Taking the next step

It’s graduation season. In fact, our parish school had its graduation yesterday.

It was great to see the joy of our graduates. To see all of their hard work pay off. But you have to admit that graduations are full of mixed signals.

They graduated, because they finished what they were doing. But the official term for finishing what they were doing is called "commencement." Which means to start.

Somehow, it's the end and the beginning. And all at the same time.

Today is Pentecost. Pentecost ends the Easter season. While Pentecost has its own meaning, that meaning is also part of something bigger, something that includes the Resurrection and the Ascension.

The Resurrection and the Ascension complete much of what Easter started. Everything that Jesus told the Apostles would happen with his death? It all comes into focus. But it's also clear that the Ascension isn't the last word.

Pentecost is the last word. At least as far as Easter is concerned.  Now we know what Jesus meant about receiving the Holy Spirit.

But it's also the start, the start of something that's never been seen before.  Pentecost is an end.  But it’s also a beginning.

What does that mean? Well, we know there’s more to come. Jesus says as much in today’s Gospel – “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.”

What exactly is Jesus telling us?

Think about our graduates, and what it was like when each of us starting high school for a moment. Whether we were going to high school with all of our friends from eighth-grade, or headed off to some place where we knew nobody, you and I knew something about high school.

There was a four-year plan. If we wanted to, we could find out what it took to get through each class. It was all spelled out in advance.

We knew the work that we had to do, and the grades that we had to get. We knew that for each one of our classes. And we knew what it took to get through each quarter of high school.

We knew what it took to get through each year of high school. We knew that if we got through freshman year, we would move on to sophomore year. And that was the entire pattern for high school.

We knew, every step of the way, exactly what it was going to take to get us to the next step. And we also knew exactly where we were going, what it took to graduate.

We had the big picture in front of us, along with every step needed to get us there. Spelled out in advance in more detail than any student ever cares to know.  

Everything we’ve seen in this liturgical year, from Advent to Pentecost, carefully maps out every step of the journey. We know exactly what’s coming next. We know how it all fits together. How it all flows, one step at a time. With its foundation going all the way back to creation itself. How it ties into everything the prophets said. How it fulfills everything that they hoped for. How every step of the journey shows us that God is good for His word. That God can be trusted.

All of it comes together to bring us to the central moment of human history, Christ’s death and resurrection.

What comes next after that moment is very different from what you and I experienced after high school. After high school, it was up to us. We were on our own to deal with the next step.

Life after Pentecost is very different from life after high school. Pentecost is all about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In each and every one of us. Because of that, we are not on our own to deal with the next step in life.

We know how this all ends. We know who we are, and whose we are. That hasn’t changed.

But our life in Christ doesn’t come with a detailed four-year plan that shows us every step of the way, complete with regular quizzes, quarterly examinations, and annual promotions to mark our progress.

Think of it this way. When you’re driving at night, how far down the road can you see with your headlights? About 100 feet, maybe a little more. You certainly can’t see where you’re trying to get to, 20 miles away. Which is why none of us ever drive anywhere at night.

Right, that’s ridiculous. We all drive at night, even though we can’t see our ultimate destination 20 miles away. Instead, we are so used to driving in that little patch of road that our headlights light up, that we don’t even think about the fact that we can only see 100 feet at a time in our 20-mile trip.

Without even thinking about it, we take that first 100-foot step, and then another 100-foot step, and then another 100-foot step. And we know that as long as we keep doing what we need to do, 100 feet at a time, we will get where we want to go. We take the step, because we trust that it’s going to get us there. Even though we can’t see our final destination just right now.

Which is exactly what’s behind Pentecost, what’s behind the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God knows where we’re going.  God has the big picture, for each and every one of us.  There is nothing that will ever happen to you will cause God to say, “boy, I didn’t see that coming.”

God also knows each of us well enough to know that you and I can’t handle the big picture. But instead of giving up on us, God loves us enough to give it to us in a way that we can handle. One step at a time. Trusting Him to provide everything we need for the next hundred feet.

With the blessed assurance that even though we can’t see all of the steps, we don’t have to do it alone. That God will be with us always, and that the next step is ready and waiting for us. All we have to do is trust God. And take it.

Which leaves this question – do you trust God enough to take the next step?

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