They have loved their children as best they could. They have trained them and nurtured them, disciplined them and encouraged them. They have tried to give them self-confidence and an appreciation of their unique gifts and abilities. They have tried to shape their character and mold their values. They’ve tried to inspire in them a vision of what life can be, and of what they can offer to the world. And now they are sending off these children of theirs, releasing them so that they can find their own way of being and loving in the world. As parents, they are aware of the challenges, the temptations, even the dangers, that will confront their children in these new settings. And so they pray for God’s protection, and for wisdom as they make choices, and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as they begin this new phase in their life’s journey.
I imagine that thoughts and feelings are not unlike what Paul was experiencing as he bid an emotional farewell to the elders of the Church at Ephesus. He takes care to remind them of their duty: they are overseers of the flock, shepherds of God’s chosen people. He recalls for them that they have been chosen by God for this purpose, entrusted by God with this mission. [Therefore they must rely wholeheartedly on God’s strength, not their own.] He warns them of the inevitable dangers they will face, of the “savage wolves” who will seek to destroy the sheep in their care, or lead them astray. With tears that reveal his deep love and concern for them, he commends them to God and to God’s grace, trusting that God is able to build them up, to sanctify in the truth, and to preserve them.
In a similar way, Jesus prays for his disciples as he prepares to leave them. He has trained them and nurtured them, and now he sends them out as he himself was sent, asking God to protect them and to make them one. He knows they will face hatred and rejection in the world, because their values are not the world’s values, and their ways are not the world’s ways. He recognizes the presence and power of evil in the world, and prays for their protection…as he does for ours.
We too have been chosen by God and consecrated to be God’s witnesses in the world. We have been sent into the world to testify to God’s saving love and grace. The mission we have been given is God’s mission, not ours, and it is on God that we must rely. Our comfort is this: we belong to God. “We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” Our safety is in God’s protection. Our success is in God’s strength working through our weakness. Our hope is in our complete dependence on God’s love and grace sustaining us. God sends us out with the love of a parent, promising to be with us always, encouraging us in our task and warning us of the dangers we will face. It is in this assurance – that we are not our own, but belong to God – that we find a sure comfort, in life and in death.
As you carry out your particular mission in the world today, remember that you are surrounded and upheld by this great love, a love greater even than the love of a parent for a child. Trust in that love. Abide in that love. Be that love.
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