Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of 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.” Matthew 28:16-20
“The Lord united himself to the Father and the Father united himself to him. Acts of redemption brought about this union because the Lord performed these acts in his human manifestation. As he performed them, the Divine meant by “the Father” came closer to him, helped him, and cooperated with him. At last they forged so close a partnership that they were not two but one. This union is the “glorification”” True Christianity §97
“Two things - love and wisdom - constitute the essence of God. And three things constitute the essence of God's love: his loving others who are outside of himself, his wanting to be one with them, and his blessing them from himself. The same three constitute the essence of his wisdom because in God love and wisdom are united. It is love that wants those three things, and wisdom that brings them about.
“The first essential, God's loving others outside himself, is recognizable in God's love for the entire human race. And as those who love the purpose also love the means, God also loves all the other things he created, because they are the means....The second essential of God's love, his wanting to be one with others, is recognizable in his partnership with heaven, with the church on earth, with everyone in the church, and with everything good and true that forms and makes an individual and a church. In fact, love is simply an effort to forge a partnership. In order to fulfill the purpose intended by the essence of his love, God created human beings in his own image and likeness - characteristics with which he could forge a partnership....The third essential of God's love, his blessing others from himself, is recognizable in eternal life, which is the unending blessedness, the good fortune, and the happiness that God gives to those who let his love in. As God is love itself, he is also blessedness itself; and as every love exudes pleasure, so divine love eternally exudes blessedness itself, good fortune itself, and happiness itself. God gives these blessings to angels and people after death through his partnership with them.” True Christianity §43
The Lord welcomes us into a relationship. It is a partnership in a shared vision, mission and goal. The Lord knows the process that will develop this relationship, and is calling us to make the effort, go on the journey. We go through a cycle again and again on this journey, even as Jesus Christ did, in actions that bring the benefits of the redemption he performed.
The Lord calls us to go to the entrance of his kingdom, as it were, at edge of the sea. It can be a wild place. And yet it is the source of food, water and a livelihood. It is a metaphor for our external part; our thoughts, emotions, and all the physiology that is organically connected to that understanding and will. So we are in the world, sensing it all. There is pain and pleasure; ugliness and beauty; struggle and joy. We can be present to it all because we can be on the mountain looking down upon the sea in any and all of its moods, from wind tossed to a calm, mirrored surface.
Looking down from the mountain we may despair that there is no goodness in our lives. But we also know that there is life under the surface of the water we cannot see. And we are buoyed by the hope provided by that realization. We have learned to remind ourselves, again and again, that from the first step on the journey to the last, from the beginning to the end of every cycle of life, that the meaning and purpose is love. To seek love; to see it everywhere; to give it and to accept it.
You can remember yourself in this cycle. Again and again. I remember when I did not seek love, but to be right, to win the argument, because that was my job as a priest, I thought. And then I caught a glimpse of myself arguing about doctrine at a wedding feast! Later, when the storm had calmed, the reality was obvious. I had been defensive; I didn’t listen; I was insistent. And I noticed I felt terrible. Why did I feel badly about doing my job of being right? From a mountain, as it were, (and not even a very high one!) I could see myself not seeking love, but domination. I saw that being right is not the job God was giving me!
So years ago I swore off doctrinal arguments. Let others be the apologists. I have a spiritual defect that I must remember I have, and avoid depending upon. And yet, just days ago, I found myself arguing with my wife, my spiritual partner, my journey companion! And I remembered again, standing by the sea, climbing the mountain, accepting the love of my Savior, and again seeking a way to live by his model.
Imagine for a moment those men and women who had heeded the message Jesus gave them at the grave, and then later in the upper room. They had seen him alive, but now he was gone again. Such inconsistency confuses the brain and body. What do we now expect? When will it happen? Anxiety about the future can take over all thinking.
We are told they simply obeyed the command. They make the journey to Galilee, likely in some fear for their capture. Likely silently wondering why they were going to this effort. Their external, physiological experience was pain, sadness, fear, and doubt. I imagine they tired while on the sixty mile trek. There would be no feasts at a rich man’s table. No daily words of encouragement. No miracles to reignite the fire of compassion in their hearts. This was just the typical life of an itinerant laborer.
After this ordeal, he does appear to them! He is recognizable as the man they had walked with for all those miles and years! But now, having gone through all they had, having made the journey this far, having come to this point in the cycle, they could hear and receive him declaring that he has all power in heaven and earth! Remember what they heard when he declared himself king, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? Less than a week later they had abandoned him. They could not hear the truth then. But they can now.
So, too, our following his model for living – going through the process that breaks open our hearts – produces our authentic worship of our Redeemer and Savior. And the essence of worship – the experience of his love and wisdom – becomes powerful in our life. It overcomes the other mental, emotional and physiological needs we have made important in our minds and hearts.
I am sure you have noticed the presence, and absence, of this power to love. Perhaps it has been a time when you felt pressure that you should do this or that. And looking back you can notice that you don’t see the love for God or your neighbor in that. It does not lead to that experience of the divine love flowing into and through you with all power in heaven and on earth. The lesson we are to learn from these experiences of the absence of love is that our daily, freely chosen commitment to follow the model Jesus Christ has given us, alone, will produce the experience.
And Jesus tells us why: the baptism of Father, Son, Holy Spirit is an internal motivating love. It is using the wise ideas we learn from his teachings, and then acting out the love we see he modeled. This, for sure, has real spiritual power to bring us to the mountain of love with the Lord.
And there is, of course, a challenge. He promises continued presence in our hearts, even when around us we see no love among people. Perhaps there is a person you care about who is angry – or you are watching a loved one who is afraid to care about this angry person. The effort to love them, is to be with them in their distress, is to be at the sea AND on the mountain. It is watching the distress from a deeper, lived experience of love. This is the effect of the presence of Jesus Christ within. We remain present with those whose living is bringing them mental, emotional and even physical distress.
The baptism is a Comforter. It is a knowing, a discernment, that never leaves, even when we temporarily disconnect from the source of love by giving power, by giving weight, to our little self, or our possessions, or our desires. We will be able to find him on the mountain every time we remember the path and walk there – he is there.
As His last words assure us: I will be with you always. Or is that frightening? We don’t want the Lord to see some of our thoughts and feelings! We are ashamed by them! And that is precisely the journey that has brought us from the rocky shoreline to the mountain top! To think that love will no longer be available to me because I wandered from the path, or halted in the journey is the main source of depression and despair. That is not what he promised. He is always there with the power of love for us to use.
And then there are the times we wish we felt His presence when we don’t – in anger, fear, sorrow, even, in fact, when filled with a selfish joy! Hopefully you have been praised at some point in your life, or won accolades for your work. You have seen athletes look up, point up and say “I praise you, God.” That is actually a spiritual discipline that brings balance to the mind between our efforts and the grace of God flowing in. Remember how easy it is to think that “I did all that,” and forget that it is God’s love flowing through that is the power? So the suggestion, following the model Jesus Christ gives us, is to establish a practice, and make a habit, of that silent word to yourself: “thank you, Lord.” The journey to that way of living will take you to a mountain top, and soon, you will accept, and even welcome, the presence of the Lord, which presence is his love for you, your love for your neighbor, and your love for yourself.
And then, in the moments of anger, in the moments of fear, and even in the deepest pain of sorrow, the Lord’s assurance of his continual presence and his omnipotence will comfort us. The baptism will produce the promised effect. Indeed, living a life of goodness is the promise of baptism.
We have opportunity to meet our Lord as he walks with us, showing unceasing love, speaking a wisdom we yearn for, being in a state peace that we so desire. We partner with him in the creation of a heaven from the human race, even on earth. We learn not to fear his encouragement – that he is always there, telling us to go forth into our living, with every thought, feeling, word and action being in his name, full of his love, his wisdom and his power, and he will indeed be with us, through all endings, and into all new beginnings. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”