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When It's Best To Leave!

John 15:26; 16:4b-15

It is never easy to see someone we love depart, even when we know it's for the best.

Often, parents who pack up their child's belongings as the child heads off to college have to
fight back the tears, even though they are proud of their child and have hoped for a long time to see this day.
Every bit of clothing, each record album, and every book that goes in the box has a memory attached to it,
and the eyes grow moist.

A beloved minister announces to the congregation that a new call has come, a new congregation awaits,
and a move must take place.
The congregation has known this time would come someday, and they also truly believe and trust
that this is the call of God and the right thing to do.
And yet, it is so hard to let their minister go.

A friend is given a promotion, and this means locating in another town.
We rejoice, of course, for our friend, but the sight of the moving van in front of our friend's house is a bitter sight.
"It's for the best," we say to ourselves, " but still..."
Imagine, then, how the disciples must have felt when Jesus told them He was going away.

"Where I am going," He told them, "You cannot follow." (John 13:36)
Jesus had been their light, their life, their shepherd, and now He was departing from them.
They heard His promise, perhaps even dimly believed His word, that His going away was necessary
and for the best, still... It is never easy to see someone we love depart, even when we know it's for the best.

How is it that leaving someone you love, going away from someone who loves you, is ever for the best?
Sometimes it is for the good of the one who leaves.
The child who leaves for college or to begin working and living independently would always remain a child
unless there is a separation from parents.
This is a departure toward maturity and adulthood.

A person who leaves a stifling but safe and secure job and ventures out to new work and new challenges
can be strengthened and invigorated by the change.
Sometimes the one who leaves is the one who receives the good.

But on other occasions, the departure of a loved one is best for those who are left behind.

A wise teacher knows when to help the students with the assignment, but also knows when to leave
the classroom, forcing them to struggle with material on their own.

A congregation whose minister retires after 25 years of ministry may discover, in the minister's absence,
new understandings of what it means to be the people of God.

A counselor may upset a patient by saying, " I don't need to see you anymore,"
knowing that only through separation will the patient find sources of inner strength.

Sometimes leaving is best for those who are left behind, and in the deepest way possible
this is true of Jesus' leaving.
"It is to your advantage that I go away," He tells the disciples.
Those must surely have been difficult words for them to hear.
They could not imagine bearing the absence of Jesus; now He asks them to trust that His leaving is actually
to their advantage.
How could this be?

"If I go away," Jesus says, "I will send the counselor, the Holy Spirit to you."

In other words, the disciples must relinquish their understanding of the Jesus they have known
in order to receive the Spirit of the risen Christ who calls them into God's future.
Jesus Christ will be with them, but in a new and empowering way.
They will move from being followers of a man who preached in Palestine to being witnesses of the Christ
whose power fills the earth.
They will change from a band of disciples gathered around a rabbi to the church of Jesus Christ,
carrying on the work of God in the world.

The same is true for us, as well.
Sometimes we have an understanding of Jesus Christ that is too small, too local,
and too much a mirror of our own desire.
When we do, God comes to give us the true Christ by taking away our little images.
That is what the Spirit does.

We often resist saying, "No, I want the Jesus I have always loved, the Jesus I have always known.
I can't bear to be without Him
."

But then, we hear again the promise, "It is to your advantage... I will send the Spirit of the true Christ
to redeem and to comfort you
."

Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White