with you always.’’” He said, “That’s it. I imagine Jesus’s person with me. When I’m going to sleep at night and when I wake up in the morning; when I have a tough decision to make and when I feel scared; when I need to just praise him and be alone with the Lord, I see Jesus with me. And I know that He is, because the Bible tells me so. And upon this is my faith based.”

 

I thanked him so much. He also recommended a book to me, The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence, a marvelous ancient text. And Dr. Peale said, “You remember this, young man. He is with you always.”

 

I thanked him, and he said, “Let’s kneel down and have a prayer together.” We did. We kneeled down in his office; he put his hand on my shoulder, and gave me a wonderful blessing. And so, my friends, it is my joy to share this with you. This is what Dr. Peale said. This is the faith that kindles our heart. This is the rock in the foundation of what we believe and all that we do as a church.

 

In the days to come, I invite you to meditate on this verse, to know that the spiritual presence of Jesus Christ is with you. Know it when you’re feeling scared. Know it when you’re feeling alone. Know it when you’re feeling joyful. And the more you practice the presence of the Lord, the more it will become part of your heart. It’s the foundation. Won’t you do that this week? Because God loves you. I do, too.

 

Let’s say our scripture one more time. “Jesus said, ‘I am with you always.’” God bless you all. Amen.

 

© 2009 Anthony J. Godlefski