"Pentecost Parenting" – John 14:8-17
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
A friend of mine from college – a recently widowed mother of three – ranted on Facebook a month or so ago about being scolded by another parent for letting her 10 year-old daughter walk 6 blocks home by herself. They live in a small city, just outside of Columbus, Ohio, called Grandview Heights. It is a far cry from a hotbed of crime, and her daughter was used to navigating the streets of London (the UK London) since that’s where they lived until just last year. So her rant was about the culture of fear in which we live, and a reaction against the readiness with which too many of us jump to criticize the parenting styles and choices of others.
Last week, I read an interesting blog about the modern-day phenomenon known as “helicopter parenting.” “Helicopter parenting,” I suspect you’ve heard, is the tendency for parents to hover – some would say in unhealthy, unhelpful ways – over the lives of their children, in order to protect them from getting hurt; to keep them from making bad choices; to shield them from everything from existential failure to hurt feelings and skinned knees.
I’ve heard about dads willing to pull strings so their kid will be sure to make the team. I’ve heard of moms who do their child’s homework. I’ve even heard of parents who call directors of Human Resources in Fortune 100 companies to go over the performance evaluations of their grown, adult, professional children. Again, it’s all about unnatural, unhealthy, impossible attempts, really, to shield kids from getting hurt or experiencing adversity or having to struggle in any way. And, to be fair, it’s much easier to see in the actions and attitudes of someone else, than it is to see when we look in the mirror.
Anyway, it may seem strange, but all of it made me think about our confirmation kids and about today’s Gospel about Philip, “the Advocate” Jesus promises, and the business of Pentecost Sunday.
One way to talk about Pentecost is to call it the birthday of the church. We celebrate it 50 days after Easter’s resurrection, to coincide with why the disciples gathered in Jerusalem at that time back in the day – the Jewish Festival of Weeks, which marked the end of the Passover. While they were gathered, as we just heard, some crazy stuff happened – there was a sound like the rush of wind; there were tongues of fire; they started speaking in languages they didn’t know they knew; things were so strange and crazy, people out on the streets thought they were drunk.
Not long before, of course, Jesus had left them to their own devices, you might say. He was gone again, and they were wondering what to do next…how to carry on, how to tell the story, answer the call, how to share the Good News, how to continue on the Way of faith, and so on, without their leader at the helm. It may have felt like Jesus had left them to walk The Way, without any guidance, or support, or encouragement, or care. Like the opposite of a helicopter parent, Jesus left whatever was to be next, up to the disciples; his followers; his friends and family; the ones he referred to as “little children.”
But how dare he, really?! These who had proven to be so flawed and faithless so much of the time, were all of a sudden left to carry on with the ministry of bringing God’s kingdom of love and mercy and justice and peace to bear upon the world as they knew it? How could he, really, have expected that to fly? How could they, really, have expected to be up to the challenge of all of that?
And doesn’t it feel that way, still, so much of the time?
There is so much wrong with the Church in the world today – so much evil “done and left undone” in the name of Jesus and God and faith and religion – it’s tempting to just want God to hover, to hold our hand, to shield, protect, guide, and choose for us at every turn, so that we’ll stop screwing things up the way we’re so inclined to do. And so that this kingdom we long for – full of grace and mercy and peace, and more – will just come to pass, already. But it’s clear, our God is no “helicopter Father,” as it were.
And while God doesn’t hover, or helicopter, or whatever, God does not leave us abandoned altogether, either.
We aren’t alone. We aren’t left, entirely, to our own devices. We are flawed and faithless, too much of the time, just like those first disciples. God knows we will suffer and struggle. There will be trials and hardships that cut as deeply as anything we fear for our kids: We will not make the team and we will not get the job. We will fail the test and we will fail in our relationships. We will hurt others and we will be hurt, ourselves. We will get sick and lose loved ones, and lose hope, and lose faith, and lose our way, from time to time.
And, like Philip, we will long for proof of something more. “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied. Give us a sign. Show us some evidence. Let’s have some clear instruction about what to do, where to go, how to be.”
And we are promised this Advocate, as nebulous and vague and mysterious as that can be. We are given this Holy Spirit, this power of God, alive and well, in our midst, encouraging us, nourishing us, forgiving us when we fail, filling us when we’re empty, finding us when we’re lost, and comforting us when we’ll let it.
And I can’t help but wonder if we’re meant to find this Holy Spirit most precisely in those moments when we’re most lost, most lonely, most desperate, and most in need of an Advocate in the face of whatever suffering and struggle comes our way.
That blog I mentioned…the one that advocated an alternative to “helicopter parenting”… that suggested there is some value in keeping our distance as parents; in letting our children learn the hard way… that blog suggested that a sort of antidote to “helicopter parenting” might be called the “let them bleed” style of parenting. The presumption, of course, is that children are going to suffer and struggle no matter how hard we try to keep them from it. So, “letting them bleed” every once in a while is an exercise in learning from mistakes, healing from injuries, enduring in the face of trials, and so on, all of which is more than a little Biblical…and holy…and real… and faithful, it seems to me. And it isn’t easy, either.
But it seems like a faithful way to see what God accomplishes through Jesus, this “let them bleed” style of parenting. There was a cross, after all…and a crucifixion… and a tomb, to be sure. And there was resurrection… and new life… and second chances, just the same.
All of which is our calling and our hope, on this Pentecost Sunday.
We have this Holy Spirit – this Advocate – which is ours to share as much as it is ours to receive. And Jesus promises we will do great things under the influence of God’s Spirit – that because of its work among us, people may not be able to see the face of Jesus in the same way those first disciples like Philip did, but that through even the likes of you and me – when we get it right – the world will know about the love of God and the forgiveness of sins; people will experience generosity, mercy, peace, joy, grace, and hope.
And all of that because the Spirit of God is alive and well among us, because it’s a Spirit that lives and moves and breathes, in and among God’s people, so that the world will see and recognize God in its midst – not controlling, not manipulating, not avoiding hardship at every turn, or pretending that suffering doesn’t exist – but God in us, and God for us, and God through us, comforting, healing, forgiving, hoping – in spite of hardship, because of suffering – the way we have already been loved, by Jesus Christ, in the first place.