Gospel of John, Ministry, Pentecost

We Can’t Handle It

My dream, as yet unfulfilled.

It is the Week of the Skunk. Or more precisely, skunks.

A guy from Lewiston I’m calling my New Best Friend set some traps in my yard, and when he came back and found only a pregnant possum and heard my report that the skunk had been seen nibbling the marshmallows at the door to the trap in the middle of the day, we had a talk about what would happen if she appeared to be rabid. “Then we’ll have to dispatch,” he said. “Call Animal Control,” I asked? “No. I’ll have to dispatch … her.”

I couldn’t handle it.

A clergywoman knew she had bats in the attic of her parsonage, and on a summer evening she distracted some children of the church by sending them to count the bats flying out from the eaves. 1, 2, 3. That was expected. 15, 16, 17. When does it start to get really creepy? They finally stopped counting at 450.

I really couldn’t have handled that.

I’ve been in the hospital when a beloved church member revealed more, shall we say, than I wanted to see. I’ve been on the phone with someone whose diagnosis brought my mother’s death right up in my face. I’ve gotten the email telling a story so much like my own that it makes me shudder.

I didn’t want to handle it.

In my first church, the organist resigned during announcements one Sunday morning after calling me out on referring to God as “She.” She gave a week’s notice, then sat down and waited to see what I would say.

I had to find a way to handle it.

Jesus, in the Common English Bible, tells the disciples, “I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.” He knew their limitations.

People won’t respect that boundary – really, why should they? I don’t always. I bet you don’t either. But if you’re the pastor, you’re supposed to know how to handle it.

The trouble comes when we decide we know everything we’ll ever need to know. We’ve achieved this stage in life – adult, seminarian, graduate, ordained pastor. We’ve read the Bible. We’ve prayed. We’ve discussed and pondered and written. We’re set.

Until we reach the next stage. And there is always a next one. (Just ask the oldest people in the room.)

“I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.”

Jesus knew how hard it was going to be for the disciples, but he also knew they would not be alone after he left them. He knew that just as he had come, part of God’s own self, to live in human form, so would the Spirit come to be available to his friends. The Spirit of Truth and Love would come to guide them and illumine them and inspire them. And it wasn’t just for that spring in Jerusalem, or the next five years, or the first three centuries of the new era his life began. It is true for us.

Here’s the tricky part.

You might think it would be easier for pastors. After all, it’s our job to attend to things of the Spirit, isn’t it?

(Please laugh now.)

Well, it’s true. But it’s also true that it’s our job to attend to people, and the world around us, and there are going to be medical crises that call up our personal history, and there are going to be skunks in the yard, the four-legged and maybe the two-legged, and there are going to be bats in the attic of the parsonage and in the belfry and in our own personal belfries…and possibly those of our church members, from time to time. There are going to be emails and phone calls and walk-by shootings in the receiving line that take our breath away.

There are going to be things we feel we just can’t handle, but we won’t have much choice about it. And those are the times we need the Spirit of God.

“I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.”

Thank goodness that isn’t the last word. I’m grateful Jesus did not leave his friends, or the rest of us, on that note, aware that there is more to know and not brought into the secret, left with the conclusion that we just aren’t ready to comprehend…yet.

We can’t handle it, not alone.

But God will allow things to unfold at the right time, when we’re ready. In the Spirit of Truth, there is a New Best Friend better than any other. That’s the Good News, whatever confronts us, whether it’s skunks or bats or slipping hospital johnnies or theological disapproval or all of them at the same time. When we need to grow in knowledge or understanding, when we need to love more or believe more, when we need to see visions and dream dreams that take us further, when we need the courage to prophesy, we are not alone. In the company of God’s Spirit, we can handle it.

(I had the privilege of leading a worship service for Members in Discernment in our Association today, as well as advisors and members of the Church and Ministry Committee, and this is an adaptation of the meditation I offered. Many thanks to kathrynzj for the bat story, which I am thankful is not mine.)

4 thoughts on “We Can’t Handle It”

  1. I just had a similar discussion with an adult child — Just when he thought he’d gotten to the end of something . . . .it wasn’t the end, and he was upset, and feeling overwhelmed. While our discussion was “secular”, your words really resonate. And as always you say it beautifully.

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