I will not leave you orphaned
A sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
"I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you."
Terms like "orphan" can hold weight and carry certain images depending upon the time and our experiences. When we hear the word "orphan" some of us may picture the image of an adorable baby left in a basket at one's door step, or possibly several starving children in African jumps to mind. In biblical times, "orphan" was a term often used to describe a group of people who were left without their leader.
Here in today's Gospel, Jesus and the disciples have just finished the last supper. Jesus just foretold Judas' betrayal and Peter's denial, as well as His own death. Jesus stands before the disciples to foretell the promise of Easter. He does this in order to bring them comfort and reassurance that even though their leader was about to leave them they would not become orphans. They would not be left alone in this time of fear and anxiety. Jesus stands before his beloved disciples and proclaims the Easter promise, the promise of Christ's victory over death and the promise of God's inseparable love.
To a mother in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the Easter promise rings true to her and her family particularly this year. A woman named Kimmie Newton, mother of son James, and daughter Leslie, was relaxing while her children played with cousins and friends in their house. The boys were running around the house and back yard; while Kim was in her living room tuning into the weather warning on TV. From the living room windows, the storm did not look bad. But because of the warnings she called for everyone to come inside to be safe. The children came inside, but continued to stare out the back door watching the storm. All of a sudden hail starts beating down, and one of the boys yells, "Miss. Kim, I think you better come look at this." "A massive black cloud with flashes of blue light" was headed straight for them.
"Run!" Miss Kim screamed, and they all ran into the bathroom and squeezed into a tiny bathroom closet, the most central point in their house. One mom and seven children stacked in a five feet long by two feet deep closet. They could hear the house being ripped around them. There was crying and complete overwhelming fear. Then Kim's son James shouted, "Mom, I think we should pray." Kim agreed and instructed all the children to pray as loud as they can so God could hear them over the tornado.
Once the tornado passed, and they were able to break out of the closet, they looked around and saw the devastation. Kim noticed the closet had been moved into what was once their living room. That small linen closet, surrounded by their prayers, was the only thing left standing. Their house was demolished, but their lives were spared. Eventually James' friends were reunited with their parents. The parents thanked Kim profusely for saving their sons' lives, she replied, "It wasn't me. It was God." Kim and those seven children lives were changed forever. And there was no doubt in Kim's mind that God was there protecting them.
This is only one of many stories of inspiration as well as heart break from the several tornadoes that have swept across our nation over the past several weeks. Among these stories of tragedy, we can see clearly the Easter promise. The promise that no matter where we are or what happens, God will be with us; his Spirit abides within and beside us. For some, like Kim and the seven children, Easter is found in being spared. For others Easter is found in the aftermath; where families, friends, neighbors, and strangers come together to bring aide to those who are hurt. They come together to mourn with one another. They come together to share shelter, food, and love.
Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey my commandments." To live a life of love, is to live a life of action and obedience. But as anyone who's in a committed relationship knows, love is not just warm fuzzy feelings. Love can be hard work. Love is action on a daily basis. Christ lived a life not of private feelings, but a life full of action in community.
Christ led an active life of breaking bread with the outcasts and sinners. Christ led an active life of healing lepers, the blind, and the lame. Christ led a life that simultaneously brought comfort and challenge to around him. And we are to do the same. To follow Jesus' example, to be a Christian, and to love; is to ACT. By feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, freeing the captive, providing shelter to the homeless and giving aide to those who are in need. All of these actions are living out a life of love. But, we cannot and should not journey this love walk alone; nor do we have to.
Christ promises us another Advocate, the Holy Spirit of Truth. The Greek word that was translated into "Advocate" is actually Parakletos, and refers to the Holy Spirit. Parakletos has many meanings and to choose to elevate just one is to lose the full meaning that Jesus was trying to convey to the disciples. Parakletos can mean not only to advocate, but also to comfort, guide, help, exhort, and to be along-side. The disciples would have heard this variety of meaning, rather than just "Advocate." Early church readers of this passage would have captured the magnitude of Jesus reassuring the disciples that they will not be abandoned as orphans because the Paraclete the will be with them always.
When we go through times of loss the Paraclete is there to provide comfort. When we struggle through times of transition, the Paraclete is there to provide guidance. When we feel beaten up or down trodden, the Paraclete is there to provide love and reassurance. We are NOT alone on this journey called life. Jesus is with us and God has given us the Paraclete to walk beside us and abide within us always.
The Easter promise continues to hold true today. Even though some of our All Saints' leaders will begin a new chapter in ministry, and we will soon be in a time of leadership transition, God is and will always be with us. And the Holy Spirit--the Paraclete--abides with us always--comforting, guiding, helping, and reassuring us of God's inseparable love. God will not abandon us, or leave us orphaned.
Jesus says: "If you love me, you will obey my commandments." And the only two commandments Jesus gave us are to love God and to love one another. Now go forth and show God through action just how much we can love.