In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
As we prepare next week for Mother’s Day, this week, Jesus gives us an example of being a good parent.
In the life of the Church, we are preparing for the departure of Jesus prior to Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit who is to guide and govern the Church until Jesus comes again. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is at the Last Supper with his disciples and he is preparing them for his absence. “You have heard me say, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place, you may believe.” This, understandably, is going to shake them. But in order for them to truly take this on, they need to be on their own.
Jesus is going through what every parent has to go through in the stages of raising children: preparing them for life on their own. The inevitable truth about raising children is that they will one day leave your house and be outside of your direct influence and protection. It is scary. Some people handle it better than others. But it is a reality. Eventually they grow up and have to make it on their own.
So the responsible parent takes steps early to prepare the child, to make sure they can handle the experience. (And from what I know now, so the parent can handle it as well.) First step: Can I take my eyes off you. This is a very hard step. I remember the first night we had Kate. It was a hard thing to allow the nurses to take her out of the room. But eventually, thankfully, the need for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep takes over and the baby needs the shots anyway, so you call the nurse and have her taken out of the room. But you breathe all the more when she is returned, safe and sound with a new Band-Aid on her heel (and it doesn’t hurt that you actually got some sleep either).
Then after the child has grown up a bit, then next step: Can I leave the room? So you start in baby steps. Turn on their favorite movie, and when they don’t notice, you slip out to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee and try to make it back before they have even noticed you are gone. And then the times you can leave are longer and longer. And the question is always in the back of the parent’s mind: Can my child be trusted to be on their own? You leave, but you ear is always on what you left. What is a parent’s worst fear at this moment? Silence. Silence means either something happened, or the child is up to something. Or it means that your child is simply engrossed in whatever activity they are enjoying and your worries are unfounded.
And this time away gets longer and longer. Ok, now I can get ready. Ok now I can take a nap. Then the next stage of fright: can I leave the house for an errand? Yes? How about an afternoon? An evening? All day? All night? All weekend? For college? For life? The ultimate question is can I trust you on your own not to burn down the house? Can I trust you follow the rules and make good decisions in my absence?
Now related to this, I think that technology has hindered this process. It has provided us with more opportunities to learn about the world around us and provided us with the ability to extend our reach. We now can pinpoint dangers. There is a list of sex offenders with pictures and addresses available at the tap of a button. There are cameras that can be operated remotely with built in microphone, sending and receiving. Technology has retarded this natural process of letting go by informing us of the dangers and extending our reach. This creates helicopter parents and children who cannot, and in some cases will not, do things of their own.
But as with all things human, Jesus had to go through this process as well. That which is unassumed remains unredeemed. Jesus knows what it is like to have to trust those in your charge to the teaching you have provided and allow them to create on their own. Jesus knows that in order for the Church to grow, he had to leave. So he started early in his ministry giving them space. He left to go pray on his own. He sent them out on missions. He died and came back. Each time he left them, he came back and debriefed with them to see how it went. And then he prepped them for his final departure.
But like all parents, he does not leave them comfortless. He provides them with the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in during them time when he resumed his place at the right hand of the Father. Now they would have to look carefully for guidance in his absence. Now it is through prayer and inspiration that the entity that was created—the Church—is directed. Now there is an element of doubt and an element of trust.
Now the apostles have the opportunity to mess it up on their own—which they have both in the Bible and in in current times. But they also have the opportunity to grow. Right before our gospel lesson today, Jesus tells his disciples: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
If Jesus had remained physically with his disciples, they would never have risen above the status of student. They would never have grown. The Church would never have grown beyond that which Jesus could directed have influenced by his physical presence and the movement would have remained a local phenomenon. But he left and they were forced to become the masters by trying and failing.
Take Paul for example. He went around establishing new Churches through trial and error. In our first reading we see him taking what he knows and adapting it to the situation of the people to whom he is trying to minister. Yet even though he tries to adapt the message to them and their situation, they cannot get beyond belief that Paul and Barnabas are gods among them—Zeus and Hermes.
In another opportunity, Paul attempts to woo an intellectual audience with his vast intelligence—a task which failed miserably. But when that failed, he figured out the message. Jesus Christ and him crucified—folly to the Gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews. He learned his message and his approach. He tells the Corinthians: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied.” His eloquent words got him in trouble and did not produce the fruit he intended.
So he walked from Athens to Corinth and did what all good children do when they run into a problem after they have left the nest—Paul called home. On the way from Athens to Corinth, he prayed and listened to the Holy Spirit as to how the message should be presented. And by the time he reached Corinth, he had a new lease on life and proceeded to plant Church after Church using the message of the scandal of the cross.
This is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he told the disciples that he was leaving, yet he was sending the Holy Spirit “to teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Jesus has allowed the Church to grow into that which she was intended from her creation. He showed them how to live. He taught them all that they needed to know. He gave them room to grow. And he provided them with the ability to call home for guidance.
So what does all this teach us today? Jesus designed the Church for us to be able to use the gifts he has given us to minister as we are able. God provided each one of us with the ability and the gifts to reach specific groups of people that only we can. God charges us with this, but he also gives us the opportunity to do it in our own way. He will guide us in doing it, but we have to be the ones to do it.
Go Beloved. Take risks. This is what being on our own is all about. Doing things our way. All of creation has been preparing us for this time. Jesus has, like the good parent, given us all the tools to succeed. He has gone through all the steps it takes to release a child on their own into the world. Now we just have to take the risk and make it our own. But as we do this, Jesus provides us with the reminder that as the good parent, he is always willing to answer the phone at a moment’s notice to give wise counsel.
And so, go out. Do the work that you have been given to do. And for God’s sake, phone home every now and then. In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.