Saying Hello By Saying Goodbye
This week Facebook sent me a memory of something I posted five years ago. It was bittersweet to say the least. It was a collection of photos of my daughter Colleen and I as we drove from Michigan to California. It was a bittersweet because on one hand we were saying goodbye to a toxic work situation that was damaging my ministry and hurting my family. And yet, to do so, we had to say goodbye to so many people we had grown close to and loved very dearly.
Today is another such bittersweet moment in that we’re saying goodbye to something that is dear to us, our church name. Yet, in doing so, we welcome a new way to gather and live out the gospel of love together. While a part of me is excited about the new venture, there is a part of me that feels like we are abandoning our baby.
As we all know, good-byes are never easy. For those of us who follow the way of Jesus, we are given the assurance that we are never really saying goodbye. But more like saying, “I’ll see you later.” It might sound like a bit of semantic gymnastics, but it does offer us a bit of hope. Especially when the world around us seems so full of hopelessness.
I’m sure the disciples had no idea what to expect when they dropped their nets and left their homes to follow Jesus. I couldn’t tell you if it was easy or hard for them. If their life, in the short term, got better or worse. What I do know is as they stepped into that space between, they did so together, in community. Jesus knew this would be no easy task. And so, before he leaves them, Jesus assures them that he will always be with them, only in a new way.
READ: John 14:15-24
Let’s begin by setting the scene. Jesus is reclining at the table with his disciples. Their bellies are full of the last Passover meal they will share together. During the evening, Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples, including the betrayer. And he’s switched from referring to them as his students, to calling them his friends.
In the previous verses, Jesus tells the crew that he will no longer be with them. He is going away. When asked where he’s going, Jesus simply tells them “I’m going away to prepare a place for you.” His vagueness makes his friends anxious. I’m sure they have a million more questions. But John only gives us Jesus’ answer that they will not be left orphaned.
When I was looking for a passage to mark this occasion, I found myself drawn to this one because of the assurance Jesus gives to his friends and followers, who are us. A new teacher will come after Jesus who will move with us in that space between. That teacher, according to Jesus, is the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Truth.
Some translations say Advocate instead of teacher. But I like how Eugene Peterson in the Message uses the word “friend” instead. There’s something personal about it.
Whichever way the Holy Spirit is defined, the sentiment is the same. God has given us a teacher to teach us, an advocate to stand with us, and a friend to comfort us as we face the challenges ahead. Keeping this knowledge safe in our hearts, we know we will always have Christ with us as we move together in Anamesa. Thus, Jesus isn’t saying good-bye. Simply, “I will see you later.” He might have a new name, but his mission remains the same.
So how does this apply to us, today? We know that the Bible tells us Jesus will see his disciples again – post resurrection. That’s not what I’m talking about. Nor am I talking about seeing Jesus again in that place where he said he’s going to prepared for us. I’m talking about seeing him right now, in that space between heaven and earth. In the way we walk with intention, together in Anamesa.
Let’s go back to that room, and sit around the table with Jesus’ friends. Amid the anxiety and uncertainty, Jesus reminds us all, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The two greatest commandments, according to Jesus, are loving God and loving others. If we love him, we will make this our sole mission in life. Because by keeping his commandments we will see him, again and again, in every space we enter.
We will see him in the face of the poor, and in the eyes of the one’s crying out for help. We will see him in the line at the food pantry getting groceries for his family. Or marching on our streets in protest to the injustice that remains unbridled. For when we care for another, we are caring for Jesus. Likewise, when we show love to another, we do also to him.
So, here’s the thing…if you say you love Jesus, then you can’t help but love those who you meet in all the sacred spaces of life. The call to love is first a call to Jesus: to know him, to live his life, and to walk his path. When we walk as he walked, we can love as he loved, and see others as he saw them – as beloved children made in God’s image.
Therefore to love Jesus is to be forever connected to God. When we are connected to God, we are able to see God’s Son in all things. When we recognize this, that God is in all things, then we will be able to love others as if we are loving Jesus himself. Love is the spirit by which we must move ourselves and this church forward. God gives us the Holy Spirit to get us there by reminding us of who Jesus is. And what we are called to do.
God has given us the same Holy Spirit that was given to Jesus, who sees a person open to salvation when the world only sees a conniving tax collector.
God has given us the same wisdom that was given to Jesus, who sees someone who can reclaim a pure life, when the world sees only a woman caught in adultery, or a criminal pleading for mercy.
God has given us the same power that was given to Jesus, who sees a solid foundation for the church when the world sees only Peter, a man of flimsy faith.
This should make us all pause to wonder what Jesus sees in you and me. Or what others notice too. When a person looks at you, do they only see what’s wrong with the world, or do they see the One who redeems it?
In the absence of a physically present Jesus, our daily practice of walking in his way makes the presence and love of God come to life in the world.
This was our intention when I first gathered with about 35 other people in that space behind me to say hello to this new church plant here in Sherman oaks. Over that time we have learned the way of Jesus. We’ve learned what it means to be disciples and followers and lovers of the Christ.
Today, we gather from all over the place to say good-by to a name, but our mission remains the same. We will keep our focus on loving God, loving others and serving both. This is the Way of Jesus. The way of God’s salvation, for us and for the world. Now we are being called to live that Way so others can learn from us.
It won’t be long before Jesus’ friends realize that they too are not saying goodbye to their beloved teacher, but are in fact saying hello to the rest of their lives. And that they will always see him in all the ways they live out the gospel. Now it’s our turn to join them as we look ahead, moving forward, onward and upward welcoming every new day as a new opportunity to see Jesus and bring his way to life.
Just as we welcome Jesus into our hearts, let us welcome his Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, the creator of all life.
Just as we have opened our hearts to Christ, let us also open our hearts to the Spirit of Truth, the gift of God to empower the people of God to move throughout the world as the visible presence of God’s Incarnate love.
And let us join together, in the name of our Creator, our Savior, and our Sustainer, to not just enter the holy and sacred spaces of life, but to define what it means to live in Anamesa, the place where we can always see Jesus, and forever be with him, to the glory of his name, Amen.
Let us pray:
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has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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