John 15: 9-17
Will you join with me in one more round of Surely the Presence to pray us into sermon time?
Our scripture reading for this morning which Josh read from the Gospel of John is a portion of what is known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. In these four or so chapters, the disciples and Jesus have shared a meal and Jesus is taking the opportunity to say an intentional goodbye. He is sharing what he knows lies ahead and reminding his closest kindred what the core of their shared ministry is.
There are two pieces about this text that have been playing in my heart this week. The first is the content that Jesus is sharing: love one another as I have loved you. I will say more about that in a bit.
But the second is the intentionality with which Jesus is saying goodbye.
Pastor Don Portwood, Lyndale’s former pastor, used to talk about the difference between leaving out the front door and sneaking out the back. I love these images and it seems to me that Jesus, in our text, is showing how important leaving out the front door is for the person leaving AND for the people staying AND for the relationship going forward.
I’m going to ask Allan to play a scene now from the musical Hamilton. In this five minute exchange, George Washington is mentoring Alexander Hamilton on this very point of a good goodbye. [If you are reading you can watch here.]
We’re gonna teach ‘em how to say goodbye… I am struck by the younger Hamilton and his shock at Washington’s wisdom about saying goodbye. Hamilton fears that Washington will be seen as weak. It seems as if, for Hamilton, strength is connected to holding on, gripping tight. But Washington has the foresight and vision to recognize that his ability to let go and relinquish power will lay the foundation on which two hundred and forty-five years of the peaceful transfer of power has been laid. (And we pray will continue.)
Going out the front door… saying goodbye with intentionality… letting go as strength and courage that lay the foundation for that which comes after… the very act of saying a good goodbye as embodying the truth about what the relationship has been.
This past Thursday evening, the Stewardship Council and Associate Minnesota Conference Minister, Kelly Gallagher met with Rev. Ashley to do an exit interview. After a shared meal and checking in about our favorite TV shows and movies, we spent over an hour creating a space to have Ashley leave through the front door.
Now, I’m not suggesting that Ashley is Jesus or George Washington. She is A-mazing and a gift from God in my life and our life… and she’s not either of them.
But I do feel in my bones the importance of embodying the lessons of a good goodbye: in our individual lives and in our shared community life as Lyndale.
This morning, we are celebrating Mothers’ Day by remembering its roots in the work of abolitionist Julia Ward Howe who wrote a Mother’s Peace Day proclamation. Josh read it for us earlier. And one portion has been resonating with me as we pray about the ability to leave through the front door in a good goodbye.
“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
Tenderness, charity, mercy and patience.
And this is where the content of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse and the importance of a good goodbye weave together. Because both in Jesus’ Farewell Discourse and Washington’s Farewell Address, they embody a posture of tenderness, of letting go and trusting that their actions will bear fruit. For Jesus, his life and ministry have come down to this: love one another with the kind of love that pours itself out in generosity and abundance. Love one another so deeply that you are willing to lay down your life.
Jesus is both able to leave through the front door and intentionally chooses a good goodbye because he has spent his life choosing to be oriented toward tenderness. This connection is important. It seems to me that it is Jesus’ orientation: toward abundant love and a whole-hearted tenderness that is the point. And he is able to hold this orientation, through a good goodbye because he trusts that it isn’t just about him. It is, in the end, about God’s presence in the community. Washington echoes this trust: democracy is always an act of collective trust. The ministry lives on and grows precisely because the vision is embodied in the gathered body.
The same abundant love and whole-hearted tenderness is what Julia Ward Howe is calling us toward. It is the same orientation which makes for peace.
My friends, on this Mothers’ Day and as we prepare to say goodbye to Rev. Ashley, we are invited to remember Jesus’ invitation to love one another, and indeed the whole world, abundantly and with whole-hearted tenderness. We are invited to practice good goodbyes, leaving out the front door.