In the words of Rev. William Sloane Coffin, “God offers us minimum protection, maximum support.”

You may read the Scripture text here. The text of the sermon is below.

Introduction

When I was on staff at a church in the San Francisco Bay Area, we invited a congregant to tell part of their story. Andrew came up and did very well.

He said that he had been working a lot but had gotten a day off and took his very young son to the park. Instead of enjoying the time, Andrew felt his anxiety rise. Don’t put that in your mouth! Don’t climb on that, you’ll fall. No, you’ll get gross and dirty. He realized that parenting in a healthy was was connected to his faith. How can I parent in a way that demonstrates faith in God?

He took that experience back to his workplace at Pixar Studios and wove that experience into a movie titled, “Finding Nemo.”

The plot of Finding Nemo is this: a dad clownfish has experienced trauma (he lost his wife) and now he wants to protect his son, Nemo, from experiencing any harm or danger. He is a helicopter parent.

One day Nemo gets lost and the bulk of the movie is Nemo getting lost, experiencing difficult situations, and growing in his ability to make friends, ask for help, and make decisions.

The other part of the story is the dad’s realizing he is living in fear and his fear is harming his son. He has to loosen his grip.

In a fantastic part of the movie, the dad is swallowed by a whale. However, the whale knows what’s going on and wants to help the dad reunite with Nemo.

The whale swims to a certain place and plans to safely get him out through his blowhole. The whale tips upright and the dad thinks, “This is the end.” And the whale gets straight up and is trying to blow the dad through the blow hole, but the dad will not loosen his grip. And you hear this deep rumble of a voice from the cavernous insides of the whale, “Leeeeetttttt go.”

The dad fish hears it and knows he has to let go. He does and he lives a new life of trust, joy, and hope and is eventually reunited with Nemo.

The voice of the whale was what Andrew learned. Andrew realized he was a helicopter parent on that day. “I will protect my son and not let anything bad happen to him.” After he applied his faith, he moved his role as a parent from protection to support.

Wanting to Protect

It’s counter-intuitive. We think, “Surely it is better that my kid does not suffer or feel isolation, disappointment, or hurt.” It’s hard to see your child suffer. When a parent is overly protected, they prevent the child from growing emotionally and developing necessary life skills.

If, however, the parent can manage their own stress and allow their child to make decisions and live with the consequences, the child will develop character, self-confidence, and wisdom. They will take the lessons learned into the next situation.

Rev. William Sloane Coffin, one of the brightest minds of the 20th century, ministered at Riverside Church in New York City. Before ministry, he was an athlete, a skilled pianist, an officer in the CIA, and a chaplain at Yale. He was a civil rights activist.

Sadly, one stormy Monday night in Massachusetts, his son Alex, aged 24, died in an automobile accident. Six days later Rev. Coffin stood up in the pulpit and shared with the congregation what he had shared a number of times before.

He said, “I tell you now, what you’ve heard me say before, ‘God gives us minimum protection, maximum support.’”

Minimum protection, maximum support.

Church, God does not use a helicopter. God is not a helicopter parent. You can travel anywhere in the world and there you will be able to commune with God, but you will never find God in a helicopter. God does not protect us from all the things that can happen to us. God, however, will give us the skills for our growth and our maturity.

Minimum Protection, Maximum Support in Scripture

The writer of Psalm 23 knew this. “Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Why?

What’s the reasoning?

Because, God, you are with me. Minimum protection—I’m in the valley of the shadow. Maximum support: I will not fear and I will not let my heart be troubled, because Lord, you are with me. Your rod and your staff, comfort me.

God isn’t in the helicopter. Minimum protection; maximum support.

Peter, I’m about to glorify God at the end of my life. “Lord, I’ll do whatever even if it means giving my life.” Actually, you are going to fail 3 times.

Do you see the intensity of Jesus’ love here? Peter I’m not going to protect you from your own decisions. When you realize your mistake and hang your head in guilt, remember my love and the Father’s love for you and let not your heart be troubled. Even knowing what you will do, I’m still going to prepare a place for you so we can be together forever.

Minimum protection; maximum support.

The Maximum Support God Gives Us

That’s what God gives to all of us. Chapter 13-17 is a piece of the gospel that is dedicated to Jesus’ final words to his disciples. He is preparing them for his death and his departure from the world. And in chapter 17, it is Jesus’ final prayer for himself and for the disciples and for the work of God that will continue through them. When he prays, he doesn’t say, “Father, give them a force filled.”

In chapter 17, Jesus does pray, “Father protect them in my name,” but what does that mean? It doesn’t mean, don’t let anything bad happen to them. Jesus foretold Peter’s denial and death (you’ll go my way later). When Jesus prays, “Protect them in my name,” it is the word “keep.”

Even as they experience the hardness of life, keep them, support them, watch them, and let them remain close to you. Don’t let the suffering push them away, Father.

Minimum protection. I want you to go into the world and spread my gospel. Maximum support, “The Holy Spirit will remind you of my teachings.”

How does God give maximum support? You can think about it as visible and invisible; spiritual and physical.

Well, as we always hear at the Table, God pledges grace, reconciliation, resurrection, and the assurance that God will never abandon us. Those are promises that work on our minds and how we think and feel about our failures and our triumphs.

Like Peter, we make mistakes, but Jesus restores us.

Tangibly, though, how does God give maximum support? Lucky for us, Jesus addresses that as well. The care we give one another IS the care of God (repeat).

God cares for us through other people. It is up to us to demonstrate how much God cares.

Think through what I just said. Often, we do something because we want to demonstrate how much WE care. Change that a bit in your mind and say, “I’m going to send that card so they will know how much God cares.” And if you are on the receiving end of that love and care of other people, it is a lifeline. It feels like God’s ministry is happening through those words of consolation and love (because it is!).

We Model Maximum Support and the Love of God

Jesus ties it together. As I have loved you, you are to love one another. I’m going back to the Father.

Who is the Father and what is the Father like?

The Father and I are alike. I have lived with you for 3 years and I have given you steadfast support. You made mistakes. You tried to call down fire on people. Did I leave you? No, I confronted you and gave you my support as you changed. Peter, you are going to make a big mistake that you will regret. Afterward, be assured that you have a space in heaven that is all yours.

So, the love I gave you is the love the Father gave me. So, I want you to give that love to one another because that is the love of the Father working and living through you. The world will know you are mine because of the love you give one another—maximum support.

Church, the support we give is the support of God. Yes, in this world we will have troubles; let not your heart be troubled. Why? Because yes, it is true we have troubles, but we also have one another.

When someone is starving, bread doesn’t fall from the clouds. Right? No, bread doesn’t fall from the clouds; it must fall from our hands.

When someone is sad, lonely, isolated, or down, words of support and friendships, and deeds of love don’t just happen, do they? No, those deeds come from our hearts and hands and those words must come down from our mouths.

When a child doesn’t have a winter coat, one is not going to magically appear. No, the issue must arise in our hearts and we must act. The support we give is the support of God.

Our words and our actions have the capacity to lift the troubles of others. That is the kingdom of God.

But, Lord, we don’t know the way to do this! We don’t know the way we are supposed to encourage one another. We don’t know the way to forgive after a mistake. We don’t know the way to be hopeful in the midst of the tragedies and evil of the world. We don’t know the way God wants us to live here.

Yes, you do! I am the way. Follow my example. I’m not in the helicopter; I’m beside you.

Show us the Father. Show us God.

I’ll show you God. Give. Pray. Act. Show fidelity. Be there for one another. Why will you see the face of God? Because that is maximum support.

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