Mothers are always sending us out into the world. It’s one of their two or three primary duties. They’ve got to send us out, bring us back, and clean us up when we walk back in. Motherhood seems to be a never ending cycle of those three actions. There is one critical item to the motherly cycle of sending children (whether grown or not) into the world. What are you never, ever supposed to leave home without? Clean underwear. Yes, that’s right. You are always supposed to leave home as my grandmother used to say, “With a clean pair of drawers.” Why is that? Because, even though you may have been in an awful bus accident or run over by a cement mixer, it will reflect negatively on your mother or grandmother’s ability to keep house if they find you with a dirty pair of underwear. Your mother is afraid, that at the funeral, people will turn to each other and start to talk, “you know I hear he was found with dirty underwear. How could she send him out that way?” This, brothers and sisters is not the last gift you want to give to your mother; gossip at a church funeral.
There may have been other things about which your mother stressed. I always had a few clean tissues folded up neatly in my pocket. That was until I graduated to full-fledged handkerchief. She didn’t want me to be caught with either a face full or handful of mucus. Mother knew I had a genetic predisposition to snot filled violent sneezes. So, she sent me out with something unique to me and my needs. I suspect it was that way with each of you. Our mothers wanted us to be prepared for the world we would eventually face on our own and without them.
Enter, or should I say, exit Jesus. At some point Jesus knew his time with the disciples would end permanently. The resurrection was a temporary reality; designed to bridge the gap between the lives the disciples led with Jesus and what they would be asked to do without Jesus. Like a mother, Jesus was finally sending them out into the world without him, on their own, and to continue the work he started. Today is Ascension Sunday, the day Jesus steps back once and for all and gives the disciples their clean underwear.
What does Jesus giving the disciples a clean pair of theological underwear look like? For one, he tells them we’re taking this message from the particular to the universal. Since Israel came on the scene, Israel’s relationship with God has been the defining factor of its identity. God is our God and we are God’s people to the exclusion of every other nation, tribe, or God. This idea, as Jesus himself notes, is written in the stone of the 10 commandments and embodied by the Temple. This is changing. We’re going from the particular to the universal. God’s relationship will extend beyond Israel to the Universal, to everyone. It’s going to take another character, whom we’ve just barely met, named Paul to really take this idea to the streets. Starting from here in Jerusalem, Jesus says, I need you go to everyone. Think about it this way. Along time ago, God was placed in one room (in a big house) and told never to leave that room. We’re now saying God has the run of the whole house (which is like Planet Earth). Imagine the energy, enthusiasm, curiosity, and power God is going to want to go from place to place, room to room, and see what’s all over this big house? We’ve got to be there every step of the way. We are partners in the process.
We are being sent out, with our spiritually clean underwear, just as Mom would give us, to be partners with God. Our calling is to stay out a little past our bed times because the mono in monotheism doesn’t mean “God” is property of one group of people. God belongs to everybody, everywhere.
I told you it was Paul who really takes it to the streets. He’s the guy who kidnaps monotheistic jelly jar, opens the jar, and starts making Jesus peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone to eat. The key for Paul’s work, as he tells the Ephesians, is gratitude and prayer. Gratitude and prayer move God forward. They fill people up like one of mom’s good peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Gratitude and prayer go to places that are difficult to reach, just like a good sandwich does when you’re hungry.
Paul writes to the Ephesians. I’ve heard that the word is reaching you. This is a good thing. For Paul, this is a day like no other. This is a good day. Because it is a good day and good things are happening, prayer is an outgrowth of Paul’s gratitude. “I don’t stop giving thanks to you when I remember you in my prayers.” He might as well have said, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey.”
Just because we’ve made a little progress doesn’t mean we stop with the prayers and focus on your underwear and how we’ll feed the community with more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If we’re not grateful for how far we’ve come, we will never pray our way forward. We will become monotheists once again, not because we worship one God, but because our worship of one God stops and ends with us.
Paul goes on to say, I pray that the “eyes of our hearts will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call,” we’re called to share this sunshine idea of one God with many people. Prayers and gratitude; Paul like our mothers spent much time in prayer and giving thanks. It’s also a key to opening our own hearts to ministering to everyone.
Listen to me! Every child wants to be listened to! What do we do as soon as we come home from school? We listen to what happened that day at school. Everyone wants to be heard but it is so important to listen to what is being said and unsaid. I do enjoy the stories from school. Who sat with who, who’s mad at who, and all the goings and comings of their lives. I can say much of this because most of them are gone this weekend. Paul also says listening is key to being sent out, with our clean gospel underwear, into the big wide world.
“Since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people,” Paul tells the Ephesians. He’s been listening to them, hearing about them, and paying attention to their stories. I imagine Paul heard many stories. The Corinthians were loveless jerks, the Galatians were hard to get along with, and the Philippians were big into sports metaphors. Somehow, through it all, he heard the Ephesians were running on all cylinders. Many of the churches he worked with had trouble working with “all God’s people”. That’s why that phrase is notable. We’re supposed to love “all God’s people”. How well are we listening to the God things going on around us? Or are we simply feeding of the shared negativity?