I have never been very good at math. Reading and writing have always come much more naturally to me which, I guess, explains why I enjoy writing these blogs. I did have an algebra teacher in high school, however, whom I sincerely appreciated. Her name was Mrs. Gutknecht. Mrs. Gutknecht was a kind, soft-spoken, gentle lady who treated all her students with the utmost respect, grace, and love. Her students, however, did not always return the favor. As high schoolers, we would often misuse and abuse Mrs. Gutknecht's good will. She would be trying to teach while we would be passing notes, listening to Walkmans (this was long before iPods, after all), and whispering amongst ourselves. At first, Mrs. Gutknecht would only mildly reprimand our disrespect with an evil eye or a hushed, "Now, you need to listen up." But even Mrs. Gutknecht had a breaking point.
Mrs. Gutknecht's breaking point usually came forty minutes into our class. For at the forty minute mark, she would always assign us our homework for the next day and then give us fifteen minutes to work on it before class was over. And so, as her lesson ended, all of a sudden, her voice would raise, her fists would clench, her face would turn red, and she would exclaim, "Folks! Quiet down and listen up... now! It's homework time!" And it was at that point that we knew Mrs. Gutknecht meant business. There would be no more secret notes because we knew she would read them in front of the class. There would be no more personal entertainment devices because we knew she would confiscate them for herself. There would be no more whispered conversations for we knew she would send us to the administrator's office. Instead, we would sit attentively and expectantly awaiting our algebraic "marching orders" for the next day.
Eventually, Mrs. Gutknecht's call to attention became so self-evident to us that we didn't even wait for her to finish it. She no longer had to say, "Folks! Quiet down and listen up... now! It's homework time!" Instead, she had only to say, "Folks!" and, much like when a captain shouts "Attention!" to his company, we too would snap to hushed attention.
In our reading for today from Matthew 28, Jesus gives his disciples one final commission before ascending into heaven: "Go and make disciples of all nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (verses 19-20). Much like a captain will give his company "marching orders," Jesus here gives "marching orders" to his disciples. And Jesus' "marching orders" are to start a discipleship ROTC program for the world consisting of two primary components: baptism and teaching. For these components are how we are trained as disciples and how we train others to be disciples.
But there's something missing. Something Mrs. Gutknecht would never have forgotten before giving us "marching orders" for homework. Something a captain would never forget before giving his company "marching orders" into a battlefield. There's no "Folks!" There's no "Attention!"
Actually, there is. But rather than coming before Jesus' marching orders, it comes after Jesus' marching orders. The NIV translates it like this: "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (verse 20). The Greek word for "surely" is idou, an interjection which is meant to call a reader's attention to something especially notable or interesting. It is a way to say, "Attention! This is something you don't want to miss!" Indeed, this is the word that an angel uses when he announces to some shepherds near Bethlehem, "Idou! I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11). This is also the word the Jesus himself uses when he gives his disciples some earlier "marching orders" and warns them of the persecution they will encounter because of him: "Idou! I am sending you out as sheep among wolves" (Matthew 10:16). And now, Jesus uses this word again. But not to call attention to a command, but to call attention to a promise: "Idou! I am with you always, to very end of the age." The final "marching order" that Jesus gives his disciples, then, is not a "marching order" at all. Instead, it is a simple recognition, realization, and reliance on his presence. For Jesus desires that we be attentive to the fact that he is always with us.
So today, where do you see Jesus in your life? Maybe it's in a conversation with a friend. Maybe it's in a moment of solitude where you gaze at God's good creation in wonder. Jesus, of course, is always in the pages of Scripture and in the prayers of his saints. So "Attention!" Jesus is here! Jesus is with you.