When my children were little – I raised five children, so that seemed like a very long season indeed – we had a system of sharing the chores. Most large families have them. Ours was called The Chore List and it included taking out the garbage, loading or emptying the dishwasher, walking or feeding the dog – you get the idea. There’s never enough time to get everything done around the house, and sharing the work makes it possible to keep the chaos at bay. It’s also a great way to teach children how to do the things that need to get done…at least in theory.
I say that, because the reality was that every time I had to enforce the Chore List, one of the children said “Why do I have to do it? Sam did a bad job of it last time, so now I’ve got twice as much work to do.” Or “Why do I have to do it? Allie didn’t have to do it last week when she was sick, and I’ve got a headache.”
I tell you this, because in our gospel this morning, we’re missing a key part of the story – the question that Judas (NOT Iscariot) asks Jesus that prompts our gospel passage. He says “Lord, how is I that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”
And that begs the question of why Judas asks this question…it’s because Jesus has just said, “I’m out of here. I’ll be supporting you, through the Holy Spirit, but now it’s your responsibility to share the truth and the way.” No wonder Judas asks his question! Even though it is couched in more formal language than we or our children would use, Judas is saying “Why do we have to do it?”
And the unspoken words behind that “why do we have to it” are “it’s hard, and we don’t want to have to do it.”
Sort of like my kids and emptying the dishwasher. Because it would be so much easier if Mom emptied the dishwasher – she knows how and it’s her job because she’s the mom, after all. Because it would be so much easier if Jesus kept on teaching and doing miracles – he knows how and it’s his job, right? But maybe my most important job as a mother was to teach my children to be self-reliant, and maybe Jesus’ most important job was to equip the disciples to be able to carry on the work, to share the gospel, to baptize, and even on occasion and with God’s help, to carry out a miracle or two. And that meant that on occasion Jesus might have to say "why? because I said so."
A couple of years ago I celebrated one of those big “round-number” birthdays. The children, all grown up now, asked what I wanted. I said that I wanted them to come down to Richmond and gather and cook me a meal, after all the meals I had served them over the years.
Now, friends, you need to know that the two eldest boys – they’re men, not boys, to be accurate – are the cooks for their families. Each is married and has two kids, and they love to cook, and they do it well. The next son also cooks brilliantly – and he runs the cocktail program at a high-end San Francisco restaurant – we used to call it being a bartender, but now it’s “running the cocktail program” since he invents all sorts of amazing drinks, including the Steph Curry, which is definitely a slam dunk. The next son is a fine cook as well, as his girlfriend will attest, and my daughter can more than hold her own in any kitchen anywhere, particularly when it comes to baked goods. The housekeeping education didn’t stick, but my goodness, the cooking lessons sparked a lifetime love of cooking for them all!
So when I asked for this gift of their presence and their cooking, what ensued was pretty similar to the planning of the D-Day invasion. Emails flew back and forth to decide on the menu and who would cook what- some trash talking about the others’ skill level as well, since nothing ever changes when it comes to sibling interactions – and eventually they came up with a plan for a feast beyond compare. They knew they needed to make food that not only showed off their skills, but was something the grandchildren would eat, and that would accommodate various allergies, food restrictions, and such. Matt would make a pasta dish, Chris would grill a spiced pork loin, Bryce would do apps, Sam would serve as sous-chef and salad maker, and Allie would help my husband with the dessert and “other duties as assigned.” My daughters-in-law and I hid out in the living room as every bowl, every utensil, every pot and every square inch of the kitchen was put to use. Occasionally one of the troops would come in to say “have you got any____?” I’d tell them where to find it – they had sent a shopping list to my husband for most of what they needed but they knew I would have basics already in the house.
For several hours they occupied the kitchen, and I do mean “occupied,” and at the end of it all we gathered around the dining room table for an amazing meal, made all the more amazing by storytelling, by laughter, by shared experience, by the transformative power of lessons learned and possibilities come to fruition.
Late that night I thought about the wonderful evening, but I also thought about the exhaustion of all the nights I had spent with the kids as they were growing up, saying “you need to figure out how to do this stuff, since I won’t always be there to clean up after you,” the push-back, the arguments, the “why do I have to do it?”, the “because I’m the mom and I said so,” the eventual sullen compliance…
…and I thought about Jesus, sitting with the disciples, so often probably thinking to himself “are these folks ever going to get it? Will they be able to carry on when I am no longer with them?”
…and now I think about Jesus, having this conversation with them at the Last Supper immediately before his betrayal and death, and Judas, not Iscariot, saying “why do WE have to do it?”
…and I think of his gentle answer, when he says in essence, “I’ll still be with you, even if I am not with you physically. You will carry the lessons you’ve learned from me. It’s not really that hard and I know you can do it. Just keep on keeping my word, and you will be blessed and be a blessing.”
I expect for many of you, worry about the future looms large. The arrival of Padre Lee has been delayed by government paperwork – bureaucracy! – and it’s been a long time. When is he going to get here permanently? When will we have our ordained leader once and for all? But this reading from the Gospel of John is a wise reminder – it’s not about the leader, because you all have the capacity to be faithful leaders. You have learned from Jesus and from all the priests who have served you over the years. You all have pulled together to be the church, because the church is all of you. Those of us with the collars, we have a specific role to play in the life and worship of the church. Priests come and priests go, but the church is the people, not just the priest.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’ because you already are being church in so many of the ways that really count. Trust that Jesus is with you, that the Holy Spirit continues to inform and guide the work of God’s faithful people in this place.
You are meant to lead right now, and you are leading. Why do we have to? Because Jesus is the Lord, and he says so.