About a month ago I did a funeral for Anna, 19 year old daughter of one of my dearest friends, who was killed in a scooter accident in Taiwan. My friend wept, saying, “I shouldn’t have let her go. I shouldn’t have allowed her to ride a scooter.” “Oh, Ellen,” I said. “Part of love is saying go for it….” During the reception after the funeral, a woman in her early thirties started crying. “This has completely thrown me,” she said. “I have three kids—one who’s only ten months old. I haven’t been able to eat or sleep. I love them so much and I want to protect them….” “Oh, Jesse,” I said. “And you know that part of love is saying go for it….”
The dilemma of motherhood. You love them so much; you would do anything to protect them, and yet there comes a time when loving them means not protecting them, when you love by saying go for it…. Thank your mothers today for the love that protects and the love that let’s go….says ‘go for it.”
Medieval mystics sometimes did devotions to Jesus as Mother, focusing on the nurturing and protecting of Christ. I see it in the ascension story too. Towards the end of his time walking the earth, it’s almost as if Jesus is getting a child ready to go off to camp, or college. “I am only with you a little while more…” “I have many things to tell you…” Us moms could have told Jesus, “Never mind. They can’t hear you right now. Later maybe they’ll ask, ‘what was that you said about love or choosing a major or unity or sun screen or ….”
You feel that tension in Jesus before he ascends. ‘Don’t forget this. Feed my sheep. Remember that.” It makes sense. God’s whole mission—the reason Jesus came to earth as a babe, walked with people, taught, healed. The whole purpose for which he suffered and died on the cross. All of these will now be left to these followers. Jesus must have looked at this motley crew, jockeying for power, confused. Enthusiastic, yes. But inarticulate, clueless. He must have shaken his head, sent up a prayer… “God, do you think it might be better if I stayed around another year or two….”
But no. This huge shift is part of the plan. It’s fore-shadowed as Jesus sends out the disciples two by two. But think how big this is. Spreading the good news in word and deed—instead of the disciples saying—‘hey Jesus over here…someone with a problem’----it’s up to them. Jesus’ ministry—instead of being all found in Jesus—will be lived out in them and more pressing, in us. It’s as if the cork is taken out of the bottle so it can be poured.
Jesus must have looked at those followers, gawking up at him, and thought, ohmygosh. One of Jesus’ greatest acts of love is him getting out of the way. And those early years in the church show what can happen when a bottle is uncorked, when the people are living in the power of the spirit.
Jesus ascends, and it’s like when the mother says, “Go for it.” It’s like when the teacher responds to a question, not with an erudite answer, but with another question, to draw out the student. It is like when the pastor, instead of trying to do everything, hands over ministry to the people—‘go for it.” By the way do you know how fortunate you are to have a rector like Blair, who is not threatened by your gifts, but who calls you to use them? Thank her for that, because it’s sadly unusual.
We do ministry this way at SOTW. I confess: I sometimes see a person there giving a homily, leading a service, leading a small group and I think…. “I could do that way better.” But I’ve realized that the power in our little church is because everyone feels so involved. This is our church, not Mary Ellen’s church. The power is in the holy spirit—tune in next week—but also in the people, as people are given real ministries to live into.
The key is in calling all people to be deeply involved, yes, but also a clarity about our calling. This really hit me at a recent clergy conference, when people were talking about how discouraging it is to hear about the ‘nones’—these people who profess no faith at all. Discouraging??? I thought. It’s exciting…..
I realized that I feel that way because of my experience at SOTW. When our church was first starting five years ago, Dwight and Blair and Luke visited. Dwight, of course, brought statistics. He said that of the 5,000 people in Cook County, 2,800 of them were un-churched—the famous ‘nones.’ From that day, those Cook County ‘nones’ are central to who we are. The 2800 don’t discourage us. They are our neighbors who, whether they know it or not, are longing for God. In our planning meetings, our services, our art colony collaborations and dragon-boat races—these 2800 are uppermost in our minds and hearts, central to our sense of ourselves. And this is something I can’t do alone—I do some, but it’s all of us who take that message out. In the post office, the grocery store, the clinic…we are with the ‘nones.’
That’s what Jesus knew as he saw those distressed faces looking up at him. The ministry is all of us.
I want to give you an image. I lived in RSA from 1974-1982. A few years after I left, apartheid was on its way out, but there was terrible fear . A group of Christians of whom I knew some—clergy and lay people—gathered and prayed about how they could be part of the next step. God gave one of them a vision—apartheid is like an onion. The people need to take it apart layer by layer. Benches….trains…. beaches… Word would go out to and through the churches and people of all races would head to the beaches, take down the signs and be…..They played volley ball and cricket and swam and ate together. And much of the fear disappeared. There were pictures in the papers….Politicians could stand together and make speeches; so could clergy….but it needed the people. Image of the people all colors on the beach playing games, taking down signs, dismantling the fear……..image of our calling……
What does it mean for you here at St. Matthew’s? How can you be those people poured out, infiltrating the beaches with love and laughter? You are uniquely placed—physically near colleges, etc. But very uniquely placed in terms of the marvelous people who are here, leadership who want to allow all gifts and ministries to thrive. What is God calling you to?
The cork is out of the bottle. We celebrate the love that nurtures and lets go….that says ‘go for it.” Show each of us, as individuals and as churches who we are and what we’re called to be in this world.