Remember the show Mission Impossible? Every episode started with the protagonist opening a big envelope with a tape in it (back when a tape recorder was high tech). He would play the tape which described a task both extraordinary and dangerous. Then at the end the voice on the tape would say something like, “This is your mission if you choose to accept it….” In the story, the protagonist always accepted. But then that was Hollywood.
I wonder how Peter would have responded if Jesus had given him the option “if you choose to accept it.” Not only does Jesus leave Peter and the disciples with a “mission impossible” but he also tells him that he’s not going to be around to help accomplish that mission(aka, the ascension). At least in the show, the protagonist got lots of help.
I faced an impossible mission last week. Jill, the nurse at North Hill School called and told me about a homeless family living in their van. A single mom, three kids, and the family dog. They had been evicted due to falling behind on rent. Mom worked full time but couldn’t make ends meet on minimum wage and no benefits (approximately 25% of homeless people work full time). I felt tired and discouraged even before I was half way through the conversation with Jill. Nothing like a mission impossible to make you want to turn off your phone.
So what does Peter do with his mission impossible? Well, he can’t turn off his phone. Instead he rallies. He organizes. He devotes himself to prayer. What a guy. I would have gone back to fishing. If the leader I had loved and followed had floated up into the sky without me, I certainly wouldn’t have given his pre-ascension instructions a second thought. But apparently, the disciples are more more forgiving than me. They get together and choose a new leader, Matthias, to replace Judas, and then they wait in community together in Jerusalem just like Jesus said to. Or maybe they didn’t recognize a mission impossible when they saw one. Or more likely, since they knew they had each other, they didnt feel so alone. Maybe that’s the key to making the impossible mission possible–recognizing that you are not alone.
My mission impossible wasn’t going away– a homeless lady, three kids and a dog seldom do. Fortunately, I quickly realized that, like the disciples, I was not alone (or as Janice and Marilyn often tell me, “It’s not always about you.”). After a few minutes of desperate, self-absorbed scheming it hit me that it wasn’t up to me to save the family (I’ve never claimed humility as one of my strengths). A few emails and phone calls later and money, clothes, food were pouring in. But not just money and things (which were desperately needed) but also ideas for better employment and affordable housing. Between the generous church members at Zion Church and the incredible women in Hetta Gilbert, the homeless family is about to be in a home.
Homelessness and poverty seldom have a happy ending. It is almost always a mission impossible. This time, things might just work out. Generous people who believe in stepping up stepped up. Not unlike the disciples. They didn’t throw their hands up in despair but they did as Jesus said and they went to Jerusalem and waited on the spirit. Which hit them like wind and fire.
And no mission has been impossible since.
See You in the Pews,
Postscript: the one piece of this story that doesn’t end well is the family dog. Since the family couldn’t let him live in the van, they took him to the Humane Society where the children promised to visit him every day. Which they did. Until last Wednesday when they showed up and he was gone. Poverty always has its victims. Children and dogs are not exceptions.