May 16, 2021
A little while ago, we took Hazel to a zoo with a little playground/amusement park in it. There was this one carnival type ride, the kind where you sit in a bee and it whirls around in circles, and she wanted to go on it. I took her through the line, and got her in the seat, but I couldn’t sit with her because the ride was sized for children her age, and I had to step behind a railing because it was against the rules to just stand near the ride while it spun. Honestly, it was surprisingly hard to walk away and let her sit in the ride alone.
Normally, one of us is always there when she tries something new—at the bottom of the slide to catch her, there to push or catch her on the swing set, that kind of thing. But this was the first time I’d ever left her alone to figure things out, and it worried me. Would she get scared when it started to spin? Would she freak out when she realized I wasn’t there with her? Would she try to get off the ride while it was still moving? But thank goodness she handled it like a champ, and immediately wanted to do it again.
Parents, I imagine you’re feeling something like that as you prepare for your children to graduate high school. You have accompanied them through their years of education. You’ve worked hard to teach them how to take care of themselves, how to make good choices, how to behave and work hard and discipline themselves to do hard things. And now, this is the moment that they go. It’s their turn to take up those lessons you’ve taught them over the years, and use them in their own life. And in the next few months as graduation gives way to the Next Big Step, there is still so much you are hoping to teach them, to make sure you covered everything.
Meanwhile, graduates, you’re getting ready to do things on your own. You’re about to step out of the safety of home and into the wider world, whether that’s further education or the adult workforce. You’re going out to discover your vocation—what God is calling you to do in the world. You’re about to find out what life looks like without your parents’ constant presence to guide you. It’s an exciting and scary time, a time of huge transitions. And maybe, in thinking about that, you hope to get just a little more time or a few more lessons from your parents.
It’s why this gospel reading feels so appropriate to this Sunday. Jesus is gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room. It’s the last thing he does before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. He knows that time is running out, and so the last several chapters of John’s gospel are all Jesus’ monologue of all the things he needs to tell his disciples while there’s still time. Because he knows they will need his guidance, his words, after he has been crucified. He needs them to know exactly what this mission is that he is calling them to take on. He’s equipping them before they get sent out into the world.
He showed them from the start that the mission of sharing the gospel looks like love. It looks like getting down and washing other’s feet, because the life of a Christian is a life of service to others. It looks like breaking bread, sharing a meal that keeps bringing us back together, back to the same table with all kinds of different people, back to conversation and argument and agreement. It looks like learning to love one another through thick and thin, being one as Jesus and God the Father are one. It looks like recognizing where the strength to share this love comes from—from the True Vine and the Good Shepherd. And in his prayer he spoke about how they were going to be sent with that love into the world.
Like how we are sent out into the world. Graduates, we are all called to share the gospel, like how the disciples were called to share the gospel. But what that sharing looks like is different for each of us. More than anything, Jesus’ instructions to his disciples are about what love looks like. They’re about washing each other’s feet—giving up our pride and self-importance, and serving one another even when it’s hard to do. They’re about coming back to the source of their hope, like a grapevine sticks with the branch in order to grow fruit, knowing it can’t do it on its own. They’re about loving each other just as Jesus loves us, sacrificing pride and certainty and power and learning to love one another. And those lessons are supposed to be carried out into the world.
Because you each will have your vocation. God has called you to share the gospel by letting your future careers, your future relationships, and your future lives shape how you make the world a better place. You don’t have to be missionaries or pastors or church professionals to share the gospel; you just have to be Christians in your vocation, just share Jesus’ love in what you do every day. And that’s the lesson Jesus is trying to impart with his prayer for his disciples. He doesn’t ask God to take them out of the world. They aren’t going to be removed to some monastery or isolated in some compound. They will be out in the world, among the people as tentmakers and fishers, husbands and wives, mentors and friends, showing by their words and their actions that Jesus makes a difference in their lives.
So take the prayer of Jesus with you, just like how you’ll be taking the prayers of your parents with you. Know that you are not alone wherever you go, and that God will protect you from despair and defeat, carrying you through the tough times when the ways of the world conspire against your sharing of the gospel by your words and your actions. Trust that Jesus is praying for you, too, and listen closely to his instructions on what love looks like. The world is waiting for you. God goes with you.
Thanks be to God. Amen.