Acts 1:1-11; John 17:6-19

Time With Young People

Sunday School ended today. How many days are left in school? (Answer: 7) Let’s think about the last day of school. There’s all kinds of packing up, celebrating the year, and sharing some final ideas. Jesus’ followers had something like that in today’s readings. One reading was on the final night before Jesus’ arrest, and the other was in the final moments before he went up to heaven after the resurrection. Teachers often say the most important things at the very end of the year, so if you’re in school, be sure to listen for them. I suspect that many teachers also say special prayers for their students at the end of the year, so know that those are being offered for you.

What does Jesus say on the “last day of school”? He says, “You’ll carry my message to everyone who needs to hear it.” He promises to be with us in the Holy Spirit, the power of creative love within us. In the reading from John, he prays for us – for our protection, unity, and strength. We know that we’re never praying alone: the church prays for you and so does Jesus.

Meditation

Another goodbye I say more frequently is when I’m leaving our dog Duncan at home. Leaving him at home was stressful at first – not because we didn’t know he’s a dog who can handle himself, but because he’d freak out if he felt like he was missing out on an activity. Our first lesson from Cesar Millan was to always practice a calm, routine departure. Our ritual included saying the same thing every time: “I’ll be back later, be a good boy.” There was a huge change in the process. It’s been years since he’s panicked at our leaving, but we still say that each time: “I’ll be back later, be a good boy.”

It occurred to me that Jesus is saying the same thing to his apostles: “I’m leaving, but I’ll be back.” It’s like what I say to the dog: you’re alone, but you’re not abandoned. Jesus says that you’ll know how to handle this because the Spirit of Love will be with you. It may be easy to miss this in the imperative statements – go tell the story, make disciples, even “I send you out just like I was sent” (which can read, “go be like me”) – but that’s not really what Jesus said. He did say to go be witnesses, but first, he said to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon you. Dwell in prayer before you go out. Really Jesus says, “I’m leaving, but I’ll be back – in fact, I’m never quite gone.” He is always returning, especially by the power of the Holy Spirit.

My dog might click with that. Part of leaving with “I’ll be back, be good” is that he doesn’t have to stand staring at the door for me. He’s free to move through the house, following all the rules, because they still apply. It’s not precisely as if I were still there, I’m sure, but it’s pretty close. We could do worse than to live as if Jesus’ way of life still applies, as if he’s coming home and will know if we’ve been loving. The key difference is that Jesus doesn’t say “be good.” It’s not “I’ll be home later and I expect you to follow the rules.” That’s good enough for dogs, but it’s less so for us.

The thing is, Jesus didn’t ultimately come to tell us what to do. He came to tell us who we are. He came to show us what it is to be children of God, made by and for love. If you need to hear that as an imperative, great. Jesus gave us a new commandment if we need it, and we love to hear, sing, and know: “love one another.” But following that “rule” leads us beyond the rules. There’s no set of behaviors (or prohibitions) that fully encompasses love. Following Jesus ultimately leads us beyond rules. It leads us to witness to God’s presence in the world, to live God’s presence in ourselves.

Incidentally, that’s why you dress funny at commencement – because the ceremony is not just about receiving a credential, it’s about assuming an identity. You don’t say, “I finished high school,” you say, “I am a high-school graduate.” We put you in a bathrobe and funny hat because you’re becoming something other than what you were. The commencement address is about saying one more time (or for the first time) who you are now.

I wonder if Jesus dressed his disciples funny for the final prayer from John. It’s all about who they are now, which is God’s people, no longer subjects of “the world.” We no longer belong to the forces of division and destruction; we have a new status as agents of caring, peace, and hope. We’re set apart for this, dedicated to God, as all God’s creation truly is, and we’re invited to live into that – not because it’s a project, but because it’s our true identity.

For the record (not that you’re dressed funny), that identity is this: you are gifts of God’s love. You are sons and daughters of the Eternal because Christ invites you into his eternal life. You are examples of what it means to be made new – always free to repent, forgive, and start over – and you are invited to learn what this means in your life. Whatever you do, wherever you go, you are God’s own blvd: created by love, redeemed by grace, and set apart by hope. You’re witnesses to what Christ would have for this world. So may you have the confidence and faith to venture into that reality.

Amen.

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