I Will Not Leave You Orphaned 5-21-17

In this sermon, based on John 14:15-21, I explore Jesus promise to his followers that he will not leave us orphaned. Just what does that really mean?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-will-not-leave-you-orphaned-5-21-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I read a lot, and over the years I’ve slogged through many different stories…some great, some not so great. I’ve read a lot of different types of stories and followed along with many different characters. And it seems to me, that one of the types of stories that is always engaging has to do with a main character that’s an orphan. Someone who begins the story disconnected, with no sense of being part of anything.

Many of our classic stories, both old as well as new, fall in this category. Huckleberry Finn…Anne of Green Gables…Little Orphan Annie…Harry Potter…just to name a few…and if there’s one thing that these characters seem to have in common through their respective stories, it’s a search for connection…for belonging…the search to find the place where they belong.

Perhaps these various characters and their fictional stories are so engaging is because, deep down…I think its part of our very nature to seek this out for ourselves…connection…community…belonging.  Now there are many different places that we can find this sense…in fact our very understanding of socializing is based on it…we spend time with those we that we belong to…those who share a sense of commonality.

Many of the words that we would use to describe ourselves reflect this…and perhaps none more deeply than the connection that we hold with our family. Good bad or otherwise, so much of our identity is tied to our family of origin…and perhaps for many of us, maybe even all of us…our family offers us a sense of stability in terms of who we are.

Now perhaps, this is why a brief statement offered by Jesus in today’s reading seems so utterly significant. As Jesus sits at the table of the Last Supper with the disciples…with this small group of individuals that he has claimed as his own…this group of people who he has even come to call family…as he sits there with them, sharing a final time together, he knows that he’s saying goodbye…and maybe knowing this…he feels compelled to give them an assurance that they will not be left alone. And not only that…but his promise…I will not leave you orphaned. (pause)
I thought a lot about that this week…about what it must be like to be orphaned…about the sense of isolation that it must create…to be utterly disconnected from everyone. To have no sense of belonging…no one present who will care for you…no one that shares a common life with you…and I can only imagine just how isolating and terrifying that must be, not only for a child…but for anyone who has lost those family connections within their lives.

And as I thought along those lines, I found myself asking the opposite question…if Jesus will not leave his followers, either the 12 men sitting at the table with him…or any of the rest of his followers throughout the ages that have passed, including us of course…but what does it mean that he will not leave us orphaned? (pause)
If we are to answer that question…what is the opposite of being orphaned…it would seem to include connection…inclusion into something…to be cared for…to be claimed…in short…to belong with someone else….in short…family.

Now family is an interesting term…often we think of a connection by genetics…but I think the term family can certainly farther reaching than that…as it seems to imply a sense of closeness that exceeds all else…and this closeness is a sense that can create amazing joy and comfort…and at the same time, it can create an amazing sense of loss when that person that we claim as family is no longer around…and as we all know…separation is a reality.

It come in many forms…but none so final…none so utterly complete…than death. I can only imagine that was a sense that Jesus was experiencing at the Last Supper…knowing that he was going away…that he was going to a place where his friends…his family…could not go.

Many of us sitting here today have experiencing the pain and separation caused by death…and if you haven’t, just wait…it’ll find you sooner or later…because it is a reality in our existence…painful, but true. (pause)
But that being said…there’s a promise…one that we cling to as followers of Christ…one that he hints at today as he says “Because I live, you will live also.” We cling to the promise that there is more to our existence beyond the separation of death. We may not know just what it looks like…we may not know just how it works, but Christ has made us this promise…one that we often call eternal life…or heaven…or the afterlife…and it’s a promise that we cling to, one that gives us hope, especially when we look forward and see the reality of our own death.

Now here’s the thing…earlier this week I was having a conversation with an individual who’s health is not great…and though it now seems that she’s gonna be with us for a while longer, it WAS touch and go. (pause) Now as we sat and talked, she said “Well…I honestly didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go there (point upwards)…and I wanted to stay here.” When I asked her why that was she said “I’ve got family there…and I’ve got family here.” And after a moment of silence she said “Wouldn’t it be great to get the whole family back together.” (pause)
The depths of the love that this women feels for her family, both those still living and those who have died is amazing…and she recognizes the disconnect that is caused by death…the separation…the isolation. And as we all think about it today I think we would agree that its just…not…right.

And you know what…we aren’t the only ones. Because God recognizes this as well…and in fact…if scripture tells us anything…its that God is at work to rectify it…and this is where Jesus comes in…for Jesus God in the flesh…God entering into our reality and experiencing just as we do so that he may somehow, someway overcome that which is broken within it…that he might overcome the power of sin and death and the separation and isolation that comes with it.

And God is not simply doing this because we are part of the creation that he made and is proud of…but God is doing this because to God we…are…family. Throughout scripture we see time after time that God calls us his children. God has claimed us…repeatedly…calling us heirs….and in the Biblical sense…that’s what adoption is all about.

Jesus says we will not be orphaned…and by its very definition the opposite of being orphaned is being adopted…and in Jesus’ time, that meant that the owner of the household claimed you as their heir…they claimed you as their child…and I believe that God looks upon all of humanity in this way…and Jesus came into our reality in order to show us this…Jesus came into our reality in order to get the family back together for good. (pause)

Now interestingly enough…as we’ve said before…the redemptive work of God in Christ Jesus is already finished, even if it doesn’t feel like it yet…but the work of reconciling this world…of gathering this family back together…that work is still going on…and it happens under the power of the one that Jesus talks about today.

I am going away, but I will send another advocate…another helper…the Holy Spirit which will abide with you and in you…now here’s the thing about the Holy Spirit…the thing that all too often we here in the Lutheran church push to the back burner…the action of the Holy Spirit in the world is the action of God in the world.

We might not fully grasp just what Holy Spirit is…and that’s ok…but the Spirit is at work whether we recognize it or not. (pause) Now there are many places to look and see…and we profess several them every week here in worship. I believe in the Holy Spirit…the holy catholic church…the communion of saints…the forgiveness of sins….the resurrection of the body…and the life everlasting. (pause) Sound familiar?

Each of those statements, taken from the Apostles Creed, testify to the work of the Holy Spirit and the one that I think is THE MOST important, is also the first…the holy catholic church…which those of you who have been through confirmation with me know…catholic starts with a small c…and that means UNIVERSAL, not Roman.

Somehow, someway, the power of the Holy Spirit unites us all together as ONE CHURCH…ONE body here on the earth…together we make up the physical representation of Christ on Earth as he hangs out in heaven preparing a place for us. I can’t explain how it works…and often I’m quite discouraged by the bickering and the disagreement that occurs within different branches of this ONE body…but in the end if we can agree that Jesus is Lord and salvation comes through what he has done, then maybe, just maybe all that other stuff is just secondary…and we can focus on the thing that we have in common…the thing that unites us together…the thing that makes us…FAMILY.

There’s a song that I like a lot…it says “In Christ alone, my hope is found.” Today, may we all find that hope in his promise that we will not be left as orphans…but because the one who made us in the first place claims us as his children, and unites us together through the power of His Spirit…we will never be alone.

And so as we look around this room…seeing one another…may we see family…united together as beloved children of God…freed to love one another as Christ has first loved us…because we are united by something that is stronger than just genetics…we are united by blood…his blood…which was shed for you and for ALL people for the forgiveness of sins…so that we might be claimed as his own. Amen.

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