"When The Apron Strings Were Cut"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 31, 2009

Psalm 104:24-34; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15


    One of America’s best loved artists was Norman Rockwell.  He had a remarkable way of recreating on canvas various pictorial images that captured pivotal moments that most Americans experience during their lives.  The other day I opened a book that holds a large collection of his work and found several examples of people preparing for the next phase of their lives, a transition that is often filled with unknowns

     There is a picture of a tom-boy holding a football.  She is wearing a facial expression of “Come on Mom, the guys are waiting for me!”  Her mother had her wearing a dress and was combing her hair, hoping to awaken her feminine side. 

     A second picture featured a father and his son sitting together on the running board of their car.  The son is packed and ready to go off to college for the first time and Dad is sharing some of his distilled wisdom.  It’s called, Breaking Home Ties.   

     Finally, there is a picture of a couple filling out the necessary papers in order to obtain a wedding license.  We cannot stop the future from coming and we certainly cannot anticipate all the uncertainty that will accompany every next phase of our lives. 

     What was happening between Jesus and his disciples in our lesson today is very much like any of these Rockwell scenes.  Jesus was preparing them for the eventual severance from his apron strings.  He realized that the disciples would never grow up as long as he was with them always offering guidance, settling their disputes and teaching them better ways to perceive their experiences.  He knew they were still spiritual infants.           

     This was a very sad time for these men who had been together for three years.  Psychologists call the result of having such experiences separation anxiety.  Jesus was telling them that he was soon going to return to God. He framed his exit with these words, “It is better for you that I go away, because if I do not go, the Helper will not come to you.  When the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, that Spirit will lead you into all the truth.”           

     An interesting question to ask is this:  Was Jesus really planning on sending the Holy Spirit to guide them after his death, an act that would have easily created the same dependence? Or, was this explanation his way of telling them that they were going to enter the next phase of their lives?  After a time of uncertainty that would require some adjustment, they would be just fine.           

     I remember several years ago watching a news story unfold that had many adults worried.  A Boy Scout had become separated from his patrol while they were trekking through a formidable wilderness.  I do not remember the circumstances concerning how he became separated, but his turning up missing was the cause for a major search effort.  He was alone and the sun was setting.  He could hear nothing but the sounds of nature. There was no Scout Master to offer guidance and support.  

     Interestingly enough the young man did not panic. However, he was far from comfortable and secure.   Even though the temperatures were in the low 40’s every night, he knew how to stay warm.  Natural springs provided the water he required and he had packed quite a few energy bars.  He had a compass, plus he knew how to read the contour of the land and he understood how to track the movements of the sun.  To the relief of everyone, searchers found him coming down one of the trails three days later.  The survival skills he learned as a Scout helped to save his life.           

     The disciples probably never considered what life would be like without Jesus in their midst.  We get a glimpse into their immediate mindset when they were confronted with the large fundamental fact that the continuance of Jesus’ ministry was now up to them. “Simon Peter said to the others, ‘I am going fishing.’  We will come with you, they told him.” (John 21:3)  That is what they did. 

     Leaderless, the disciples were going back to what they thought they knew best – the profession they were engaged in when Jesus called them to become disciples.   Jesus literally cut the apron strings and the disciples found themselves on their own.  In their own minds they were not up for the task.  They did not want to continue if Jesus was no longer going to be there to lead them.           

     If we go back to those Rockwell paintings, the young boy sitting on the running board of his Dad’s car probably was not listening to a thing his Dad was telling him.  He had never been on his own before and the dawning realization that he would be was no doubt unsettling.  The couple getting the wedding license had no idea what life would be like living with the same person day after day.  Were they ready for marriage?  Had they considered all the new adjustments they would have to make?           

     The process of human evolution begins once our umbilical cords are cut and we are no longer nourished by our mothers.  The perfect meals that Mom provided in her womb abruptly end.  We awaken to a new world where we are surrounded with sugar coated cereals, burgers and fries, bloomin onions from the Outback Steakhouse, hot fudge sundaes and sodas with their twelve tablespoons of sugar.  Appropriate nourishment is now our responsibly, not our mother’s.           

     Once one of our parents takes off the training wheels from our bicycles and finally stops holding onto the back of our seat, we begin developing confidence to ride without assistance and that opens up a brave new world.  One day we may find ourselves riding a Harley-Davidson because we started on a tricycle and grew as our confidence accelerated.  Jesus knew the spirit of doing what he had taught them would come once they personalized his message and began to teach it to others.           

     As marvelous as our celebration of Pentecost appears to be in our Christian tradition, did the coming of the Helper, this Holy Spirit, truly change the lives of the disciples?  Were they given some special qualities that they did not possess while Jesus was alive?  The only thing the Scriptures reveal is that they developed confidence to hold together their fragile, often flagging group of believers.           

     Once again, Jesus said, “It is better for you that I go away, because if I do not go, the Helper will not come to you.  When the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, that Spirit will lead you into all the truth.”  Is this not the experience many of us have had throughout our lives?            

     One day a young man came home from school and he had been knocked around by a bully.  His mother noticed that his eye was swollen and his nose had some dried blood on it.  He told her what happened and she asked, “What would you like me to do?  How can I help you?”  He said, “You can’t do anything, mom.  This is my battle.  I am going to learn how to fight with more skill.”  His mother responded, “Is that who you want to be?  Do you want to be exactly like him, only stronger and more skilled?”  Her son fell silent.           

     His mother sat down with him and said, “Honey, when you eventually leave home to find your way in the world, you are always going to find people who do not share your values.  Some of them may become your superiors in the work place.  Some of them may be in organizations to which you belong.  One day you may marry one.  If you allow them to mold you into their likeness, you will lose your identity.  Always remember that people who have settled for being bullies have not learned how to give and receive love.  Touchy people never get touched.  Angry people are abandoned by everyone who is not like them.”           

     The young man thought about that lesson for some time.  The next week the bully struck again. He grabbed the boy and threw him up against the lockers.  He said, “I am going to kick your butt.”  The helpless boy said, “Do you know that I would much rather become your friend?”  The bully froze and slowly released him.  He did not know how to respond.  It was during that moment that a different spirit came to their relationship from that day on.  No tongues of fire.  No rushing winds.  No speaking in tongues.  

          A similar transformation took place between another bully and Jesus.  That bully’s name was Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector.   Jesus called out, “Come down from that tree, I want to have lunch with you today.”  During their brief time together Zacchaeus was transformed into a different person, willing to give half his wealth to the poor and to pay back 400 percent to anyone he may have cheated.           

     What took place between Jesus and Zacchaeus had nothing to do with rushing winds, tongues of fire and speaking in strange languages.  Jesus said to his disciples, “It is better for you that I go away, because if I do not go, the Helper will not come to you.  When the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, that Spirit will lead you into all the truth.”            

     The disciples had to learn on their own that all they had to do to make a difference in life was to show up in every circumstance committed to one purpose – to show compassion then love and God would do the rest.  Do we believe that?  Do we trust that?  Or, are we looking for God to equip us with some unique, special ability that we never had? 

     We can spend the rest of our lives looking for God to bless us with some very special ability.  It may never come no matter how much we believe or how strong our faith is.  However, when we begin using what we have, it is God who brings a special spirit to an estranged relationship, to our minds when we let go of a massive hurt and to our spirits when we cease making judgments and pointing fingers of blame. 

     Pentecost is the celebration of that spirit.  That spirit has been with us all the time.  Jesus was teaching his disciples “Don’t look for another external me to show you the way.  You bring the healing, the forgiveness, and the compassion – then a new spirit will come to your relationships.  Pentecost is the celebration of the spirit that comes when our love is shared.


     Gracious God, we thank you for your constant faithfulness and patience with us.  While our lives are filled with drama, rushed schedules and routines, we want to greet each moment with a peaceful spirit.  Yet there are times when we delay your plans by substituting our own.  Help us to understand that where we are is a perfect place to reveal the qualities that bring healing and understanding.  Cause us to remember that anger and worry reveal our own poverty in trusting you for the outcome of all things.  All that Jesus asked of us was to show up in every circumstance fully present and willing to bring compassion.   Remind us that making judgments and engaging in blaming only reveal who we are.  Teach us to use words and calming emotions that help others to move beyond what they perceive is happening, to what is possible.  Amen. 


     Merciful and compassionate God, our lives are frequently ones that track in routine ways until they are impacted by an event or circumstance that threatens our security, our peace and our sense of order.  We tend to respond with our instincts rather than with the teachings of the Master.   Sometimes our reactions are swift and filled with judgments.  Only through reflection does hindsight teach us that there was another way to respond that would have been far more compassionate.

     As we celebrate Pentecost this morning, may we be reminded that the spirit in which we live is far superior to our looking for you to act in some spectacular manner.  We remember the time when Elijah stood at the mouth of a cave and discovered that you were not in the wind, fire and the earthquake, but in the still, small voice.  Help us to realize that because of the one we follow, we have been taught the value of understanding that it is up to us to bring peace, patience, acceptance and compassion into all our relationships.  Our failure to give those qualities away does not mean that they are not there waiting to be used. 

     What the world needs is for us to show up in every circumstance fully present with the skills of spirit.  Help us to recall that Jesus sent us into the world to be agents of change.  Help us call to mind that we were asked to help people transform their lives by teaching them how to love, how to transcend their anger and how to remember that you are the creator and all that we can become are instruments of your unfolding will.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of our Lord, Jesus Christ who taught us to say when we pray . .